One of my favorite life mentors, someone I worked with at my first church, told me years ago that she had struck the word “busy” from her vocabulary. She told me, too many people – many of them moms – seemed to be in a misguided competition in which a state of near collapse was a sign of winning.
She was going to abstain, helping to make a space where other women could be OK without proving their worth by the lack of unclaimed territory on the calendar. You can see why I would think of her as a mentor.
What she said really struck me, because I was, at the time, always busy. Always telling people I was busy, tired, “crazy,” and often too busy for whatever fun activity they were proposing. I’d never met a volunteer position I couldn’t fill or a freelance client I couldn’t add to the roster.
I tried to take what she said to heart. I really did. But instead I pretty much rode the roller coaster of energy bursts, depression, burn out, guilt, hyperproductivity, resentment, and “yes, sure, I’ll do it.” The only difference was I tried not to talk about it. This did not help.
Sadly that mentor floated out of my life. She took a new job, I moved and went to a new parish, and life closed over that particular connection. But her words come back to me from time to time. Times when I’m saying “no” to everything that matters to me and “yes” to stuff that no longer fits.
It’s not even that the “yes” stuff is bad. Sometimes I’m slow to let go because for a while it was a source of joy or satisfaction. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I must, because it’s expected, whether by people who will be disappointed in me, or by myself, me with the impossibly high standards for what is enough. It turns out, for some of us, enough is never enough.
But it hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and I’m getting better at pruning to make new and healthy growth possible. My best one, I think, is overschedule the good stuff.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you came and looked at my living room you’d know that I do too. Creating space in the calendar is wonderful, but let’s be realistic. If it were so easy for you—you, meaning you who are like me—to keep that space open you wouldn’t be pondering the tyranny of busyness again and again.
Find some new “yeses” to hold that space open. Make them easy, and involve other people, who will hold you to it even if they don’t know they are part of your secret plot to be less crazy. Dessert, wine, coffee, a walk, a tea party, a Wii party. Making apple pie with your kids.
Say you’ll go to a movie even if there’s no time to go. Go for a walk in the woods before you get your work done. You’re hyperresponsible: there’s no way you’re going to miss that deadline, but there’s a good chance you’ll miss a lot of other stuff.
I found my old mentor on Facebook today and refriended her. I don’t know if we’ll reconnect, and it’s OK if we don’t. But if we do, I won’t make lame excuses about being busy.