The Real Reason We’re All So Busy

The month of August was busy for us. I mean BUSY. I was pretty sure, at some point, my calendar was going to say, “no I’m sorry, there is not enough room for any more events in August… come again later.”

In fact, the only thing busier than our month of August is… uh…

Our month of September.

Right now, if I sit and look at my iCal for long enough, I can feel myself start to hyperventilate. I see weekends where we’re working or traveling, all the way through the weekend, and I can already feel in my bones how exhausted I’m going to be. The whole thing makes me want to let out a tiny whimper.

busy

But it also has me thinking about why I do this to myself.

Why are we so freaking BUSY all. the. time?

The reason we most often cite for our chronic busyness (myself included) is we don’t want to let people down. It’s our people-pleasing problem that’s really getting in our way, we say. And in a roundabout way, I guess we’re right. But I think there’s a much deeper reason we pack our schedules so full we want to cry.

That is this: busyness makes us feel less inadequate.

We’re mind-numbingly busy because we choose to be. Busyness is our crutch. (Tweet That)

I read all these things on the Internet (and everywhere) about people waking up at 5am to crush their productivity and if I’m being totally honest, the whole thing makes me feel a little sick. It’s not because I think there is anything wrong with waking up at 5am or being insanely productive.

Like everyone, I’m always trying to maximize the amount of work I get done with a given amount of energy. And I have gone through long seasons of my life waking up at 5am.

Book-writing seasons. Great seasons. Happy seasons. Productive seasons.

But the reason the whole thing makes me feel sick to my stomach is because, at the end of the day, no matter how much we accomplish or produce or “crush”, no matter how early we wake up, it will never make us feel like we’re enough.

That feeling has to come from somewhere else.

If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it.

You know, being so amazing and all.

Busyness helps me cope with my feelings of worthlessness.

If I can do more, be more, go harder, make more money, fit more in, please more people, get more attention and accolades for my accomplishments, maybe one of these days, one of those accomplishments will make me feel like I’m not such a waste of space.

Maybe one day, if I’m busy enough, I’ll finally start to feel like I matter for something. The problem is it never happens like that.

Feeling worthy is something that happens from the inside, out. (Tweet That)

A little over a year ago I spent a week at a place called Onsite.

It’s basically like summer camp for adults, with some counseling woven in. They make you turn in your cell phone and you’re not allowed to talk about what you do for a living. Then you spend a week with the same small group of people doing pretty much… well… nothing.

In fact, I remember being struck by how easy it was to sit for an hour—or more—after dinner, just talking about… hmm… who even knows what? I don’t really remember what any of our conversations were about. I just remember feeling deeply connected and endeared to these people who, for all intents and purposes, I had just met.

Now, to be fair, it didn’t start off like this.

The first few hours at Onsite—without my phone or my friends or my busy schedule to move me from one thing to the next—felt horribly awkward and painful. I wondered what on earth I had done. It took everything in me not to get in my car and drive home.

But, by the end of the week, despite the fact that I was totally disconnected from the world around me, completely disengaged from my career goals, didn’t send or receive a single email or a single text message…

This was probably the most “productive” week of my life.

Worthiness comes from the INSIDE, out.

Then productivity follows. Clarity of thought and of vision. Decisiveness. Permission to let people down.

I’m not sure how this sits with you.

Maybe I’m the only one who super-charges my schedule so I don’t have to sit still with myself. Maybe I’m the only one who numbs myself out at the end of the day watching Netflix until I’m so tired I can’t keep my eyes open, so I don’t have to get comfortable with the silence.

Maybe I’m the only one who, on a day when I have nothing to do, finds things to do just so I can keep feeling “productive”.

But I kind of don’t think I am.

So if you’re even slightly tracking with me, here is something I am working on.

I say “no,” then I pay attention.

I say no to doing the dishes while our dinner guests are still there, opting to put it off for the morning so we can continue in conversation—and then I pay attention to how it makes me feel. Anxious. Stressed. Like I’m not doing enough.

I say no to a project that is a great opportunity. A huge leg up for me. A “can’t miss” kind of thing. Then I pay attention to how it makes me feel. Like I’ll never make it—never make a good living doing what I do, never achieve the success I want.

I say no to a volunteer event—the one that would benefit so many people and make me look so great and loving and kind. Then I pay attention to how it makes me feel.

Like I’m not nice enough, not kind enough, like I don’t do enough.

And in those places where I am so broken and fragile, I love myself.

Which mostly looks like laughing at myself, because, well, I am ridiculous. And also amazing. I remind myself that no amount of success or money or fame or even attention for doing “good” will ever make me feel good. No amount of domestic prowess will ever make me feel like I am enough.

Not for very long anyway.

I already am enough. Deep down inside I know it.

And I can find it down there, like buried treasure, if I am patient and persistent and quiet enough.

And if I can just find some space in my calendar…

32 comments on “The Real Reason We’re All So Busy

  1. Yessss!
    I went on retreat this summer – not quite a week- and when I returned home to kids and business building and travel the important part of me that I’d been paying attention to for a week seemed hyper aware of the light speed I usually travel in.
    I slip and fall at light speed/ my creativity dwindles to a drip and I cannot invest my heart in relationships when I am in busy-accomplishing mode.
    On retreat I painted after dinner each night- nothing big/ a dandelion or a little
    Flower but I was connected to me. Now – with school and coaching and travel and new programs- I want to let that time come. I want to walk away from my list and wander into the art room and see what happens…
    I think that’s the biggest thing I miss when crazy light speed busy- there’s not room for seeing what happens.

    • Liberty, this is so true. Creativity. Passion. Relationships. Deep connection. These are the first things to go when we get too busy and they are also the things that keep us alive and thriving. We can live without them for awhile, but eventually it’s like cutting off our oxygen… we slowly begin to die.

      May we all have an opportunity to “see what happens” today. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    • You’re welcome Jeff! So glad you found it helpful. And hope we all find some time to be a little more still with ourselves today.

  2. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    We are enough. I stay up late, wake up early, work all weekend, trying to earn my worth. Now I will sit quietly and listen. May you find time to listen today Allison. Thank you for being vulnerable and real in your writing. You bring hope. A word I have not used in months.

    • Thank you so much Pamela. So thankful you’re finding hope in this season. You’re bringing so much hope to the world, too. Keep it up.

  3. The similarities between us are eerie. You described, well, pretty much my whole life. I absolutely need to let myself off the hook more often and realize I don’t have to run myself into the ground to prove I’m worthwhile. Thanks for the honest writing!

    • Love it, Jerilyn! You’ll be amazed what happens when you let yourself off the hook, like you said. It doesn’t always feel comfortable right away. But eventually you come to see how valuable you truly are.

  4. I can definitely relate. It’s so easy to seek comfort in things that are right in front of us, but lasting joy doesn’t come from an empty sink. We have to look harder than that — to squint through all the noise and distraction of this world into the true Peace that waits for us in the stillness of a moment. It’s not easy, but at the same time, isn’t it just so simple too?! Thanks for your words today.

    Jenni

    • Thanks Jenni. I love what you said, “it’s not easy, but it’s just so simple.” Isn’t that true with so many of the deep truths in life?? Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  5. I usually wait until the end of the day to read non work related e-mails because you know, I’m just soooooo BUSY!!! But I couldn’t resist opening yours (I enjoy your writing so much) and I’m so glad I did. Beautiful, simple- reminding me of what I know to be true, but somehow forget during the day to day hustle. Thank you for writing this piece!

    • Thank you for reading Jolie! So glad you liked it and that it could be a reminder for you. It has been a great reminder for me, too.

  6. Hi Allison…I think you’ve stumbled onto something to which many of us can relate, myself included. If you haven’t heard of the work of Brene Brown, she talks a lot about this phenomenon. She is a shame and vulnerability researcher. She has said that this habit of busyness often stems from our “culture of scarcity.” For example, the first thought many of us have in the morning before we even get out of bed is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” At the end of the day we often think “I didn’t get enough done.” And in our race to be “as good as/better than/etc.” many of us find that “good enough” isn’t good enough and we practically kill ourselves trying to be better than.

    Dr. Brown encourages us to embrace our inherent sense of worthiness and let go of the notion that what we do or how we do it–or the number of items we check off our ToDo list–are the only factors we should consider when determining whether or not our life has meaning.

    I’ve found her work to be incredibly poignant. You can find some of her wisdom here: http://brenebrown.com/. Enjoy! And thank you for putting yourself out there on a regular basis! It helps me find the courage to do the same! ~Kelly

    • Thanks Kelly. And thanks for recommending Brene Brown. I’ve been reading her for years and love everything she writes. A lot of what I have learned about myself over the past several years has been influenced by her, for sure. Great recommendation.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  7. I like it! Great idea but I dont’ do enough already so now what will happen? I am not working but reading what everyone else does like you but I still don’t know enough! HELP!!! =)

  8. WOW. How do you do it, Allison? How do you put this all into words so easily? I have gone through (and am still going through) a very similar process myself, yet not in such a self-aware manner as you’ve described above. You lay it all out so bluntly and honestly, and for that I just want to say- thanks!

    • So glad it is helpful for you Veronica. And you may be more aware than you are giving yourself credit for. The fact that you can see yourself in this post is a great step in the right direction. “Awareness without judgement” is always more productive than trying to strong-arm changes in ourselves.

      Thanks for reading. Wishing you the best!

  9. Allison,

    I’m curious to hear about the type of people you’ve surrounded yourself with, do you think they also struggle in this same way? I ask because my wife and I lived in the Silicon Valley for many years (just quit our jobs and moved away two years ago), and that level of intensity was all around us. It was almost as if it was a particular energy that demanded time as its sacrifice, and the more people fed it, the more it wanted.

    We’re surrounded by different kind of people now. Montana has a slower pace of life. I won’t say its better, it’s just different, in a way that we really needed for a period.

    Who are you surrounded by?

    -Samuel

    • Samuel—that’s a great question. I do think that based on the nature of my job and where I live in the country, I’m surrounded by really driven people who are (more often than not) career-focused. I’m not sure a move to Montana is on the docket for us, but I can find ways to build more downtime into my life… and a vacation to Montana or somewhere like it doesn’t sound bad at all.

  10. Thanks for this honest to goodness writing Alison. It reminds me to smell the flowers & let go of any distraction of life particularly the technology…I’m a person who loves to tick my to do lists & feels “productive” at the end of the day. But now feels, it made me alienated with other people , relationships & most importantly myself, as if I just let time flies and have reduced myself to a working robot, and it slowly eroding away my joy of living…

    • Marne—isn’t that so true? So often, we can either be productive or we can be present. And I would like to work on being more present than productive (sounds like you and I both have the productive part down).

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