Busy? Who’s Not?

There’s no free Internet at the

Atlanta airport and my phone is dying, the perfect time to start a new blog. It’s Sunday and nearing the end of a very busy week preparing for a country dance competition, working overtime to buffer the loss of hours for our Friday travel and finishing a homebuilding article for Indianapolis Monthly.

Sitting here chatting with other people waiting on flights (mostly single college girls on Spring Break), I notice it’s the first real down time I’ve had in weeks, so I try to enjoy it. When I step off the plane in Indy, my friend Deanna will pick me up and take me home. I’ll grab a quick bite to eat and head over to Diane’s to pick up my new standard dress that she’s just completed. By the time I get home, I’ll have just enough time to unpack my suitcases and pack my lunch for work tomorrow.

The airport gate attendant just announced that NO chocolate chip cookies will be permitted on the flight and anyone who has them must check them at the podium where they will be “confiscated in a confidential manner.” His sense of humor is refreshing in a place where almost everyone is rushing to get somewhere and tensions are high.

Most of us live in a state of busy-ness. We go, go, go – double and triple booking our time – shifting from one role to another without a blink of an eye and I’m no exception. But lately I’ve noticed that when people ask how I’m doing and I say that I’m good, and busy, they look at me with sympathy – as if “busy” is a bad word. They lament with stories of how bogged down and stressed out they feel. Am I supposed to commiserate on life’s breakneck pace? I wonder, what is the alternative? Staying home, watching TV?

Now, I enjoy an evening or a weekend at home on occasion, but mostly so I can catch up on laundry and dishes. I’m definitely not a homebody. I love all of the dancing, running, yoga, catching up with kids over coffee or lunch, writing a blog or article. My life is stacked and there isn’t a thing I can eliminate because each activity supports one of the others. I dance to feed my soul and to offset the hours I spend working at a desk. The desk job helps me afford to dance at this level. The yoga and running keep my body fit enough to support the dancing and writing captures the experience in words to share. I can’t help but think; if busy is just what happens when you lead a full life, then why do so many people consider it bad to be busy?

We’ve all got our to-do lists, whether we actually write them down or not. Daily, weekly, summer wish lists, even before-you-kick-the-bucket lists. They direct our lives and keep us on track toward our dreams and goals. But some people keep lists chock full of toxic obligations, i.e., promises they make to other people to do things they don’t really want to do. They drag themselves through one chore after another complaining about how they never have enough time.

Obligations, like flypaper, are sticky territory. We want to be kind and say yes to the people we care about, but how often are we saying yes when what we really want to say is NO? Some would say it’s more “spiritual” or more “holy” to sacrifice our needs for the needs of others. Isn’t that what we’ve been taught? “Share,” my mother commanded, and “think of others first.” She got angry at me if I spent my allowance money on something I wanted, instead of on someone else. At ten, I really didn’t get it and I’ve spent years sorting out that mixed up thinking. So I understand why people feel “obligated” to add other’s responsibilities to their to-do lists.

Now, I’m not saying that I never do things for others. I do things for others all the time—mostly for people I care about. And sometimes I go out of my way for people I don’t even know. But my reasons for doing so are different now than they were when I was ten. Back then, I just wanted my mother’s acceptance and approval. I learned how to do things to keep on people’s good side.

It’s not hard to see that saying yes while attempting to win favor is actually more selfish than saying no. When we act out of obligation we are actually seeking security, a guarantee of acceptance. If I don’t do X, Y or Z, then that person won’t like me, or worse, that person might leave me. But if I say yes, and follow through, I’m golden. What we want is to maintain or keep a positive status for ourselves–feeling like a victim all the while–as if we have no other choice.

Everyone has to decide for themselves the balance between doing for others, and doing for oneself. But if we keep our schedules confined to things that inspire us, we’ll manage to be more productive and happier on a daily basis. For example, this spring, I’ve taken on additional writing jobs to earn extra money for my daughter’s Study Abroad fund. It has increased my workload and the deadlines can sometimes be tight. It might be easy to resent the extra work and the stress it can create, but I really want her to go and not feel penny-pinched while she’s there. It isn’t a sacrifice because I believe in her and want to contribute to the fabulousness of her life. And doing so reminds me how fabulous my life is too.

Sometimes I feel scared about being too busy, even when the things I’m doing are my choice. When my calendar is booked back to back, I get a little nervous. When there isn’t any wiggle room in a day and I’m facing multiple deadlines at once, my fears about not being able to keep up or dropping the ball on something important can rise up like a volcano ready to rip. That’s when I need to remind myself that nothing is ever really at stake other than what matters to me. Sometimes I even give myself permission to quit it all. I tell myself, nothing will happen if I don’t do it. Life will carry on as usual. And all of that is true (I couldn’t say that about obligations).

I might have to sit some time with those ideas before I can get back on the horse and carry on. But when I do, the stress is gone, replaced with a refreshed focus on what really matters, and what doesn’t.

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