Thursday, 11 April 2013

Why busy busy busy is a boring boast

A few months ago, I was chatting to a contact of mine  in the Guiding world. "Ooh, I've been wanting to ask you about blah blah blah", she said (it wasn't boring, I just can't remember it). "But I'd heard how busy you were, so I didn't want to bother you." My heart fell at this, and it's been gnawing away at me ever since.

Had I jabbered on so much about how busy I was that not only were people saying "I know you're busy" to me, but they were also saying it ABOUT me?! Had I become so bad at managing my own time that I was starting to get a reputation as a flakey, unapproachable blusterer? Of all the things people could say about me when I'm not there, I was mortified to think that their lasting impression of me was that I was BUSY, and not that I was kind, generous, helpful, someone to look up to or any of the other things I aspire to or would like to be.

I'm sure many will have already seen Tim Kreider's brilliant article 'The Busy Trap' in the New York Times ( if you haven't). I can't help but agree with him that "It is, quite obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint". Look how important I am, you're saying. Look how much I have in my life. Look at all the things that would come crashing down around our ears if I wasn't here, the indispensable martyr giving up my time for the good of humanity. Bow down before me, ye mortals with enough free time to spontaneously visit the local ale house. You are no match for my mighty sense of self-approbation. What a total dick.

I have definitely fallen into this trap. I've shown people my pen-covered diary with a forlorn look on my face. I've moaned to friends that I feel trapped by my schedule. I've complained that people don't realise that a guide leader's job is voluntary and neverending, not paid by the hour. I've felt smug about myself because of this. And deep down, I've felt scared that although my diary is backed up with meetings and engagements, my urge (or ability?) to sit on the sofa eating Pringles and watching endless reruns of Friends means I'm actually fundamentally rather lazy.

Some of it is fraudulent. I am usually the last person in my office, and the security guard constantly gives me the knowing-but-patronising "Another late one for you then?!" routine, commiserating with empathy as he nods how busy he is too, implying "we know each other don't we, fellow martyrs". Sometimes I feel like shouting "YOU DON'T KNOW ME! I'm not like this really! I rolled in this morning at 9.45 and I spent two hours at lunch reading The Vagenda! I'm just making up my hours! I'm going to the pub after this!" I start to resent the implication that life has taken me over, that I don't have control over my time and that an outside force is deciding what time I leave, not me.

Even my dad said to me recently "I know you're really busy", so I said "No I'm not! I just decided not to look at my emails!"

The growing sense that voicing busyness somehow says the wrong thing about me has made me realise two things. 1. These conversations are not interesting for others. And 2. It's all my choice. I have control over my own existence. I decide to do all the things I do, and if I don't like them, I can stop. I have therefore resolved to do two things differently. 1. Not to bore other people with my busy boasts. Enjoy the moment. Embrace their company. Make sure they know that time spent with them, for whatever reason, is something I will give with pleasure and without expecting sympathetic tilts of the head in return. And 2. To take control. If I don't want to spend every evening out and about, don't. Don't make wall-to-wall plans unless I am willing to own them, to vigorously and dynamically embrace them.  Indulgently enjoy moments of pointless downtime. The point is that they're pointless. "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 lightening strikes of inspiration", says Kreider so eloquently.

Now that the clocks have changed and its light when I leave the office, even at half past seven, I notice as I do every spring a palpable sense of difference - opportunity and optimism. Somehow idleness, time and inspiration all seem more abundant. And if the seasons can make my consciousness shift like this, I don't see why I can't shift it myself.

I love my life. I believe in the things in it. Simple as that.