The Risk of NOT Being Busy

When my husband Jonathan and I moved from DC to Alabama five years ago, the biggest culture shock wasn’t the Southern accents, but rather, the less busy pace of life.

It was the stunningly slow turns that drivers made into parking lots. It was standing still at a four-way stop because everyone wanted to let everyone else go first.

(As a New Jersey native, both of these drove me bananas. Just go already! You could not get away with these shenanigans in New York!)

But the biggest change of all was the sudden halt of my own busyness.

busy rushing people

I went from a frantic lifestyle to a relaxed one. I went from thinking, “How can I fit a call into my schedule?” to, “I am not too busy to talk for an hour.”

And while the complexity of life here has increased since then, I’ll never forget those early days. I’ll never forget what it was like to be the new kid in town, to crave personal connection like bread and water.

Moving to Alabama meant going long-distance with every friend I’d ever made. It meant stepping off the fast track, nurturing longtime friendships and building new ones. It meant the excitement of starting fresh.

It also meant leaving plenty of unreturned voicemails.

It meant loneliness that could have swallowed me if I’d let it.

It meant seismic shifts to what Robin Dunbar terms my “layers of friendship”, with some cherished relationships strengthening and others dissolving.

***

Living a hyper-pressured life had made it easy to blind myself. “My friend and I are super-close … just too busy to get together!” In some cases friends had lived right around the corner, and still I’d told this story.

Sure, many good friendships don’t involve regular contact. Sometimes you see beloved people once a year and that’s perfect.

But if you can’t seem to find a way to meet the people on Tier 1 of your life mountain when you live down the block, then there is something else going on, something that busyness masks.

At the end of the day, we make time for what we value.

***

Recently I linked to Omid Safiโ€™s wonderful article The Disease of Being Busy on A Wish Come Clearโ€™s Facebook page. Your likes and shares told me that it touched a nerve.

Safi writes about how an epidemic of exhaustion is destroying our connection with ourselves and each other. He notes that increasingly, the standard answer to, “How are you?” is, “So busy”.

But that’s a deeply unsatisfying response, isn’t it?

As Safi says:

“I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment.”

His words made me think about the risk of going against the cultural norm of busyness.

Make no mistake, being less busy brings vulnerability with it.

It makes us wonder, “If I dare to slow down and make space to nurture relationships, will others join me?”

In my experience, the answer is an emphatic yes … eventually. But in the meantime being less busy means leaving space for Life, and that is an act of faith.

being less busy as an act of faith

***

Lately I’m realizing that “I’m too busy” is code for, “I don’t want to go there.”

I don’t want to look too closely at my own life.
I don’t want to share how I’m feeling.
I don’t want to go there.

So my challenge to you this week is this: Be brave. Risk it.

Look closely at the reality of your own life.
Tell someone you trust about how you feel.
Go there.

***

Speaking of “going there” … after several years of work, I’ve finished a full (second? third?) draft of my book. It’s a memoir about recovering from perfectionism. It’s about being good, letting go, and getting real.

All 316 pages are in the hands of a great editor. So naturally, I’m terrified. ๐Ÿ˜‰

But seriously, bringing a book into the world takes a village. Your help makes all the difference in building a platform for publication. So, I invite you to …

Thank you so much, friends. It’s an honor to write for you.

***

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13 thoughts on “The Risk of NOT Being Busy

  1. I live in Alabama too and have for many many years. It took a long time for me to slow down, but I think it’s important that we do these days. People are burning themselves out (and I did this too) doing way too much with no down time. Great article.

    • Sheila, I wholeheartedly concur. Your words reminded me of that great expression “burning the candle at both ends”. How tempting it can be to do more than we’re truly able to do.

      Are there particular practices that have helped you to slow down? I’d love to hear.

      As always, thank you for commenting. Hope we can cross paths in person someday! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Wow, I would love to meet you in person! I have to say that unfortunately I was forced to slow down. In the last ten years, I’ve lost over a dozen people (including my mom, dad and brother…my whole family) and then took it upon myself to take care of my best friend who had developed some pretty severe mental issues. I have had an anxiety disorder my whole life (on and off) and when all of that caught up with me, I fell apart and my anxiety came back with a vengeance and is still something I’m working on every day. I have become agoraphobic too, so I had to slow down because I couldn’t hardly function when it first hit. But it did make me realize that when I get better I am still going to take it a lot easier than I have in my life. We can’t “burn the candle at both ends” (a good expression!) and not have it catch up with us at some point. Thanks for writing such great articles. <3

        • Sheila, my heart goes out to you. It takes great courage to show up and deal with such loss, grief, and fear. It sounds as though you are learning the art of being a compassionate friend to yourself (a life’s work if ever there was one).

          Though of course our experiences differ, I recognize that realization you had: that when you regain strength, you’ll move through the world differently than before. Going to a dark place changes our patterns and preconceptions in a way that little else can. Again, hats off to you for not shying away from that.

          And you’re so welcome – comments like yours remind me what it’s all about. <3

  2. Jean says:

    I really enjoyed and appreciated the link “Tier 1 of my Life Mountain”, to an article about 10 odd friendships, on “Wait But Why “, that you provided. Thanks for that. It has had me thinking ever since I read it. I’m in a friend transition myself. I’m 54 years old. I read things written from younger and older perspectives, because I get so much from every phase of life.
    That article helps confirm to me that there are complex, not always healthy reasons that we keep friends. Besides re evaluating my faith in God, I am also re evaluating my friendships. I am working on setting up healthy boundaries with family and friends.
    I’m thankful that I do have a couple friends that I can go beyond the surface with. I also have a couple people who drain the life out of me in a heartbeat.
    I realized I can’t be what they think they need me to be.
    Thank you for your writings on how to live a better, slower, but richer life.

    • Jean, I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the Wait But Why post!! It was a game-changer for me too; such a great examination of the reasons why we choose and maintain friendships.

      Brava to you for setting healthy boundaries and noticing which relationships consistently energize and which consistently drain energy. That kind of truth-telling requires strength and courage … but the rewards are tremendous, both for you and for others.

      Also, I LOVE your line, “I realized I can’t be what they think they need me to be.” Very precise and very powerful. (If you’d like to share, I’m curious to hear the story behind that one!)

      And you’re so welcome; thrilled to hear that the post resonated with you. ๐Ÿ™‚

      PS – Speaking of reevaluating faith in God, you might enjoy the work of our next interview guest for the You Need to Read video series: Addie Zierman. She’s a recovering evangelical poster-child who wrestles with doubt, depression, and faith, and her writing is beautiful.

  3. Congrats on your book! That’s so exciting. I’ve been making a concerted effort to be less busy. I can tell how emotionally grounded I am by how much I’m enjoying/struggling with my life. It’s always a process.

    • Thank you Marcy!! I know you know exactly how much time, effort, and energy it takes, so I appreciate the encouragement. ๐Ÿ™‚

      And good point regarding the connection between emotional grounding and busyness – any particular frameworks, ideas, or strategies that have helped you to down-shift? I’m always interested to hear.

  4. Ah dear Caroline! I knew you when you were in DC…rejoiced and celebrated your first book at The Potter’s House! I read your words today with tears because you “hit the spot” perfectly:
    I donโ€™t want to look too closely at my own life.
    I donโ€™t want to share how Iโ€™m feeling.
    I donโ€™t want to go there.

    Mom died (almost a month ago now). And this process of celebrating her life and facing loss (lots of loss I never faced before!) is hard.

    I WANT to be busy. I am a Creator of Busyness! Here at our 12 acre home we call Stillwaters where others come to rest, where we can’t get internet if it’s raining, 3 miles from the closest one stop-light town. My husband sees my busyness and “calls me” on it…and now –though your post is 10 days old– YOU are calling me on it too…

    Thank you. For your courage. For your love (for yourself, for your readers and for that someone out there that you’ll never know you have touched.

    • Mary, it’s good to “see” you here!! I do remember celebrating the launch of Love’s Subversive Stance with you vividly; thank you for being such an encouraging, supportive friend.

      I’m so sorry to hear of your mom’s passing. My heart goes out to you, and I’m sending a big hug across the miles. Of course it’s hard to face such a deep loss. Of course you need times to feel the feelings … and of course you need a break from the feelings sometimes too!

      (I heard this idea highlighted recently in Meadow DeVor’s podcast on “Finding Refuge in Uncertainty” in case you’re interested – lots of good stuff on how to cope in challenging times.)

      Also glad that Jeff can call you out on the busyness – it is a gift to have people around us who love us enough to do that. I’m honored to have played even a small part in your life and reflections this week. Namaste. <3

  5. Just catching up on your last two wonderful posts, Caroline! So much truth here. This post has me thinking about how scary it can be for us — in this culture — to simply be present (to ourselves, to others). Most of us have not gotten much support for that growing up — so it really is something we must “re-learn” (little kids are so great at being in the moment!). And maybe this is why I’m so drawn to animals — they are present, and, as I think you mentioned in another post, they are so “themselves”! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you dear Jill! I like your point that being present is a skill that we need to re-learn.

      Every now and then I have some mean internal dialogue about my struggle to stay present – “Why can’t you just be here now?!” – so it’s really helpful to give myself permission to be in the process of returning. I don’t have to have “arrived” 100%; I can just be on my way. That takes so much pressure off!

      And yes, animals are some of our greatest teachers in this lesson! As I type, Bootsie the cat is curled up contentedly snoozing atop her play tower. She was my inspiration for a quick, restorative nap earlier. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Have a wonderful weekend and I hope that your Stellar Self-Care Coaching program is welcoming new participants even now!

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