In the last few weeks, I’ve heard the word, “busy” floated around several times. “I’ve been busy” is the common default answer – as if verbalizing the exact opposite is blasphemous. Busy has morphed into a non-word, much like nice or amazing. When I say I am “busy” what am I representing about myself and does this mean I am engaging in activities I don’t enjoy?
The day-to-day work of waking up, making meals, helping our children get to school, answering questions from our partners, driving to the grocery store doesn’t necessarily fall into the category of “busy.” This is the cadence of living a life. In my twenties, I fell into the trap of labeling these tasks as “busy.” I created errands on the weekends, bragging my Saturdays and Sundays were “busy.” What I didn’t tell people is I often woke in the middle of the night, experiencing full-blown panic attacks – thinking about an unfinished legal document or the fear my boss wouldn’t be pleased with a memo I had written. It amounted to a life I didn’t enjoy, but I understand how it appeared as a fulfilled, successful and busy career.
It took witnessing a crisis to understand the difference between an intentional versus a busy life. When I watched my father die in my mid-thirties, I understood the change that needed to take place in my life. Was I filling my time with what I enjoyed? Did I feel a sense of empowerment moving from one thing to the next, without really absorbing any of these experiences? What did an intentional life look like? It took a set of transitions, the death of my father, the birth of my daughter, a move to another state and a release of career that didn’t work to understand how to carve out an intentional life.
I looked at the corners of my life and sat with them, breathing in the dust and asking over and over, the same question – how did I want to live the rest of my moments? Did I want to keep hustling in the frantic pace filled with anxiety and restlessness? Or did I want to sink into the array of my experiences, learning from the bitter lessons and rejoicing in the joyful times? The answer, of course, blared in surround sound. Yes, I wanted to embrace intentional living, instead of reacting to my life.
I intersected with a piece from Zen Habits by Leo Babauta where he talks to Jonathan Fields, author of How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science and Practical Wisdom and questions him on what it means to live a deliberate life. He says in part:
Busyness has become a bit of a lightning rod. In one camp, we’ve got busyness as a status symbol of hustle and achievement (though, often it’s neither). In the other, we have busyness as a signpost of failure and surrender.
Truth is, I’ve come to see busyness as more of a symptom of a bigger problem, rather than a cause. Being busy, alone, need not be a bad thing. What makes it good or bad is why we’re busy, what we’re busy with, and what we’re giving up along the way.
Being busy as a reaction to the compounding agendas others, to what they’ve chosen to heap into our lives, without considering whether any of it matters to us, that’s a problem. It drops us into a state of mindless autopilot busyness, reacting rather than responding. It leaves us watching our lives fill with unrelenting pace, screaming past us, without ever stopping to choose what matters, be present, cultivate meaning, joy, connection and vitality, and experience each moment through the lense of choice and presence. We end up busy without a cause, and it leaves us utterly gutted. Empty.
Being busy from a place of meaning and intention, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If our days, weeks, months and life are populated by a stream of experiences, activities and people that keep us engaged much of every day, including things like moving our bodies, sitting in meditation, expressing our voices, engaging our strengths, deepening into service and meaning, working and playing with people we cannot get enough of, choosing only what truly lifts us up and matters deeply, we end up crafting a life of intention, joy, vitality and meaning. Are we busy along the way? Yes! But, that type of busyness leaves us full, not empty.
These words resonated with me. In the last five years, I’ve focused on how to fill my time with the events and interactions that ring true for me. I’ve surrendered to a life that is ordinary, giving up the crazy pace of having a “busy” hollow life. The intentional life doesn’t seem glamorous or revenue-driven, but it’s rich with choices of waking up and living every single moment on my terms.
When I answer what I’ve been doing, I answer living. Sometimes I do say I’ve been busy because I feel like most people understand the word busy better than living. Our schedule is full and I do say no to many things to have the time with my loved ones. I don’t regret any of that because long ago I realized what is most important to me. I believe your post will resonate with your readers and I hope it will inspire them. Life is short and we must spend it the way we want to. xo
I love that you say “you’re living,” when asked what you’ve been doing What a mindful response, Ayala. Thanks for sharing your insight.
I love this idea of living an intentional life—maybe I missed it somehow, that particular phrasing, but it (and this entire post, actually) really resonates in a deep way. xo
Thanks, Kristen. “Intentional” is my own version of adopting a mindful approach to the choices I make and what I welcome into my life. Glad the post resonated with you. Thanks for letting me know. xo
Loved every word of this and those last few lines—perfect punch.
Thank you, Nina. xo
I love this, Rudri, and relate to it intensely. Yes, yes, and yes. Let’s be intentional and live our days in a way that correlates to our values. Yes.
I love your response. That is it – living a life that correlates to what we value. Yes. xo
Rudri, I am so glad you understand the beauty and importance of living an intentional life. Learning to say “no” freed up so much of my “busy” time. I choose where my energy is placed each day…for me this leads to less stress and more enjoyment.
It’s all been a process, Susan. I do agree that when we carefully choose where to dedicate our energy, it’s living with a palpable freedom.
Loved this, in fact, I’ve been pondering/writing on this as well. All these “busy” small moments are what make up the big picture, and you’re so right that busy can be good or bad. We’ve got to keep perspective and turn all the busy moments into meaningful ones. Thanks for sharing!
Welcome, Sarah Elizabeth!
I think we must continue to have a mindful perspective on where we dedicate our time. Thanks for your insight.
Thank you, Barb.
Ooh, I felt this in the gut! I’m in the busiest point of my career right now – the triple threat. In some ways, I’m doing exactly what I love to do, but at what point, am I losing other things too? I have to think on it a lot.
As long as your busy with what you love, Tamara, it’s a purposeful life. I do believe from time to time, you have to evaluate what you’re doing, taking stock of whether your yes’s are worthy of your time.
I’m just getting to reading blogs because I’ve been busy. Ha! This is such a beautiful reminder that the course of our lives is partly dependent on choices we make. It’s interesting that he cautions against being busy FOR others. It’s a trap I fall into often as a mom. Thank you for your beautiful words and photos.
Thanks, Pamela. You highlight an important point in his argument – it’s crucial to pare down what is important to you versus spending an inordinate amount of hours doing “face time” with people and events that don’t really contribute to your well-being. Thanks for your kind words.