I am going to let you in on a secret. If you are a busy person you need to know this.
Your busyness helps no one. It aides the progress of nothing.
In the immortal words of Ron Swanson of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
I have a word for those of you who spread yourself over a million commitments because you have trouble saying no, you feel like you “should”, or like some people I’ve known, you have a complex where you need to be the center of the universe: STOP.
I’m serious, knock that shit off because you’re doing more harm than good. It will not kill you to slow down. I thought it would kill me to slow down and then it was about to kill me to not slow down. Bear in mind that this is not directed at people who genuinely can’t help it. Those of you with kids and jobs and spouses, you don’t get a full pass, but you do get a partial one.
I once waited three months to hang out with a lady I thought I could be friends with. She told me that she needed to wait until her kids were out of school. So I waited until it was summer and she and I scheduled to spend some time together. The day of, my car got blocked in where I was and I was going to be late. I texted her to let her know that we’d need to postpone for about twenty minutes because I was trapped in by a tree trimming company. I was surprised when she said that meant we would need to reschedule. Twenty minutes is annoying, but certainly not cancel-worthy. It turned out that she had just penned me in for an hour between other things. Those twenty minutes were actually a third of our allotted time. I brushed it off and thought, “Hey, she’s busy”. But when rescheduling failed, I got an email from her that was not at all what I would have expected. She apologized and told me that she didn’t see any way in the near or distant future for us to meet. Of course I thought, that she may have not wanted to see me in the first place and that she was making excuses. Yet something about the way that she wrote it all down made me hear not a woman dodging spending time with me, but one that was clearly overwhelmed and frustrated that she couldn’t make time and space in her life for other people. Yes, she is a very busy woman, but at the end of the day there are always commitments that we don’t have to make. There were things in her life that would have been very hard to let go of, but they would have made space for rest, friends, and a moment to take a breath.
Another person I knew was just selfish. He made commitments and said he would do things that he never followed through on. Working for him was a nightmare. He was obviously over-extended but his ego meant that he had to be in the “leadership roles” however crappy his leadership actually was because he could never be fully present. He was the epitome of half-assing more than one thing. Unlike the woman I waited three months for he didn’t say yes out of some kind of obligation, he did it because he thought it made him look better. Everything around him suffered. His employees couldn’t do their jobs without dealing with some crisis his busyness had caused. He was constantly canceling and rescheduling meetings, not answering important emails, and putting off vital decisions. The excuse was that he was busy. But I’m going to tell you this: That’s a garbage excuse.
As someone who grew up in the Washington D.C. area, I can tell you that busyness rules supreme. If your calendar is not full, if you are not pushing yourself professionally and personally, you are wasting time. Your worth is tied directly to what you’re doing and not who you are.
I used to worship busyness. From high school until I was about twenty-one, I filled my schedule with everything I could. I was working, going to college, seeing friends, volunteering at church, house sitting, what ever it was I would make it work. But everything in my life was suffering, especially me.
When my life crashed just before I go married I was having a harder and harder time even getting out of bed. By the fall of 2012 I realized that at just twenty-two, I couldn’t work anymore. Then, by December of that year, I couldn’t even handle online school. I had to stop everything cold. My days were spent sleeping or panicking. Sometimes I would make it to the couch before my ex-husband made it home, other times not. I would have to rest after every task. I even needed help bathing because standing in the shower that long meant I might fall over. My life felt like it was at a stand still.
As I began to recover I had to weigh the importance of everything. If I did one activity I couldn’t do another. If I wanted to be up to do something in the morning I could do nothing the night before. Going back to work meant that I slept my entire days off to recover for the next string of work days. Mornings are still the hardest part of my day, but then they were simply impossible. My body refused to cooperate. Rescheduling or postponing or canceling plans became a norm because I would think I could do something and then be unable.
What that abrupt halt to my life taught me is that life is as fast or as slow as you make it. When I was busy all the time I was rushing from one thing to another and I was never fully present. I had no time to stop and help someone or take a phone call from a friend. I was living the breadth of my life, but not the depth. A friend of mine, Kait, she also has a chronic illness and she makes note of that often, that she looks to live the depth of her life because the length is not promised.
I see this reflected in the lives of so many people. That they are just moving from one thing to another. They have no time for friends or family, their commitments suffer because they have too many. They are doing nothing as well as they would like and their self-esteem suffers. They become overwhelmed easily because they are simply doing more than they or anyone has time for.
A Christian author and speaker, Bob Goff, has answered this struggle by quitting something every Thursday. I enjoy that idea. Whether it’s something like biting your nails or something bigger like chairing an organization, it’s useful to step back from everything even if it’s just for a little while.
Ask yourself why you’re doing the things that you are. Do you want to or do you feel obligated somehow? Do you worry that “no one else will do it”? Because unless you put them in that position, you’ll never know. Is it for your own ego? Do you need to be a leader of something? Because I can tell you from experience that leadership for the sake of oneself is not leadership at all.
A painful thing that I learned from having to quit everything was that life went on without me. Absolutely nothing that I was doing didn’t survive without me. I thought I was so important and integral, but all the things I was part of either made do without me or found someone else. Sure, it hurt to feel replaceable, but it was also freeing. It meant that should I ever be done with something, I can say no. I can say no to things I don’t want or need to do.
Now, I am careful about my commitments. I always say that you have three budgets:
You will run out of one of those first. I most often run out of energy and money. But finding a balance among these three ideas is paramount. Bowing to your own pride is another piece. Realizing that the world will march on without you means that when you need to stop marching for a second, it’s okay. Any organization or activity worth its salt will keep going. Or, people will take a break. The whole United States took a break from roller derby for a while and now it’s back and better than ever.
Meanwhile you’ll be able to focus on the things you’re truly passionate about. That’s why you say no, so that you can give more of yourself to the things that you find purpose and joy in and pursue those things with abandon.
Just remember the immortal words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”
Close your eyes and ask yourself what you want to whole-ass. Whittle it down. Make a list. Go for it.
Stop making everyone else suffer from your half-assery.