A number of years ago I was out to dinner with a group of friends. The conversation soon took on the feeling of one-upsmanship. Each person started by saying “I am sooo busy”, with the number of “o’s” in “so” increasing with each successive friend. All of a sudden it hit me—if this is a competition I’ve won. I’ve got four little kids, work part time in a large law firm, and teach part time at a law school. Yep, no doubt about it, based on any objective standard, at least within this group, I’ve won—but what the heck have I actually won, and why would anyone in their right mind want to win this contest. Winning felt a lot like losing. When it came my turn to complain about my all-important busyness, I turned the conversation to shoes.
Egging Me On
I chose this life, but somehow it felt like it was controlling me. The funny thing is that it feels like “society” is egging us on, rather than condemning our over-involvement. Being overly busy is a badge of success. Dawn is so competent; look at how much she does. Dawn is the queen of multi-tasking. Let’s ask Dawn to be involved because she can get things done. Talk about feeding my ego… and I was gobbling it up.
Who’s in Charge Here Anyway?
As I looked at my life, I felt out of control with no one to blame but myself. I was the one who kept adding things to my schedule. I was the one who worried that my kids needed to be in Chinese lessons, cooking school, tennis, etiquette classes. (Actually, they really do need the etiquette classes.) I was the one who let guilt interfere with my ability to say no. No one else was responsible—only me.
Not immediately, but slowly by fits and starts, I started to try to lose this contest by simplifying my life and actively trying to be less busy. I limited my activities, and I limited my kids’ activities. It was hard because each of my activities fed a part of me, and I missed them when I cut them out. I love to entertain, but entertaining added to my busyness. I loved going out with friends, but doing so added to my busyness. I liked volunteering, but… you see the pattern.
It’s a Balancing Act
I play the game Temple Run 2 on my phone where you control a runner in an obstacle course by tilting the screen. Tilt too far to the right, and the runner falls off the cliff. Tilt too far to the left, and he runs into a wall and gets eaten by the monster chasing him. (Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds.) My life at times feels a little like this game. It’s a balancing act between over-involvement and self-care. Some activities which add to my overall busyness also give me great pleasure and belong in my life. Other activities give me pleasure, but when weighed on the scale of priorities vs. enjoyment, need to wait until later in my life. Still other activities, I can do occasionally in moderation.
For Everything There is a Season
What helped me was to realize that my life has seasons. Our kids are young for only a small fraction of our life. That is easy to say, but often hard to believe when you’re in the thick of it. My kids are older now, and I find I’m entering a new season of my life that has room for more outside activities and even more busyness. The key, I think, is being intentional. I have more time, but I want to carefully decide what to let in and what just contributes to busyness. And this time around I’m trying very hard to keep my ego out of it.
OK, tell me that I’m not the only one whose life at times has been out of control with no one to blame but myself and my ego. Have you intentionally cut back?
Image credit: skreened.com
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Dawn, it isn’t an easy thing for me either as I have OCD and need things to be a certain way. But I also don’t like the person I become when I feel too busy. I am not nice and that isn’t fair to anyone. Being busy just makes time pass more quickly and I miss the little things. Trust me, I completely understand the dilemma. It takes a lot of work, that’s for sure. I cannot wait to read the electronics blog….it’s an issue we struggle with at our house but we do try (just not as hard as I would like).
Excellent article, Dawn. I love your honesty about the opinions of others fueling your ego–so true for so many of us extremely competent gals! It is my goal to be more of a human BEING and less of a human DOING! 😀
Dina, love the idea of scheduling time for family. We have Family Night one night a week. It used to always be on a set day, but now we have to coordinate all our schedules at the beginning of the week so it moves around, but it always happens. Hubby is just finishing up on a “golf course” around our yard/property for a family golf game for Family Nights in July. The rule is you can only use one club for the entire game. He and my sons assure me that no understanding of golf is necessary, but I suspect they are just saying that because they can’t wait to beat me. He cut flags for each hole out of old t’shirts from the kids–old soccer teams, school shirts, etc. and put them on old PVC pipes to represent holes. I’ll try to take a picture and post it when I have time.
We actually schedule 1 weekend a month for just our family. We write “us” on the calendar and do not schedule anything unless it is an absolute necessity. It varies which weekend of the month. I like the idea of no electronics for the weekend that would be easy now as our boys are 5 & 19 months but later when they’re older will be more difficult. My hubby is a workaholic too. I try not to complain as he works from home (unless he needs to travel) and it gives us the ability to have me home as a full time mom. Even with all that I still feel overwhelmed and too busy.
Rayne, I’m not inherently like you, but I’ve learned to fake it. 🙂 I think electronics are a HUGE issue for this current generation of young parents. Actually, I’m working on a blog that touches on that.
This is a great post Dawn. I have always been one to just take it easy, try to keep things to a minimum and live somewhat simple. It’s not easy especially since I love to be with friends and family and have lots of hobbies and interests. I try to limit what I schedule each month but there are just some months that are busier than others because of special holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I can definitely feel it when I have gotten myself too “busy”. The other thing that makes things hard is my husband is a workaholic (and not at home) so I have to make up for the extras he misses. Most of the time it balances out but does take some work. When I start feeling overwhelmed and “bitchy” I know that I need to step back and re-evaluate. I grew up watching my parents be busy all the time – well they still are, constantly working on something and that was always a life I didn’t want to live. So sometimes I let the cleaning slide for awhile so I can just spend time with my son. I put away electronics and enjoy a good book instead.
I have no patience for anyone who is soooooooo busy, that they need to discuss how busy they are on social media. if you’re that busy, please go do something, rather than taking precious time to broadcast it to the world. I find that this is especially true for young parents these days. With the illness/infertility hat, it makes it harder to stomach, because if I had my way, I would rather NOT be this busy running around to treatment after treatment and *enjoy* family time.
Shanisa–yeah, it is kind of funny to be complaining about busyness while playing around on Facebook. On the other hand, even people who are too busy need some downtime and maybe FB is their one allowed vice.
Oh yes! I used to be the busy busy busy person. Then, in 2003, I was injured and ended up with something called CRPS – basically, I have permanent nerve damage in my knee. I tried to remain busy busy busy, but it just wasn’t happening.
These days, my condition is largely held in check by medication, but I still have to limit myself to just a couple of activities. This coming year, I’ll have parenting 2 kids, a move to at least half time work (economy willing), co-chairing DS’s school memory book, and leading the 4-H drama project. That’s more than I’ve had in awhile, and I’m kind of scared. I haven’t attempted this much, successfully, since before I was hurt.
Robyn, that would be a lot for anyone, injured or not. I’ve found that as my kids age, my level of busyness can change. Although I think it’s a myth that our tweens and teens need our presence and involvement less, there is still more time for activities outside of the house.