Being busy is becoming like being a slave to your smartphone and disconnected from real interactions with humans. These are supposedly the defining characteristics of we Westerners in the modern age. This is what the older generations shake their heads at us about. This is what yoga teachers, preachers, and bloggers try to cure us of. We are overscheduled, they say. We don’t take time to stop and smell the roses, much less to plant and tend them as they grow. They say we are buried in our screens and always on the go-go-go because we have lost the ability to make essential human connections, especially within ourselves. We go because, they say, we fear what we would find in the stillness of leisure and quietude. We are made to feel guilty for our busy lifestyles.
I admit it: I have bought into all of the guilt-mongering. I feel bad for how busy I am. I arrive at the end of each day and the end of each week feeling as though I have somehow failed in my duties as a human being because I didn’t build some leisure into the schedule, some time to completely shut off my brain and relax. I see all the posts on Facebook about the many great TV series that everyone else seems to be binge-watching. I hear about sitting around after work having a glass of wine. My brother-in-law takes long naps almost every day. When these tales of leisure arrive at my brain, it simply does not know how to process them. It is like a foreign language to me. Having that kind of time available to burn on casual pastimes just doesn’t compute. Idleness truly blows my mind.
It is not as though I feel any disdain for all of the people who are incorporating idle leisure into their daily routine—not at all—but rather that I am in awe of them. I am inevitably left asking myself, “How do you do that???” I just cannot comprehend how there is time available for that when I seem to be rushing from one task to the next from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I start drifting off at my desk and have to lug myself up the stairs to bed to prepare for the next day’s gauntlet. I suppose I am a bit jealous of the television watchers, wine drinkers, and nappers—leisure sounds quite lovely, actually—but I am more dumbfounded than anything else.
It is not just the question of, “Where does the time come from?” Even amidst people’s busy lives, for most it seems there are hours before or after work when the magic happens. I guess it is more about, “How does your conscience allow you to take that time for leisure, for idleness?” As I write that, I can see that this is truly the rub for me. The conscience. That little character on my shoulder—I can’t tell if he has a pitchfork or a halo—must have killed his counterpart, because I only seem to be receiving one impulse. That is, to keep plugging away. Do the next thing on the list. Become more efficient. Don’t waste time. Learn. Grow. Improve yourself. Do it. Do it! DO IT!!! The message is relentless. That little guy sure is persistent!
So I go, and I go, and I go some more. All day. Every day.
Don’t mistake me: I don’t want to make it seem as though it is a miserable slog to get through. It isn’t as though I am not doing things just for me or taking care of myself. I really am. I get some exercise. I write in my journal every day. I write this weekly letter to you. I spend a ton of time with my kids, whom I adore. And even though my occupation is not exactly my dream job—I am working on that, too, of course—it works great with my kids’ schedules and gives me the opportunity to fill the rest of my day with so many other things that are important to me. I am quite spoiled, frankly.
But still, each one of my many wonderful things must be done. I must get the exercise; it is non-negotiable. I must have all of that time with my kids until they fall asleep at night. And then, I must write in my journal. I must keep plugging away at starting my new businesses. I must get some pages read before I fall asleep. I must write this letter to you on time every week without fail. These things are all very difficult to squeeze into each day, and I inevitably fail and feel guilty for that failure. It is an endless cycle.
And then there is the long list of things I really, really want to get onto the Must-Do List. These are things that I truly believe are important enough that I should do every day—call it the Should-Do List–but that I cannot seem to make onto the Must-Do List, and because that list is already overfull, these items never seem to make it onto the day’s docket. Meditation, which I find to be extremely important, is on the Should list. There are a million books on this list, including the hundreds on my shelves. I have always longed to learn the guitar, and I even have the instrument and instruction manual in my office. That should be done, even just a few minutes a day. I should make much more time for Life Coaching sessions. I definitely should enroll in some new classes. I should hang out with my wife more. The list goes on and on. And, oh yeah, I should build in some time for leisure.
Ah, leisure. There it is again. As part of my Life Coach training, I had to receive coaching from my peers. The only topic that I could ever think of was, “How do I maintain my ambition for self-improvement but also build leisure into my schedule to achieve some sort of life balance?” The only allowance I ever seemed willing to grant myself was to carve out one night per week to hang out with my wife after the kids went to bed, to watch a movie or play a board game or whatever. I figured that would kill the two proverbial birds with one stone by combining the marriage time and the leisure time, thereby eliminating this built-up guilt from living an unbalanced life. It worked! For about two weeks. Then I drifted back into my usual busy-ness and imbalance. And then the guilt about the busy and imbalance.
What can I say? I think that what I am coming to, though, is letting go of the guilt for being busy. I mean, it is not as though my kids are overscheduled and going like crazy every day. And it’s not as though I am busy with useless things. I am busy doing the things that I love (minus the day job, maybe). I am in constant pursuit of my dreams and self-improvement. That can’t be the worst thing in the world, right? Yes, I know I have to do better about getting more of those Should-Dos—which includes some pretty leisurely things, like the guitar and the meditation—onto the Done list. I know I have to make that time with my wife. But I also have to make peace with the idea that I will never stop trying to learn, grow, and improve. I will be busy until the day I die in the feverish pursuit of my dreams. I realize more and more every day—with so much help from my journal—that I am just hooked up this way. I landed on this Earth hard-wired for ambition and personal growth; it is not something I can undo. So what if it keeps me feeling more busy than everybody else? I am learning to live with that. What I want is to feel authentic, true to myself and my purpose. I could try sitting around this evening drinking chardonnay and watching “Orange Is The New Black” or “Game of Thrones”, but I know that no matter how great those things are, I would find myself stressing about wasting my time and how many other things I am missing out on that are more important to me. In the end, I have to be me, even if Me is a guy whose daily To-Do List is longer than the day itself.
How about you? How busy are you? Open up your journal and think about the role of dreams and ambition in your life. How ambitious are you? Are you constantly striving to improve your life, or are you pretty content where you are now? Of your non-working “spare” time, how much of it do you spend on personal growth versus leisure activities? What are your favorite ways to pass the time? As someone who knows none of the current television shows or movies, do you have any recommendations to me that I could make my one guilty pleasure each week? How much do you wrestle with yourself about the way you spend your time? Are you ever bored or can’t think of anything to do? Of course, my first impulse is to ask “What is that like?” because I simply cannot imagine it. Even if you don’t have the same constant force nagging at you that I do, does it seem like it would be a blessing or a curse? I sometimes wonder. What is on your daily Must-Do List? How about your Should-Do List? How often do you get to your Shoulds? Does it annoy you that you don’t, or are you good at letting it go? I am terrible at letting it go. How driven are you to do more? Leave me a reply and let me know: Is what you do enough for you?
Be relentlessly YOU,