I’ve been lying. I didn’t realize it, although I’d been wondering at myself. My words weren’t quite aligning with my actions, yet I couldn’t quite get them together. So I’m glad clarity came, because I value integrity above almost everything else.
Problem was, I often heard myself reply some variation of the culturally commonplace, “I’m too busy,” to invites. But then I’d sometimes witness myself have an hour or two of downtime or the ability to do something optional and call myself out. Wait, I could’ve said yes to whomever about whatever, strictly speaking. Liar, liar, pants on….
Then I realized what “I’m too busy” means to me: “I’ll become too busy” if I say yes. And I simply won’t voluntarily do too busy anymore.
I want to avoid being overly busy on par with, say, avoiding sharks if I’m boogie boarding. To me, there’s no life on the crazy-busy train; there’s only racing past life.
I’ve only found real life in hopping off at some train stations. And now I abhor racing around, as if there’s always a destination up ahead so important I never stop and see where I am. I abhor aiming for such a mirage only to arrive and pound sand. I abhor life with no time to think (I mean, really think), to feel (I mean, really feel), to learn (I mean, really…you’re with me) or to really talk (about something besides weather). I abhor not remembering what I did where, with who or when and wondering where weeks (or years) went with no meaningful recollection of any of it. And most of all, I abhor living in a constant state of abhoring.
So no thanks. I have and will, without apology (except for the aforementioned accidental lies, sorry), continue to guard my un-busy spaces. And lest you think that if you hear no from me it makes you less important than the nothing I have planned, please reconsider. I’ve learned that unfilled space is the very thing that allows me to connect with and value you in the long run. Without breathing room, any real relationships for me are entirely thwarted; I just can’t show up even when I show up. If I’m already at the last or next thing in my harried spirit, I’m never with you. And that is the primary reason I defend the un-busy territory fiercely; it’s the foundation of all my important, treasured things.
A quick rewind for context: I once lived plum loco–far too crazy. You couldn’t have out-overachieved or out-people-pleased me, no sir. Nor could you have tried to obsess more about perfection while doing it. I was all in on the most reckless gambling with health and sanity. Oops. But that was more than half a lifetime ago, and since then there’s been a long series of events that have taught me to slow the heck down and forget about many things that used to seem so crucial. (They were so not crucial.)
I hated the slower speed at first. I mean, life didn’t just tap the brakes on me; it brought me to a screeching dead halt, for years. I’m talking about years that felt like centuries. Time that can’t be spent living feels interminable. So I’m certainly not saying I’d ever want that again, because balance is so unbelievably much better. Extreme inactivity, loneliness or lack of productivity are a fight against depression just waiting to happen; they’re a foolish choice, when and if you have a choice. I’m not promoting under-achievement or isolation or laziness. And The Big Boss is pretty clear that if you won’t (not can’t) work, you shouldn’t eat. Freeloaders and hermits, I’m not talking to you today.
Having said all that, I’m now totally grateful that I was thrown off the hamster wheel early in life to discover that the hamster wheel is optional. Who knew? Optional! And the hamster wheel is awful, if not while you’re on it, then the regrets of it in hindsight (and it will always end there, because it’s unsustainable). Awful!
I used to think this was entirely a personality preference. I used to believe I was just an old soul, because that’s, well, absolutely true. And I’d imagine to some degree that plays in. Different people thrive in different ways, sure. But I’ve observed some universal pitfalls to chronically pushing the pedal to the floor that no personality type seems to escape.
However, I’ll only make a list specific to me here, because that’s all I can testify to with absolute authority. When my life goes at breakneck speed, invariably:
1. Everything becomes all about me. “Hop onto my hamster wheel, or get out of my way” is the message to everyone feeling the gale-force winds of my spinning.
2. My life becomes sloppy. Messes pile up–not only physical messes of stuff, but ones of priorities and relationships.
3. But speaking of physical messes, my diet becomes trash. Since we are (look and act like) what we eat, that’s a big uh oh.
4. What’s simple gets too complicated, and what’s complicated is made too simple. For example, try having a cup of coffee with a friend on their hamster wheel. Conversely, when on your hamster wheel, try focusing long enough to engage someone needing support through heartache, illness or loss.
5. I love people poorly. Off the hamster wheel, when someone needs me (including me, because self-care matters much), I can almost always respond to needs that arise. (I really super love that feeling.)
6. I’m busy but unproductive. The busyness doesn’t stabilize or contribute to my present or future in any meaningful way.
7. I’m unfocused. I’m aiming at too many targets to hit any of them with proficiency or enjoyment.
8. I can’t ponder or cherish anything (except maybe bragging about how much I do in a day, which really doesn’t impress anyone but me anyway).
9. I get suckered into believing the lie that I’m maximizing my time on earth. Filling isn’t maximizing. Choosing carefully is maximizing. I can fill a jar with diamonds, throw them on a shelf and go mine some more to win a race I’ve manufactured in my mind. Or, I can stop to admire and utilize what’s in my jar to bejewel myself and others. Sometimes enough is enough.
Here enters an essential caveat, lest we start judging or condemning another’s schedule or apparent busyness: We all live on planet earth, a very dicey place to live. Unless you know someone very intimately (and even then), you never know what another person is going through. No one ever actually lives in another’s shoes. So, when I talk about this subject, I am suggesting self analysis, not other scrutiny.
Very, very difficult circumstances call each of us to step up and run raggedly at some point. Many situations require busyness that’s plain unreasonable, not chosen and certainly not welcome. I’ve had perfect storms descend and surprise, as have most of us. Natural disasters, crises, involuntary single parenthood, etc and the like bring on seasons (operative word, because they should pass) where just figuring out how to fit in a shower or trip to the bathroom are next to impossible, with no flexibility. Sometimes you’re just coping and practicing endurance (and crossing your legs).
I’m at the tail end (oh, I hope) of several years like that. A few urgent situations decided to sync up their schedules on me, and it blew mine out of the water. My immediate family and survival became the only priorities I could maintain, because I was squarely hoisted onto the hamster wheel–all spin and no substance, besides protecting my baby boy from a whirlwind he wasn’t going to face on my watch and growing my perseverance muscles. But I guess those are pretty substantive activities, too, so there’s value in a passing storm. But I’d never make the destructive choice to camp a tornado indefinitely on top of my house just for the achievement of survival.
I occasionally still get frustrated at drawing the borders around my life to sustain the calm times when there’s so much I want to do, see and be (forgetting that I have an eternity to fit it all in, because this isn’t my final train stop). Sometimes I temporarily think (a.k.a., lose my mind) that jumping back on the hamster wheel will be more exciting, a fix for my desire to be fully alive and experience much. But the corporate hamster wheel spins so unbelievably fast now days. Even when I try to hop on up I just go flying off. Then I remember, the hamster wheel hurts and doesn’t deliver what it promises. It’s just speed for speed’s sake, and I don’t want back on. It’s too dizzying. I don’t fit in hamster wheels anymore.
So when I’m able, I’ll travel contentedly beside those walking the quieter trails, listening to the birds, enjoying the flowers and talking about the stuff of life. (It’s just a metaphor, by the way. I’m so not an outdoor girl, for real, so don’t ask me to go hiking. Maybe a spa day? Call me.)
At the end of the day, I’m an idealist, once and always. So I have recurring delusional thoughts like, let’s all jump off the hamster wheel simultaneously and nobody gets hurt or misses a thing! Yay!
But no. Let’s be honest. The whole system is beyond that (and more importantly, I don’t get to choose a pace for anybody but me). Everything about everything is hyper-complicated now days: school extracurriculars, business regulations, Pinterest mommyhood, relationships in the days of sex identity as a social construct. Complication is not easily undone; slowing a freight train down takes a long while even with a lot of horse power. The chances of taming this societal beast are small at best (minus economic collapse, but let’s root against that, shall we?).
So, we’ll all just make our choices–swim against the tide or go along with it. I, for one, feel like I get swept away from the ones I love (even in their presence) when I ride the wave, however exciting it may feel for a moment. As I type that, I’m reminded of a movie that echoes my sentiment. It’s the 2012 film The Impossible, about a family caught in the devastating Thailand tsunami. I dare you to watch it (without holding your breath) and then tell me you want to live one day–one hour–distracted from your loved ones’ embraces, swirling with activity until you fall into bed not knowing how you spent or survived your day, emotionally disconnected or so hungry for success or accomplishment that nothing can pull at your heartstrings.
God help me, I choose sanity. I choose health. I choose meaning. I choose people. And God help me choose it again when tomorrow beats down my door screaming “squirrel” (*wink* to my Up fans). May I hold all trite-but-true sayings close to my heart: Don’t burn the candle at both ends, life is a marathon and not a sprint, your vibe attracts your tribe, blah to the very important blah. And may I choose to speak the whole truth from today on: “I’m going to say no this time, because I will become too busy if I say yes.”
With Hope and Heart in Hand,
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