On "Busy"

“Busyness rapes relationships.
It substitutes shallow frenzy for deep friendship.
It feeds the ego but starves the inner man.
It fills a calendar but fractures a family.
It cultivates a program that plows under priorities.”
(Dr. Charles Swindoll)

A friend of mine keeps this quote on her kitchen bulletin board.  Every time I read it I pause for thought as this quote really resonates with me.  I wish I'd read it years ago, when I was starting my adult life of marriage and career.  I wonder, however, if I would have really heard the message back then.

There was a time when I was an acolyte of "Busy."  I had a challenging job that I loved.  I trained in kickboxing 3 to 4 times a week.  I sat on several committees and one Board of Directors.  At church, I taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, and was forever raising my hand or signing my name to volunteer for yet more activities.  

For a while, I thought I was thriving on "Busy."  I reasoned that instead of wasting my time on frivolous activities I was making sure that every moment went to something constructive.  I rode the high of accomplishment until one day, no doubt sitting in a board room, I realized something was missing.


Life was happening while I was taking notes, baking pies, brainstorming fundraisers and cutting out Easter crafts.  While my family met for Sunday tea, I was kicking a heavy bag.  When my husband joined our friends for coffee or drinks, I was choking down dinner after work to dash off to yet another committee meeting.

I began to loathe the words, "I'm sorry, I'm too Busy."  I'd hear them coming out of my mouth and the guilt would start.  I couldn't reason it out.  I was doing the right thing, wasn't I?  All of this would help me build my career, my portfolio, my reputation.  "I'd really love to, but I'm just too busy."  

The writing was on the wall almost exactly five years ago.  Dear friends were getting married.  We'd been looking forward to their wedding for months.  We'd booked a hotel room with friends, planned outfits and parties, and were actively involved in the wedding.  And then one of the committees I was involved with announced it was having mandatory training all day Saturday starting at 8:30 AM.  The wedding was Friday night.  And I took calls related to that committee literally as I was going out the door to the wedding.  I suspect the phone may have been taken from me (and for that I am grateful.)

So, I went to the wedding, and ate and danced and stayed the whole time, but I couldn't toast my good friends as liberally as everyone else.  I didn't go to the hotel "after parties" since I needed my sleep in order to be bright and sharp for my training.  And, the next day, while my friends sipped mimosas and watched gifts get opened, I participated in team building exercises and brainstorming sessions.

I was bitterly disappointed.  

It continued like this all year.  I was tired, stressed, and irritable.  Even activities that were supposed to relieve stress, like kickboxing, became of source of ire instead of fitness and enjoyment.  Church ceased to be a place of spiritual fulfillment and became another source of work. Indeed, it was my church activities that finally broke the camel's back.  One day, knowing that I wasn't spending nearly enough time at home, I just didn't go.

(I'll pause for a moment while you go alert the church elders.)

We went for breakfast.  We strolled the streets sipping coffee, just as we had when we were dating.  We drove to our favorite bakery, picked up some sweets, and went to Sunday tea at my grandparents for what seemed like the first time in ages.  We talked.   We had a lovely supper and then watched television together.  I laughed.  It felt lovely.  

I slept like a baby and woke the next morning clear of head and with a plan.

I was quitting all of it.  All of it.  For one year.  Everything.  I would go to work, and I would come home, and I would see what I was missing.  Because during the talk that Sunday, I realized that I might have a resume that shone, but my Life was dull indeed.

My sense of responsibility dictated that I would have to fulfill my current commitments. I made this decision in early Spring; most of my activities followed the school year so they would be ending soon anyway.  I gave my resignations, said my goodbyes, hung up the boxing gloves, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The real challenge came a few months later, when Autumn, of course, brought all my abandoned activities back to life.  I had been candid about my decision, "One year, no activities" so the requests were more creative.  If you won't sit on the board, would you join a committee?  Help us fund-raise?  Help teach a "fitness" kickboxing class as opposed to training?  No, no, and no thank you.    

Did I burn some bridges?  Maybe, although I tried to be as polite and diplomatic as possible.  But it didn't really matter.  Because by the time the new round of requests had begun, I had had three golden months to breath in exactly what you miss when you're Busy.


Fitness?  I swam in the ocean, hiked mountains, did yoga and Pilates.  When I needed a martial arts fix, I did a training session at home with my husband.  

Committees and meetings?  Instead of reading minutes, I was reading novels.  Time spent cooking in stuffy boardrooms was now spent cooking actual food.  And hey, I did have a actual job.

Networking?  Turns out I had a pretty interesting bunch of family and friends I needed to reacquaint myself with.   There's not a team building exercise in the world like the gliding around the ice with your sisters at your family's annual Christmas Skating Party.

Culture?  I'd really missed going to movies, plays, and concerts, and I savored these outings, as well as the coffees and drinks afterward.   There were new experiences, too.  I went to my first gnarly heavy metal concert during that year.  Horrified?  Yes, at moments I was, but now, I can honestly say I've seen Motorhead play live!   

Spirituality?  If walking with my husband and my dog in Petersfield Park on a crisp Cape Breton October Sunday with the leaves turning all around us doesn't bring me closer to God, then I don't know what can.  All my family relationships - marriage, immediate, in-law, you name it - grew stronger during this time.  I think that's more important to my spiritual life, and to God, than fussing over who's making the sandwiches for the social or who's in charge of the rummage sale.

I learned so much about myself during that time.  I love wine, and wine festivals.  I like to scrapbook and make cards.  I enjoy photography.  In no time a year had passed, and I had a much better grasp of who I am and what is important to me.  It was during this time that the "Nestygirl" you know was beginning to emerge, because she was finally allowed to show her face.  I learned that there's no shame in admitting that I'd rather bake a cake in my free time than go to a meeting.  I'd rather visit with my family than bicker with a committee.  That's who I am and I haven't wasted another precious minute feeling guilty about it.  

I hasten to add that I'm not judging anyone who thrives on Busy and truly, truly loves it.  Nor am I pooh-poohing anyone who has to be busy out of necessity.  It just seems to me that there are an awful lot of people out there (and I was one of them) who claim to have no time for what is really important and fulfilling (family, friends, a healthy blood pressure score) but have time for everything else.  Ask yourself this; if you're someone who is always "too Busy," when was the last time you made yourself not be for the betterment of your relationships?  I'm not talking about jobs; you have to put in the time to earn your paycheque, and some jobs are more time consuming than others.  I'm talking about everything else.  Because in the course of my blunt self-examination, I realized a lot of things that were making me "too Busy" were not that important in the grand scheme of things.  

To put it into perspective, I'll use extra-curricular activities like sports as an example.  I know now that while my ego loved the rush of gaining a new belt level, my boxing gloves didn't pour me a glass of wine and tuck me into bed at the end of the day.  Neither do your golf clubs, your poker deck, your boat or your quad.  There's not a day goes by that I don't miss training, and I hope to train again someday, but when I do my head will be in the right place, and martial arts will never take the place of time with my family again.  Because let's face it, I wasn't a professional kick-boxer, and you're not a professional golfer, poker player, sailor or outdoors-person.  

Essentially, it's the lesson at the heart of the song "Cat's in the Cradle."  If you're not careful, by the time you're no longer "Busy,"  everyone else may have passed on by or be too Busy themselves.  The moral of my story is to make sure that you have balance.  Build your career and resume, yes, but please, please, build your relationships, too.  Take care of your health, both physical and mental.  Don't be afraid to say "No."  You know what they say about how if you want something done, ask a busy person?  People do that, and they will take advantage.  A good friend once told me, shaking his head as I was giving him my name for yet another activity that no one else would do, that I had to learn to say no. 

So, you may ask, what about those super-busy, super-successful people who really seem to be doing it all with a smile on their face and a song in their heart?  They've probably achieved what is known as "Balance."  For those who are actually pulling it off, not just keeping up a facade, achieving Balance is a skill that requires understanding, empathy, compromise,and communication.  It can be done!  It just requires a lot of work and a lot of honesty about what you can reasonably do.   

So, did I ever do anything ever again?  Of course, but I am very precious with my time.  When faced with making a decision about whether or not to participate in something, my compass is this; what will I be giving up to do this, and, when I am 80, which decision will I regret more?  It's funny, but I really don't think there are many 80 year olds out there regretting that they didn't accept an executive position on a church committee, but I'm willing to bet there are lots that would give anything for just one more chat with their own grandparents.  

Life is an ever evolving thing.  When I took that year off I had no inkling that five years down the road I'd be in a much less Busy environment altogether.  And so we evolve.  I craft and cook and clean the way I never could when I was working.  And when I miss the organizing and detail-oriented nature of my former career, I apply these skills to something around my home (my Christmas card database, for example!).  Our home and belongings are finally, after eleven years of marriage, just about completely organized and under control.  

Who knows where I'll be or what I'll be doing in another five years?  What I do know is that I have a well-defined set of values and an establish sense of what is truly important to me to guide me through.  


  1. Hi Kim, I so loved your post today, wow, way to go lady, to have the courage to say no to all the "busy" things that were taking up your life and to enjoy the most important things in your life, your marriage, home and YOU... life is passing us all so fast anyways.. why not do what we want with our own time right.. things we enjoy which you shared with us.. see ya tomorrow night, should be fun!!!! Take care Sue

  2. Well I'm almost speechless. Almost ;) This was SO well written, and SO many people need to read this. Balance is not easy to achieve, but so worth the work. Not saying I'm there yet, but I feel a little closer every day. Thanks for yet another wonderful read. xo


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