As I write this, it’s a Tuesday in January and it’s a cold, rainy day outside. I’m sitting in my window seat in my living room at home. I’m wearing pajamas, my hair is in a messy bun and I’m sipping on a coffee with oat milk. It’s 3:27 p.m. And I am wholly, unequivocally, not busy.
All over my city, state, country…and anywhere in a time zone where it is currently between the hours of 8 a.m and 5 p.m. or perhaps even later into the evening since it is becoming more and more socially acceptable to work later and later hours, there are people rushing here and there, getting work done, meeting with clients or colleagues, sitting in a cubicle or a corner office, putting in their time for this work day as they do every other work day. They are busy.
The above scenario defined me for six years, but it does not anymore. I have more social interaction with the squirrel that has laid claim to my yard, and more importantly my poor peach trees, than I do most other living creatures in a day. (That is one thousand percent hyperbole, but for the sake of this post we’ll leave it. Plus I really am at war with this squirrel over my peaches.) For so many years my life was so fast-paced that it made my head spin. For years I worked as a legislative bill tracker which meant that I ran a business and a software that helped track legislation for thousands of clients both in state and nationally. I read, analyzed, interpreted and tracked around 3,000 pieces of legislation a year. I routinely worked late into the night, spent the night in my office, answered emails calls and texts until midnight or later and I was busy. Then I ran for elected office and, by some stroke of a miracle, I won. And the busy I had experienced before? Triple that. And then, in what can only be described as a cataclysmic, disastrous implosion of my entire life…I lost that elected office. And it’s the best thing that ever happened to me and I thank God for removing me from a heinously unjust and disgusting career. Perhaps we’ll save that story for another blog post because YIKES that would be a good “spill the tea” tell all. But in any case, my life has now entered into a waiting period that is post-career in local politics, post-graduating with a Masters degree and pre-figuring out what comes next. And this waiting period is full of a WHOLE lot of not being busy at all whatsoever.
And yet, when someone asks me the question, “How is it going,” or, “How have you been?” Why oh why do I feel compelled to respond with, “Great! I’ve just been so busy!” Before I even know what I’m saying, that response had just been laying on the tip of my tongue, at the ready to spill out in an effort to try to signal to this other individual that my life has importance because I am *busy* dang it. And I am just ready to put that compulsive desire in a box, and then put that box inside of another box and then put that box inside of another box and then mail that box to me and when it arrives I’ll SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER (if you do not get that Emperor’s New Groove reference, you’re dead to me tbh)!
Why do we view busyness or exhaustion as a social status? Admit it, you just looove meeting up with your friends and saying, “Oh I’ve just been so exhausted, I’m so busy!” And if life were to take a turn and you wound up sitting in your windowseat on a Tuesday afternoon you’d 100% lie and say, “Oh I’ve just been so exhausted, I’m so busy!” Exhaustion is a social status. If we are not busy or exhausted, or at least – and perhaps more threateningly -we suspect others view us as not busy or not exhausted, we feel completely devalued in our eyes and certainly in theirs. And I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m wrong. You’re thinking, okay nope that sounds like the life. I wish I could quit my job and do nothing but binge Netflix and drink coffee in my pajamas. Sorry. Incorrect. You want a vacation is what you want. But extended time at home with nothing to do can leave you feeling useless and feeling like you’re not putting anything of value into the universe, that you’re laying dormant and wasting away while everyone moves forward around you – trust me there is no amount of catching up on Greys Anatomy or finding excuses to run errands that will change those feelings if your personality is anything like mine.
There I said it. And writing it out felt like stabbing my own gut with knives. I feel vulnerable, laid bare. I know there’s people who know me “in real life” that will read this and have an intimate insight into my thoughts on my current stage in life and I hate that. But I also know that I am not the only one that has ever experienced a transitional period of waiting and experiencing a total lack of busy. I sometimes have to remind myself that even my own personal heroes, men and women that shaped the course of history and embarked on astounding journeys of human experience and achievement…they had periods like this too. In fact I know that there are many other men and women experiencing the exact same thing I am right now, all over the world, and maybe my words can bring encouragement and so here we are.
Many months ago, while thinking about my current predicament and wondering why I kept telling people how busy I was when it was obviously such a lie, I made a little note in my phone. All it said was: “Is exhaustion a social status?” I knew I wanted to sit down and write out my thoughts on the subject, but I’ve ignored it for months just…not quite wanting to acknowledge it. But today – with my ample free time of course – I sat down and typed that question into Google. I’m not sure why this surprised me, but that same thought had found its way to articles spanning The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Business Insider, various psychiatric journals and even WebMD. Global News Canada even has an article titled, “The cult of busyness: How being busy became a status symbol.” So yes…many others have found themselves lamenting their lack of busy and then snapping out of it long enough to wonder…but why? Why do I find it so important to be busy? Why do I find value in exhaustion? Why do I need others to view me as busy?
Interestingly, all of these articles speak of a social switch-up. In the past, leisure was equated with higher social status. The more free time you had, the more you participated in leisurely activities, the more wealthy you were perceived to be. Because you know, sailing your own yacht around the Seychelles for the hell of it kinda signals you have money. But at some point society began to view working late, working hard, always being busy, never having time for leisure, etc. as a sign of higher wealth status. Think: Wall Street. And while you’re not going to change the world’s views on social mobility, you can change your own.
I’ve had a lot of lessons on letting go of the fear of what others think about me. I mean…I could write a whole other blog post on just that subject. But I’ll keep it simple: freedom manifests itself in the truths, not the perceptions. If you’re going through a transition in life where you’ve closed one chapter and are beginning to write the next one, then your lack of busy is not a defining characteristic, but rather a truth of life in this present moment. Why spend so much time worrying that others perceive you as lazy, a failure, not as suave or important as themselves, etc? Listen. People already perceive you with a TON of adjectives that you wouldn’t like if you had to stare them in the face. What makes your lack of busy change any of that? It doesn’t. If you were the busiest son of a gun around, you’d still be subject to the perceptions of others – which let’s be honest, would probably err on the side of “pompous, workaholic, selfish, arrogant, boring, missing out on life, self-righteous, greedy” or a number of other things. Put the perceptions on a scale. Which side is a heavier scarlet letter to you? Or a better question – doesn’t weighing those two options make you realize how neither one is of any relevance to you and the life that you are living and creating for yourself? Ding ding ding we have a winner. Adopt the latter mentality and you will find freedom in the non-busy.
At the end of the day, I have no idea what comes next for me and I don’t know when I’m going to find out. But in this time in between, I’m giving it my best college try to find value in something apparently no one values: free time. And I hope that if you’re in a similar boat, you can too.