My entire life I have believed in keeping busy. I had a job, school, friends, extracurricular activities. In college there were often debates about who really had the most work to do; whose major was really the hardest. You could say I grew up in a culture of busyness.
With this as my background, I naturally picked a business – broadcast news – that kept me scheduled down to the second. When I started my job as a news producer and writer for a morning show in Minneapolis, I was too busy to even eat. I still remember walking in my first week at 10 p.m. (I worked overnights) and sitting through the whole night with a growling stomach. I asked one of the producers when they took a break to eat. His response was “We don’t.”
I only lasted so long in this environment, but when I left it and found myself sitting at home and job hunting, I entered some sort of existential crisis. What was my worth if I didn’t have a place to go when I woke up? What the heck was I supposed to do all day?
I recently realized I’m not the only person confronting this problem. Recently, some friends posted Tim Kreider’s article “The ‘Busy’ Trap” on Facebook. He writes eloquently about our need to keep every second scheduled, and he’s right. I have seen so many Facebook posts (and I am guilty of many of these too) complaining that life is too busy right now! Or even worse, people brag about how much they are doing, and it all becomes one big game of one-upping. As Kreider writes, most who constantly claim they suffer from busyness have done it to themselves:
It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”
I don’t blame these people. I’ve definitely been there and in many ways, I probably still am there. I dread what happens when life slows down. What will potential employers think if I have a gap between jobs, between internships? I’m afraid to tell someone that I just spent that time writing, exploring and reading. In today’s world, people will look at you and say, “Wow, must be nice to have the time to do that.” It’s a luxury, and one that is frowned upon.
But what happens to us when we don’t take this time to stop and reassess ourselves and our lives? I have to wonder if we’re avoiding confronting ourselves and our own vices. When I become stressed, my initial reaction is to lose myself in work. It is as if work has become the drug of choice, and pretty soon, we’ll all be forced to face our internal realities. We’ll have to remember where our real self-worth comes from.
Luckily, Kreider has found that inner peace, and he found it in idleness:
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
We cannot be afraid to slow down now and then, to turn off the phone, the computer and the TV. Strive to have both a fulfilling external life and internal life, because one cannot function without the other.
Kreider ends his article by reminding himself what he values most in life — spending time with the people he loves. Think about what you value, and what you want out of life — it’s the quickest way to having fewer regrets.
Read Tim Kreider’s full article here.