Escaping the Cult of Busyness -
Busyness might keep me from stumbling on snow mushrooms.

Escaping the Cult of Busyness

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Busy, Busy, Busy

I accidentally joined a cult and now I am working on getting out. It’s the Cult of Busyness. You know what I mean: we’re all so busy these days and we use it as an excuse to not be present.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. People are too busy to show up on time, too busy to respond to a request or invitation. And sometimes, I think, we say “I am busy” as a way of saying “I am so important.” It’s a humble brag to describe how needed we are in everyone else’s life. We are feeling overwhelmed at our own hands and looking for a way to make it socially acceptable.

I’m not the first one to say this. Google “cult of busyness” and you get a whole slew of articles. People have been busy worrying about being busy.

We call it busyness, but it’s about prioritizing. I (mostly) get to decide what I want my life to look like. As the calendar czar in our house, I make a lot of decisions that affect our whole family’s life. We can be busy, busy, busy, trying to do everything. Or we can chill out and enjoy the things we really care about. It’s all about prioritizing.

When I am not wrapped up in busy-ness I get to visit places like this.

I think busyness can also be a way to not face what’s important. When we are so busy, we don’t have to connect with our partner, our kids, or our friends. We don’t have to face the things we don’t like in ourselves. Being busy is a great way to not deal with inner messiness.

The New York Times calls it “The ‘Busy’ Trap” and wrote:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”


Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

I have friends who I love and miss, but I’ve mostly given up trying to get together with them because they are so busy. If I do get time with them, they’re late or they’re fitting me in. Not only am I sad that I don’t get to spend more time with these wonderful people, I am a little hurt that I am not a priority in their life. Because really, that’s what this is about—prioritizing the things that matter. It feels like I am at the bottom of their list, right under “something better.”*

Brigid Shulte wrote a book called, Overwhelmed: Work, love and play when no one has the time. I’m too busy not being busy to read it, but the fact that it exists tells us something. (And it does look like a good read.)

I like Derek Siver’s approach. In a blog post titled “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH!, or no” Sivers wrote, “When deciding whether to commit to something, if I feel anything less than, “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” – then my answer is no.”

It’s so easy to say “yes” to everything. I tend to suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) and I don’t want to miss anything fun or interesting. But, when I say yes to one thing, I am saying no to something else. I’m saying no to quiet afternoons of reading, I’m saying no to walks by the river. I am saying no to connecting one-on-one with my husband, kids, or a friend. I might be saying no to taking the time to let my brain stretch out and prioritize what’s important to me and for our family.

Life opens up when I say no to things.

Despite getting out of the cult, there are still a million things to do –maintaining a household, feeding my boys an inordinate amount of food, work, work, and feeling overwhelmed at work. That’s all the more reason to leave space in my life.

A couple weeks ago we rode our bikes down to the Yellowstone River with a bunch of friends to check out rock art someone left on the shore. The artist took the time out of their (I assume) busy schedule to move colored stones into recognizable shapes. Because I had left our day unscheduled, the boys and I were able to spend most of the day riding down there and playing by the river. That doesn’t happen when your schedule is full.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I still have FOMO from time to time. The kids catch it too. We love seeing friends, being involved with our community, and learning new things. Anders and I, especially, are prone to saying “yes” before we’ve taken the time to consider if we want to give one or two of the 24 hours we get each day to something.

Getting out of the Cult of Busyness doesn’t mean we aren’t doing anything. I am working hard on prioritizing what I want to say “HELL YEAH” to and what really deserves a “no.” Even if it’s fun. And I think it’s important that the boys figure out how to do that, too.

I’m not entirely out of the cult just yet, but I’ve got one foot out the door. I’m remembering what means the most to me: being outside alone or with my family, taking time to think, connecting with people I love, making healthy foods (even though I hate the act of cooking multiple times a day), reading, and creating. Even without the busyness, it’s a pretty full life.

Busy can be another word for overwhelming.

*Don’t worry. I don’t take other people’s busyness personally. I am an adult and understand that it says more about how they want to live their lives than anything about me. I just miss these very cool, fun, and interesting people.

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