The end of 2018 was pretty packed. I could list the number of flights, trips, events, races, and other requirements and electives that took my time, energy, and money, but then I’d be doing two of the things I hate seeing in others – justifying our “busy” and being a martyr. I’d be using my calendars to both compete with and plea for sympathy and admiration from others. We all know these folks, and have probably even been them. You know the people who try to match “Oh you think you’re busy – try X…” How obnoxious. Or perhaps even worse – the people who constantly clamor for attention or sympathy from others on how overworked, underpaid, overtasked and stressed they/you are.
To make it worse, we complement our own need for validation with judgement of others’ “busy.” We scoff at the single gal because “You don’t know what busy is until you have kids,” and roll our eyes at the stay-at-home moms because “You don’t even have a job – I raise kids AND work.” We dismiss the full-time graduate student who got a higher scored on the latest assignment because “well some of us have to work for a living,” and judge the athlete with “It must be nice to be able to work-out every day.” In all this we fail to acknowledge our own power and agency over our hours and then spend more precious time comparing or judging others. Our busys are different, and they are our own.
Don’t let me preach to you. I do both of those obnoxious things routinely and have for years. One instance in particular sticks out. I was in a bar in Hampton Roads with a friend from college. I hadn’t seen her in years, she had just gotten back from mission work in Micronesia. She had made the four-hour drive to visit over the weekend. I was dominating the conversation, telling her all the great and awesome things I had been doing when I realized I hadn’t posted my homework for my military school. “Shit,” I exclaimed, holding up a hand like I would do to a junior Marine interrupting me in a writing trance, “I have to do this, I totally forgot to post this week.” I spent the next few minutes completing the “requirement” while she patiently sipped her cocktail. When I finished I instantly launched back into how I was so busy with a million things going on. She waited for me to finish and then simply replied, “why did you sign up for all that?”
She wasn’t impressed with my busy schedule. She didn’t admire my ability (or mediocre attempts at) juggling multiple projects. She didn’t give me pity for my lack of sleep or stress level. She genuinely couldn’t understand why I was putting myself in a position to be miserable – to be anxious and unhappy and to ignore a close friend during a visit. My situation wasn’t to be admired, it was to be corrected.
I was annoyed for a minute – I mean didn’t she get that I HAD to do all that stuff? “Must be nice to be able be so chill Steph, but some of us have to work,” I snapped in my head.
Then I realized she was 100% right. I didn’t need to take that class – at least not at that time. It wasn’t required for a few more years – but I’ve been overloading my calendar since I was 16 and thought it was just what I was supposed to do. I often look back in pride at my workload as a high schooler. I worked summers in the fields, waking up early to beat the afternoon heat. Showering at a friend’s house before my second shift as a server at Steak ‘n’ Shake. I took pride in seeing my “hours worked” on my pay stubs and I liked the freedom the money gave me as a teenager; but, more than anything I liked the work. I like the challenge greeting me at the start of each day and the exhaustion that put me to sleep at night. I loved the feel of progress and creation, of a day of minutes well spent. I didn’t needto work that much - my parents provided what I needed, but I loved the work. Ironically enough, a gift and sometimes curse from my parents.
But somewhere along the way my love of work had turned into a love of admirationfor my work. I needed that validation and awe of “how impressive,” or “oh my god, you’re so busy,” or my favorite “I don’t know how you do it.” All ways of telling me that I was busier than the gal next to me. I could do more, sacrifice more, and that made me better. The busier I was, the more important I felt, especially when I told myself I HAD to do everything on my calendar.
When the truth is – we are all as busy as we want to be. Our schedules should serve us, our values, our relationships, and our communities. They shouldn’t serve our egos. That’s what my friend was saying when she refused to give me nothing but bewilderment as I lamented about the pressure and duties of my life. As if she couldn’t understand why I would allow, or even seek out, those things that made me miserable and then look to her to tell me good job on making choices that led to both me ignoring her during a reunion and seemingly made me miserable.
This isn’t a post about slowing down or taking it easy. I deeply admire those folks out there working hard – especially when it is in service to others. It’s about owning our time and our choices with it. It’s about remembering that we are all given the exact same number of minutes in each day. It’s about reminding myself with a few exceptions, my obligations are so often my own choices. Most of all it’s about remembering that busy for busy’s sake (and then expecting praise for it) is just silly – especially when it costs so much.
So the past two months have been busy. I’ve been stressed and I’ve undoubtedly taken at least some of that stress out on my love ones – I’m working on it. I’ll probably always have an unrealistic to do list, agree to too many projects and jobs. I’ll certainly always fall short of my ambitions and teeter right up to burnout. But it’s mybusy. I own every overpacked minute, every color-coded task list, and late-night procrastinated deadline. (I’m actually writing this right now instead of the two final papers I have due in 6 hours). Just like the young girl heading out to the fields, windows down and music turned up, I’m rediscovering the joy of work, independent of external validation or arbitrary competition. I certainly still enjoy the admiration of my friends and loved ones, but I’m working on getting those things from being kind or taking the time to be a good friend – not just for getting another thing crossed off the to-do list. Most of all I’m working on making my minutes, hours, and days mine – and then reminding myself that I did.