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Why I Broke Free from the Cult of Busyness
My journey to unmask the dark secrets behind society's toxic productivity culture
In today's modern world, wearing busyness as a badge of honor has become almost fashionable. "I know you're so busy..." people often preface before asking me for something. This tendency to equate constant activity with success and value has led to a warped societal obsession with hyper-productivity. However, as I reflect on my life journey, I realize this mindset differs from the path to fulfillment. My quest to break free from the illusion of busyness taught me that being constantly occupied is no measure of a well-lived life.
The Busy Persona
You see, I've reached a point where I no longer equate being busy with being successful, helpful, or valuable. It may sound blunt, but I've spent enough time in corporate settings to recognize that busyness is often performative. It's about sitting through endless meetings that could have been emails or participating in silly and juvenile conference calls that could be resolved with a well-thought-out message.
As a reformed people pleaser, I've also learned how easy it is to clutter your calendar with social engagements you'd rather avoid but feel obliged to attend. I vividly recall asking friends when they were free to meet up, only to receive responses like, "I think I have a free weekend in three months." Soon enough, I adopted the same outlook, and my calendar mirrored theirs. If I told relatives visiting from abroad that I couldn't meet them for three months, they'd either laugh or suggest I see a doctor.
The Busyness Trap
I used to rush from one meeting to another, devouring lunch at my desk, hoping nobody approached me mid-bite. When I was at my desk, the feeling was that it became a suggestion box; every five minutes, I got interrupted by someone willing to share a "brilliant idea." Would taking a week off require me to work 12-hour days to catch up?
Part of this madness can be traced back to my upbringing as a child of emigrant parents, especially my mother. She can't sit still; as my grandma used to say: "She has ants on her underpants." It's not in her DNA. When I visit, she's always tidying up, tending to the garden, preparing an elaborate four-course meal, or bombarding me with questions about my future plans.
I recently asked her if she knew how to just be, with a smile; she answered with a resounding "NO" and asked me back, don't you feel bad for doing nothing? To her, being busy is the ultimate measure of worth, and self-indulgence or relaxation is considered laziness.
The Great Revelation
I've learned that this worldview is utterly false. When you're gone, no one eulogizes you for being busy, and you don't earn a badge for sacrificing your life in a never-ending quest to prove your value. And having children, which I acknowledge, adds another layer of labor (even with love, it is hard to educate a child to become a decent human later in life). Being busy benefits no one, neither you nor those who care about you.
Busyness erodes your sense of self until, one day, you wake up and question your identity. I certainly did when I battled chronic depression while maintaining my role as a senior executive. It inevitably leads to burnout, prolonged stress, fatigue, and disrupted sleep.
Moreover, busyness narrows your perspective. While some factors in life may be beyond our control, much of it hinges on the choices we make – where we work, live, socialize with, and spend our time. Yet, constant stress or a perpetual state of busyness robs us of the power to say no and make choices that align with our true desires.
The Art of Balance
A few years ago, as I realized I was drifting further from my authentic self, I hit the emergency brakes on my life. I transformed how I work, structure my social calendar, and allocate my time. Perhaps that's why I'm susceptible to being labeled a "busy person." However, there's no need to be defensive. Others don't have insight into my calendar; they can only see what I choose to reveal. Frequently, they assume that my busyness equates to more work, not realizing that I might be taking myself out to lunch or hiking in the woods.
Recently, during a meeting with a coworker, she expressed gratitude for me having the time to attend that meeting. "I hope you find a moment to rest," she remarked. I paused before responding, explaining that I've integrated downtime into my schedule while I am busy. "It is all about planning, and taking care of myself too."
See, I could be better, and sure, I mess up here and there occasionally. I overcommit, but I consciously try to learn from those moments. I continuously course-correct, questioning why I'm taking on new responsibilities and granting myself the freedom to cancel when necessary. I police myself all the time to no longer start conversations with the phrase, "I'm so busy..."
Embrace the Freedom of Authentic Living
We must pause and reevaluate our priorities in a world that often glorifies busyness. We must recognize that constantly occupied doesn't equate to a meaningful or successful life. In fact, it often leads us away from our true selves, causing stress, exhaustion, and a loss of perspective.
As I look back on my journey, I'm reminded of a valuable lesson from my late grandma; she was busy, super busy, but busy living. It took me years to understand her teaching:
"Experiment, don't say no for what you don't know yet, and don't be stupid to kept saying yes to what hurts you."
My grandma's sage advice echoed through my mind as I assessed the wreckage of busyness in my life. Her words called me to wake up and take back control.
Though it took time to pivot my mindset and habits, several vital changes helped me break the busyness spell:
The Value of Presence
My former busyness blinded me to life's quiet gifts. In my tunnel-vision hustle, I often overlooked simple joys and missed deeper connections with others.
But once I embraced a more balanced pace, the power of presence became evident. I became more attentive to loved ones, listening without distractions.
I also learned to savor life's fleeting moments, whether watching leaves rustle on a tree or feeling the warmth of morning sunshine. These quiet reflections renewed my creativity and perspective.
Most importantly, I feel more comfortable in my skin, no longer chasing someone else's definition of success. This journey taught me that cultivating inner peace is the most outstanding achievement.
Though the world may still see me as "busy," I know the truth. My days are filled not with hollow busyness but with intentional purpose. I discovered that productivity pales in comparison to presence.
A few simple tricks
As I reflect on my journey to a more balanced life, a few key lessons stand out:
Simplify ruthlessly. Busyness thrives on clutter and distraction. Decluttering my physical and digital spaces provided mental clarity. I adopted the mindset of starting with less rather than doing more.
Set boundaries. I became more protective of my time and mental energy. Learning to say no without guilt was crucial to prevent needless busyness.
Unplug frequently. I built tech-free blocks to allow space for deep thinking and creativity. Digital noise too often pulls us into reactive mode.
Single-task. No more chronic multitasking. Focusing on one activity at a time alleviated stress and improved the quality of my work.
Automate where possible. I leveraged tools to optimize repetitive tasks so I could devote energy to high-impact efforts.
Delegate more. I relinquished control of tasks better suited for others' skills, freeing capacity for my strengths.
Build buffers. I scheduled padding between events and tasks. This breathing room boosted adaptability to busyness and stress.
Honor the Sabbath. Setting aside a day of rest restored mental calm, perspective, and spiritual well-being.
My Evolution of Mindset
Looking back, my most significant shift was escaping the mindset that busyness equaled self-worth. This toxic belief permeated my early career, fueled by family pressures, misguided ambitions, and societal programming.
But my thinking evolved as life experience exposed the emptiness of chasing nonstop activity. Here are some fundamental mindset shifts that helped end the busyness addiction:
From: I'm always busy to prove I'm successful and productive.
To: I focus my time on meaningful activities that align with my values and goals.
From: I must say yes to every request and opportunity that comes my way.
To: I intentionally choose commitments and judiciously say no to preserve space for what matters most.
From: I multitask constantly to get more done faster.
To: I single-task to fully immerse myself in activities and produce higher-quality work.
From: I sacrifice self-care and downtime to work more.
To: I honor rest and well-being because I can't sustainably perform without them.
From: If I take a vacation, I'll pay for it with extra work when I return.
To: Vacations are essential to decompress, gain perspective, and boost creativity.
From: I judge my self-worth by superficial productivity metrics.
To: My value comes from upholding my principles and contributing uniquely.
My Ongoing Journey
Though I've made great strides, living intentionally amid life's demands remains an ongoing effort. Progress isn't linear. There are still slip-ups where busyness encroaches again.
But each day offers a new chance to remember my greater purpose. Here are some ways I keep progressing:
Maintaining mindfulness habits - I still build in morning reflection and deep breathing breaks. This centers me when busyness brews.
Keeping healthy boundaries - I've improved at declining non-essential projects or events. Safeguarding recovery time remains crucial.
Allowing flexibility - Some seasons, like launching a significant initiative at work, require extra effort. I've learned to roll with busy spurts when truly warranted.
Watching for warning signs: When I rationalize constant activity again, I know it's time to pull back and reset.
Anchoring to my values: When busy for good reasons, I remind myself to act according to my principles.
Savoring small joys - I still appreciate simple pleasures - a warm cup of tea, a funny video, and quality time with my daughters. This keeps perspective.
I'm gentler on myself these days when I stumble, procrastinate, or lose balance. Perfection is impossible. But compared to my past busyness addiction, I'm making steady progress toward lasting change.
My quest to escape the busy trap transformed how I work, socialize, and live. But it also unearthed a greater calling to awaken others.
Having been trapped in the busyness vortex, I understand how easy it is to get sucked in. The pressures and messaging around productivity are pervasive.
But now I know firsthand the liberation of living intentionally. And everyone deserves to experience that freedom.
This new sense of purpose energizes me. My struggle with busyness will be well-spent if it helps spur positive change. Even small ripples can make waves over time.
Of course, I have much to learn and must avoid the busy trap myself. But driven by purpose, I feel equipped to keep advancing down this road, wherever it leads.
Conclusion - Your Path to Freedom
My quest began with rejecting hollow busyness to reclaim my life. Now, I aim to help others do the same. We can only live out our higher purpose when we slow down and tend to our inner lives.
As you reflect on my journey, remember that your life is an exquisite work of art, and you hold the brush. It's time to paint a masterpiece that is uniquely yours.
In the words of Albert Einstein:
"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
So, ask yourself: Are you on a relentless race towards busyness or carving a path toward a more meaningful existence? The choice is yours, and it begins with a simple step: question the cult of busyness.
Embrace the art of balance, savor the moments of presence, and evolve your mindset to one that values purpose over perpetual activity. Your journey to authenticity and fulfillment awaits. Will you take that first step today?