The Glorification of Busy … this past summer that was the topic du jour, making the rounds on both the internet and Facebook. On two separate occasions I was in a discussion group in which this topic was raised, and both times arguments ensued with a few people agreeing with the statement, and the rest feeling insulted and more than a little defensive.
So, having been down this road before, and having heard arguments from all sides, let’s start with these irrefutable facts: we live busy lives and there is a lot of complaining about the busyness of our lives. But to go any further gets dicey because it’s one thing for someone to lament how busy they are, it’s quite another thing entirely to have someone else point out how busy they are; furthermore, you can listen to someone complain about their insane schedule, but you'll be on thin ice if you try and suggest ways they could cut back. So if we’re complaining but not willing to address the complaints, it begs the question as to why anyone is complaining in the first place. Is it for sympathy? For show? Or is all that busyness a way in which to measure our worthiness?
When the boys were toddlers I had a neighbor who was involved in everything. Every time we spoke she gave a veritable litany of her daily schedule and went into great detail on who, what, where, and when. She personified the glorification of busy. One day she called me stressed to the point of tears because after a day filled with soccer practice, a dental appointment, volunteering at the school and shopping for a Halloween costume, she was now going to be late in getting her five year old daughter to – are you ready for this? – a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.
A giant mouse had reduced her to tears and the only thing I could think was please-God-don’t-let-me-turn-into-her.
Of course, everyone makes choices and not everyone has the same idea of busy, but there comes a point in which we have to ask ourselves, How busy is too busy? It’s a question that requires honesty because no one can ask it of you, no one can answer it for you, and no one can do anything about it except for you. Consider the following …
-Is it a struggle to get in a couple of meals a week in which you sit down together as a family?
-Is homework predominantly done in the car, the bleachers at the ball park, or late at night when tears flow all too easily?
-Do I constantly refer to the calendar to see where I am supposed to be, and when?
-Do I always arrive late, feel stressed when driving, or neglect to return phone calls, answer emails, or RSVP to an invitation?
-Do we return home at the end of the day to breakfast dishes on the counter, unmade beds, piles of laundry waiting to be folded, and no dinner plans?
-Are most of my tasks completed halfway, and no task completed all the way?
If I am being honest and admit that the answer to most of those questions is yes, then I know I am too busy and that, as a family, we are over-scheduled. It’s as simple as that. And with that acknowledgement comes the reality that some changes need to be made – changes that will require sacrifice to let go of some things, wisdom to know when to say no, and the courage to go against conventional societal dictates.
When school started this past fall our little guy had several friends call to see if he would be on their soccer or football team. Well, right away we knew football was out. We’ve tried that, and it was a total disaster. But soccer … well, our little guy likes soccer and we knew he would be happy to play on a team. On the other hand – and this is crucial – we also knew he would be equally as happy NOT playing. To sign up for soccer, or not to sign up for soccer … that was the question. There wasn’t a wrong answer, but there was one that was more right for us and, in the end, we opted for no soccer.
Was it a hard decision? Not really. The only reason we would have signed him up was to give him “something to do”, but good golly do we always have to be “doing something”?
And since making that decision, here's what our afternoons have been life: we come home straight from school, our little guy sits at the kitchen table with his older brother and does his homework while eating a healthy snack, we go over his spelling bee words, and when he goes out to play I leisurely prepare dinner. Later, when my husband comes home after a long commute, dinner is ready, the house is in order, and we all sit down to dinner together. Stress-free, peaceful afternoons lead to stress-free, peaceful evenings. And boy does that feel good. In making the decision to cut back on activities, our days are just as full (but with different things) and incrementally more satisfying.
Of course, busy is around the corner. Both boys love basketball (really, this is their sport of choice), and they will both be on a team starting in November. But because we decided not to do soccer, we are not faced with back-to-back sports seasons which, between homework, practices, games and all the driving back and forth, would have left us feeling drained from fall until early spring.
In Italy there is a saying e` dolce far niente, which translated loosely, means how sweet it is to do nothing. The saying is a reminder to pause, to experience life to the fullest, and to appreciate the important things such as having a meal with your family, talking with you teenager while sitting on the back deck, running outside to splash in the puddles after a rainstorm, or reading a book. In the hurricane of our busy lives, e` dolce far niente is the complete opposite of glorifying busy; it's about making the conscious decision to find the eye of the storm and letting the world go on without us. Ironically (and this is beautiful), in doing “nothing” we're really doing “something” ... just not the “something” dictated by our schedules and our busy lives.
And in the end, that’s the kind of glorification I want.