Historically I’m a list maker by nature. It’s not the making the list that I enjoy. It’s the crossing it off, the checking the box; the little “done” bell that rings in my head when I complete an item on the list that I really love. I’ve so enjoyed this part of the list making job that I have retroactively added items that I’ve already completed to the list so that I can have the joy of crossing them off. Ding. “Done.” You get a gold star, oh yes you do. Look how productive you are. You are really doing it. Well, doing something. Well, doing lots of things.
These days, I don’t really make lists. I really don’t. Sometimes I’ll make a list of people I need to get in touch with, but I don’t cross them off. I’m noticing this change right now as I’m writing. I have stopped crossing things off lists. I’ve stopped ringing my “done” bell. Why? I think I’ve had a fundamental shift. And the shift has to do with busyness. Western culture hold busyness in very high regard. Busyness is productivity. Productivity is value. Value is worth. Ding. You get a gold star. Yay!!!
Why don’t I make these big lists and cross the items off anymore? I think I have conquered my busyness addiction. I believe I have left behind the need to fill all the moments with activity. Why? Because I do not want a life that is measured in terms of my productivity.
Let me take a minute here. I went to a wonderful event the other day held by the Women’s Business Network of Frederick. I can’t say enough about this group of women. Such warmth, such support, and such wisdom. We had a great day. During that day, I was challenged by a colleague to imagine that I am 90 (or so). How do you want to describe the life that you’ve led? What do you want to have done? What do you want to have accomplished? What do you want your loved ones to say about you? Take a moment if you have one, and imagine that for yourself. What do you want to be true about your life?
Guess what words were NOT anywhere in my description? Busy and productive. These two didn’t make the list at all. What WAS there? Inspirational. Brave. Risk-taker. Dream-chaser. Love-builder. Life-liver. This exercise brought so many of the changes I’ve experienced in the last few years into clear focus.
So much of that old busy was really just that, busy. An inability to be in the moment, an inability to stay present, an unwillingness to sit still long enough to get comfortable in my own skin and experience the people around me, to risk the vulnerability of true connection. So much of that busy was avoidance – avoiding my own big questions about what I was going to do for a living when my kids got a little bigger, how to counsel my husband about the job he hated, how to deal with the realities of family as part of the sandwich generation, how to address old wounds and new discomfort. Busyness was so much a part of my pain avoidance that when my poor husband and I tried to discuss difficult topics, I would suddenly lurch into motion. The need to tidy became overwhelming as we neared the tricky parts of marriage and cohabitation. If I could have whipped out my list, I would have. “How can we talk about this when we have SO MUCH TO DO?!”
Listen, I’m not saying nobody is legitimately busy. I’m sure many people are. Presidents, ER residents, other people with crazy schedules. You may be legitimately busy. I just want to send you a note from the other side. I just want to tell you it’s really nice on the other side. And the price is feeling your feelings and getting clear on your goals.
Avoiding my feelings by busying seems like a good idea in terms of limiting pain BUT the truth is that the time spent avoiding pain is ASTRONOMICALLY more than time that would be spent actually feeling that pain. Seriously. And let me tell you what won’t kill you – feeling that pain. That is no lie. Just in case you think I don’t understand the kind of pain you mean, let me tell you, I know from pain. I’ve lost babies. I’ve nearly died. I’ve lost friends to suicide and illness. I’ve lost friends to betrayal. I’ve gone toe to toe with family members. I’ve struggled to make the rent. I’ve struggled to find myself. I’ve held girlfriends after their partners tore their souls in two. I’ve experienced the slow horror of the transformation of love into codependence. I’ve protected students from parents and protected parents from students. I’ve protected students from students and been bruised in the process. I’ve lost my faith and found new hope. I’m not saying my pain is more than yours. What I’m trying to say is that even with very real pain, facing it has not killed me. Facing it is better than busying it into submission. Facing it is the way through, the way out, the way to YOU.
So now that I’m facing these demons? Am I making a list of them? It is tempting, I admit. But no, I’m not. I’m facing them as they come. I’m figuring out what I need to do every day to reach my goals that have everything to do with that vision of the last year of my life. What do I want to have accomplished? What do I want to be true? What do I want to have created in my life for other humans? How do I want to contribute? Busyness is not there. Love is there. And love doesn’t need a checklist.
If you want to be less busy, but don’t know where to start, call me (240-267-9730).
If you think maybe your busyness is your way of avoiding something that scares you, call me (240-367-9730).
If you are so busy that you can’t think about anything I just said, call me (240-367-9730). It can be different, I swear.