The myth of busy

When someone asks me how I am, and I say, “busy”, what am I really saying?

My time is already allocated.

People want me to “do things” for them.

I’m reliable.

I achieve things.

I’m good at what I do.

People want me to do more of it.

I’m needed.

I’m important.

I’m valued.

I’m successful.

Please respect me.


When you lay it out bare like that, being “busy” is really a plea for recognition, for sympathy and for understanding.

“Please – remember that what I’m doing matters. I matter.”

It’s also a very easy way of saying nothing. It doesn’t acknowledge whether what we’re doing is useful or meaningful. It says nothing about how we feel when we seemingly “have to” do all of these things. It simply pastes over the cracks and fills us full of hot air.

It’s an acceptable way to fill in the space without saying anything.

Of course, our by-line is justified: we are busy. There’s lots going on – our society has evolved to have a lot of things for us to achieve, if we want to, all the time. So have our families and our social calendars and our to-do lists and our self-care regimes.

We all know someone who can cope with the busy better than we can. And no, I don’t mean that they fit more in and seem buoyed by being ‘busier’ than everyone else. I mean the kind of person whose days may be full, or may not be, but manage this with the calm knowledge that this is their choice.

The warrior who peacefully wields her authority to say ‘no’. She is not held hostage by everything she wants to achieve. He is the master of that internal monkey mind. They do not feel shame in stillness, quiet, or not being needed.

It’s like the marathon runners who know where to put the ‘tired’ – those who know where to put the ‘busy’ are infinitely more able to push back against the force of that identity. Their value does not come from what they achieve. They are content with who they are, and how they spend their time doesn’t factor into that equation like it does for the rest of us.

What we need to remember: busy is not a badge of honour.

Remember that hero, the person who’s managed the transition from frantic to calm, stressed to accepting, indignation to peace.

The true north, the honest “no.”

We can start down that path by reclaiming the truth. By simply being honest with one another.

When someone asks you how you are, remember that we’re all busy. So what else are you going to say?  

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