The Cult of Busy

If you ask me what I have been up to, I will tell you that I have been busy, same answer for what I will be doing. I – like many other people – am always busy. I am always on my way to an appointment, work or a meeting, coffee with a friend, or just running errands. When I’m not physically doing something, I’m thinking about it. Time for rest is rare and fleeting and I’m usually weighed down with a sense of guilt and anxiety of what I should be doing.

I am not alone in feeling like this, most of us feel like we must always be busy and occupied. Anything less must mean we are lazy.

I recently had a week off and for the first three days I was uncomfortable. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt bad for taking time off. I haven’t taken time off for anything other than a family emergency or medical reasons in years. I felt a bit lost at different times during the week – when I tried to think of what I should be doing or where I had to be, I realized I didn’t have to rush anywhere. The projects I’m working on are well underway, I would have plans to see a friend later, but there was no rush. It felt weird to not be stressed.

We equate being busy with being successful. If we are always busy, we must always being working and if we are always working, we are then viewed as successful. It may sound trite, but I blame capitalism for our obsession with busyness.

Under capitalism nothing is ever given. We trade labour for money; we trade money for things we need to live – food, shelter, coffee to keep us awake so we can keep working. Capitalism teaches us that nothing worthwhile comes for free. We must give something to get anything, but at the same time, we can’t expect anything in return. We often work – or stay busy – just for the sake of it. We have become so accustomed to working towards something – an education, a 15-minute break, money, or whatever else drives you – that we do not take the time to just be.

Halfway through writing this blog post, I came down with a cold. What I thought would be one or two days of sniffles and a headache turned into a full week of being sick and being sent home from work twice (thanks Nicole!) In my feverish state, I just went to work because that is what I always do. Taking a sick day, even though I was sick, felt like I was being lazy. Luckily, I have people in my life who are more sensible than me and made me go home.

During my forced time off, I had a lot of time to think, and since every time I moved I felt like I was going to fall over, I had to sit with my thoughts and let myself rest. It was uncomfortable, and needed.

Having a full life is not the same as always being busy. It is a hard lesson to learn, and one we will probably continue to forget. There is nothing wrong with having a lot going on in your life, but learning to focus more of what adds value to your life rather than being busy for the sake of being busy can lead to lessened anxiety, better sleep, and generally more enjoyment. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life; we don’t have to punish ourselves to deserve a break or a self-care Saturday. Capitalism teaches us that our only value is our productivity – we are so much more than our ability to work. It is a lesson we must continually learn in a society that teaches us the opposite. Be gentle and patient, doing nothing takes time.

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