Joy Tip Wednesday: Giving Up Busy

I'm tired of the word busy.  It exhausts me.  It's like the flavor of the day every single day of the week.  And it doesn't change...  

I'm tired of hearing other people say it.  And mostly, I'm tired of hearing me say it.  Yup, you heard me.  Confession time.  I'm tired of using the word busy.  I'm so tired of typing the word "busy" in texts and e-mails.  Of voicing it in conversations.  I'm over the word busy.  I want to break up with the word busy.  Because it's becomes my excuse at check out.

Lately I feel like my life is this episode of Sex and the City I watched recently.  Which by the way, is somehow so relevant now in my 30s when it so wasn't relevant during my college years.  I am spell bound as I watch the psychology of overachieving women in their 30s play out on the screen.  I see myself and other women I know in the characters.  But I digress.  Carrie Bradshaw, the main character, is trying desperately to get her girlfriends together for a birthday celebration.  Schedules keep not lining up.  One of her girlfriends has a new relationship and is always MIA with her new beau.  One just had a baby and is consumed with this huge life transition.  Finally, after a lot of effort, she gets the gang together for a trip to Atlantic City.  Excited to finally have everyone together she strolls into the hotel and casino with her friends to find that each of them have entirely different ideas of how they are going to spend their time the next few hours and then split.  The fantasy of spending time together...falls apart.  She grapples with the expectation of connection and the reality of disconnection.  And wonders if the apparent disconnection is her new reality.  She reflects:

Friendships don’t magically last forty years …you have to invest in them.
— Carrie Bradshaw

I've been Carrie and I've been her friends.  When I try to organize get togethers with friends.  When I try to arrange a dinner catch up.  When I try to schedule coffee and visa versa.  I ask myself, why is it so damn hard these days to spend quality time with the people I care about? 

Many months ago a friend texted me.  He and I have a tradition of weekly jokes together and he hadn't heard from me.  He poked me across the virtual highway through my phone and I responded.  Something like "Sorry, I've been so busy lately!"  And his response stunned me with brilliance "Marce, you've been busy for the last 16 years I've known you!"  First off, this is a true observation.  I do tend to run a full schedule.  Second, what I really felt he was saying was that my sense of being "too busy" was not a new problem.  While my mind may have otherwise been annoyed by the response, it caused in me a moment of pause.  Rather than write off his message as "he just doesn't understand" something told me to sit with it.  I remember starring at the screen and re-reading his text several times.  And then taking a moment to stare out the window at the big blue sky.  You've been busy for the last 16 years...damn that's a long time! I thought.  

That simple text jump started a series of questions.  Does everyone think I've been busy for the last 16 years?  How often am I "busy?"  And what on earth am I choosing when I am...busy? I reflected on my choices, my way of being in the world, my connections and relationships, and most of all...on my priorities.  It's something I've done before, but somehow this time it felt different.  

I was choosing busy over what?  Over connecting with a friend through our traditional weekly banter? Over the coffee with a friend I keep running into and we just never make it happen?  Over the dinner catch up that's been on my list for weeks?  Over the time to play with Odi my African Grey Parrot?  Over the phone call to catch up with a friend I haven't heard from in weeks?

The number of articles written about the culture of busy is endless.  I know busy is being glorified, but what I didn't know was the why underneath.  And when I looked at my own life...the why was...surprising.  

When I'm busy being "busy" sometimes I'm avoiding the tough stuff.  I'm avoiding feelings of being lonely that might pop up.  I'm avoiding telling a friend that I'm having a tough week and asking for support.  I'm avoiding the true effort it takes to build a deep relationship with friends.  I'm avoiding the vulnerable opportunity to tell someone how much I miss them.  I'm avoiding telling the friend I'm interested in them more than a friend.  I'm avoiding the terrifying conversation to tell someone how hurt I am after a recent interaction.  I'm avoiding the very messy nature of being human.  

With the illusion of extensive connection through the internet and social media, we can miss the very essence of true connection.  

I'm great at connecting with strangers by sparking a conversation and listening to their stories.  Being present with students.  Showing care for my clients.  Yet sometimes I shrink from prioritizing relationships with several key friends.  From following through and making that coffee date we promised each other reality once and for all.  From stopping myself from the "easy" e-mail or text and choosing to pick up the phone and hear that voice on the other end.  All because sometimes I'm just really scared of getting hurt.  

Last year was a tough year for connections.  I felt like I put my heart on the line.  In dating.  In several key friendships where I shared some of my hardest, pivotal memories that have shaped me to be the person I am today.  And before my year of experimentation with deeper connection was up amidst the lessons, the insights, the gratitude...I also felt disappointed.  Hurt.  Forgotten.  Devalued.  Don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't change a thing, but not wanting to change a thing doesn't mean I didn't feel a bit bruised.  These feelings slowly led me to shrink, pull away, dive into my work and away from vulnerable connection.  It felt safe.  

Safe is where we always go when we are scared.  And when we choose "busy" as our safe haven, we miss out on the richest parts of human experience.

For this week's Joy Tip Wednesday I'm inviting all of us to get real about the choices we make, take responsibility, and own the implications of "busy."  Here's this week's experiment to try on for size:

  1. Make a commitment to stop using the word "busy" as your reason for choice.  For four hours, for one day, for one week, stop staying the word busy.  This may be harder than you think because it's so easily ingrained in many of us.  Just do your best and as always, keep those dashes of compassion towards yourself in plentiful quantity.
  2. Get clear on what you are choosing.  "I'm busy" means what?  I'm choosing to stay in rather than go out?  I'm choosing to focus on writing this blog post, rather than continue talking on the phone?  I'm choosing to go to a concert over another event?  Be honest with what you choose.
  3. Take responsibility.  When you are busy and making choices, you're saying "yes" to somethings and "no" to others.  Own it.  Communicate it.  Yeah...that's tough.  I get it and I'm there with you.  But what would it be like if you owned your choices, communicated those, and visa versa?  What about more transparency?  Honesty?  The number of times someone said they wanted to spend time with me and then are always busy are numerous.  And I've been guilty of it too!  It doesn't mean either of us don't want to.  It just means that something else is taking priority right now.  Own, own, own, your choices.
  4. Don't promise what you can't deliver.  I am a recovering overcommiter. Most of us are, or are just realizing that perhaps we do overcommit.  Are you using "busy" and a nice comment to put off a "no?"  To put off an acknowledgement that you are investing in something else?  Trust me, as the receiver of many of these moments, I wish the person would just say no.  Or, I will be ready to commit time to this in three months.  Or, I'd love to, but I'm choosing to spend my time on x, y, z now.  Let's reconnect in a month?  Like the guy I asked out for coffee and every time I see him he says let's schedule time.  Maybe he actually does want to make it happen one day, but it's not a priority right now because it hasn't happened.  And that's totally ok.  Hey, I've been there and done it too.  It all comes down to honesty about choices.  Honesty with ourselves and with others.

If this Joy Tip is anything, it's my commitment to get even more clear with myself in each moment on what I choose.  To be more transparent about my choices with others.  And most of all, to choose the scariness of building vulnerable deep connections more when I want to hide behind the story of being "busy" at times.

So now I'm curious, when you look underneath the hood of "being busy" for yourself, what "why(s)" do you discover? 

much love,