Sunday, September 2, 2012

On the glorification of busyness

This morning, I met up with a good friend and went for an early (but not crazy early), long (but not crazy long) run in the mountains outside of Seattle. As many of my one-on-one runs with ladies go, we wound up talking a lot about our lives.

At some point, she shared a mantra she's focusing on in her life: Stop glorifying busyness.

This, coming from a woman who works full-time at a fairly stressful job, but in a compressed schedule that gives her four days off each week to devote to things like raising chickens, growing vegetables in her garden, making jams and canning pickles, traveling, neighborhood bartering, and having some awesome running adventures here and there. To someone like me who hardly finds time to cook dinner once in a blue moon, she absolutely gives the appearance of someone who's figured out the balance thing in her life.

But, in our different ways, we confessed to struggling with this same issue of glorifying busyness.

What an apt phrase, I thought. I'm sure my mother would agree...I have an insidious habit of overcommitting my time and energy. Facebook friends and readers of my blog sometimes ask me, "Are you even employed? Where do you find the time for everything?"

I find it, of course, the way most everyone else in our fast-paced society finds it - by cramming it in. I multitask. I sleep less. I sacrifice time with friends. I'm a zealot for to-do lists. As I've blogged about here, I do things like read books while I'm on the treadmill, listen to podcasts while I cook, run up and down mountains between work and evening classes, or watch TED talks while doing crunches on my bedroom floor at 11:30 PM. I've gone from being an avid journaler who filled entire notebooks in a couple months to someone who hardly manages a few pages of written introspection each month.

Generally, I take pride in my productivity. I work hard; I play hard. "How have you been?" people ask me. "Pretty good," I say, "but busy!"

But does busy always equal awesome? Many times, yes; I wouldn't trade my adventures for the world.

Pacing at Cascade Crest 100: Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

But sometimes, awesome is also just a weekend at home, with no alarm clocks and absolutely nothing on the docket. For the past 12 consecutive weekends, I have had big (awesome!) things going on: being out of town for a race or all-day hike, having out-of-town guests stay with me, or staying awake for 40 hours straight to volunteer and run in the mountains. Of those 12 weekends, eight involved ultramarathon-distance runs. The last truly "unscheduled" weekend I had was June 2, and even then, it was two days before moving to a new apartment...hardly relaxing.

Part of it, I'll write off as an affliction of living in the Pacific Northwest. When so many nearby beautiful places are covered in snow for 80% of the year, I think it's natural to want to go soak up every hour of sunny summer daylight playing outside. But part of it, too, is indeed my tendency to glorify busyness. As if being constantly doing stuff somehow gives my life value. As if a to-do list can be an identity.

Where did that come from?

When I was growing up, I begged my parents not to schedule up my summers. Aside from our annual June trip to Colorado, where I happily attended a week of day camp to play in the mountains, I wanted my summers clear. I had novels to write, magazines to design, books to pore through, art projects to do, bike routes to explore, treasure hunts to design, and yes, I'll admit it, one summer, a virtual kingdom on Neopets to develop. (That was the year I had to explain to my parents and pediatrician that yes, I still had friends in the real world, too.)

Don't get me wrong: to-do lists have their place in my life. As I learned this morning, I'm not the only one who makes them on my fancy phone in bed at night. Oi vey. But how productive am I, really, when I put relentless, often exhausting, pressure on myself to do, do, and do more? Isn't it okay to sometimes just be?

This weekend I gave myself permission to just be. What a gift. Did I do nothing? Of course not; I read books and took naps and went for walks around the neighborhood and met up with good friends for tea, sushi, and backyard salmon grilling. I watched some Seinfeld over a pint of Haagen Dazs. I spent an entire morning in my PJ's honing my elementary programming skills. But none of it came from a list; it was all what I felt like doing spontaneously, in that moment. I feel calmer tonight than I have in ages, and am no longer panicking that I burnt myself out on running this summer. It's not the running per se that did me in; it's busyness in general that's left me metaphorically gasping for breath.

So. To my blog readers, to the bottom of this evening's mug of tea, to the almost full moon out my window: I am pledging tonight to stop glorifying least for entire summers at a time.


  1. Excellent post. I'm trying to come to terms with this now (literally right now, since it's Labor Day and sunny in the mountains but my husband asked if we could relax at home today instead of going hiking) - it's so hard to not feel like you're missing out on wonderful adventures now that the threat of winter is upon us once again...but sitting on the deck, drinking coffee and reading a book isn't half bad either.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I think the September after the year I did WTA's Hike-a-thon (in 2010) involved a lot of sitting around, drinking coffee, and reading a book :) Congrats on your 100 miles! I just posted another entry with a few random things around the internet that I've enjoyed lately, but I'll mention one in particular to you, since it pertains to your comment... JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out - Happy reading!