So, are you busy?
Throughout my day I listen to a lot of people tell me how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “Really busy.” “Nuts 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.”
It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this; it’s something we collectively force one another to do.
Notice it isn’t generally the single mother with five children that I know, or the employee working back-to-back shifts in the fast-food restaurant earning the minimum wage 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.
Almost everyone I know is super busy, including my single, unemployed friend and my 82-year-old father. I recently contacted a friend to ask if he wanted to do something, and he answered that he didn’t have a lot of time but if something was going on to let him know and maybe he could ditch work for a few hours. I wanted to clarify that my question had not been a preliminary heads-up to some future invitation; this was the invitation. But his busyness was like some vast churning noise through which he was shouting out at me, and I gave up trying to shout back over it.
Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and after our daily farm chores had a couple hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon. During this time my brothers and I used to do everything from firing guns, fishing and riding a mini bike to getting together with friends in the woods to build forts, all of which provided us with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.
Our frantic days are really just a hedge against emptiness. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance. Your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
Hey, I am busy too! Sometimes I want to throw my computer and all the unanswered e-mails out my third-story office window, but I am working on trying to create a pleasant pace for the day.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer greatly. 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 strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
So, are you busy?
Writer David Purdy is president of Wealth Management Midwest in Forest Lake. Securities offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC. With comments or questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-464-2664. Opinions voiced are for general information and not intended to provide specific advice. Consult a financial planner prior to investing.