This happens very often to me. I call a friend I haven’t talked to in ages and the friend immediately apologizes for not having called me first as she/he has been “so busy.” Heck, I am busy too so I never expect these apologies or excuses but they are always, none the less, given.
But 9 times out of 10, as the conversation with this person continues and they warm into chatting, I then hear about how bored they are. How they have nothing to do, never go out, mostly just sit around and watch TV or equivalent. Now it’s certainly not my place to audit their time but I can’t help but notice that their previous assertion that they have been so busy they haven’t had a second to themselves doesn’t jive with the second part of their story in which they are sitting on their butts bored out of their minds.
After having this happen a great many times, I started to wonder if I was, in fact, doing the same thing. If I was saying that I was busy out of reflex when really I wasn’t all that busy. I find myself trying to prove to myself that, no, I am actually busy. Then I find myself resenting these people who say they are busy when they clearly aren’t because I feel like the word busy should be reserved for someone who is actually busy. Like me.
This is really a messed up way of thinking.
I have come to conclude that being busy has become something of a social status symbol. I think these friends feel like being “too busy” is a more legitimate, socially acceptable excuse than the truth which may simply be “I forgot.” And who could blame them for thinking that? After all, “I was too busy” is a very frequent excuse and it’s a theme we see more and more as work follows us home and our co-workers are laid off leaving us with their duties. Most people are very busy so its natural to want to be a part of the crowd.
But being busy is not a desirable state. It takes my husband and I weeks to watch movies we got from Netflix because its so rare we have 3 consecutive hours free to watch a movie. We aren’t doing this to pretend we are busy for some societal thing, we want to watch the movies and just don’t have any time. We spend most of our downtime trying to fix this situation, to become less busy because being busy is the enemy.
But if busy is the enemy of fun, why is it something people seem to desire? I am busy and, boy, do I not want it. Why do people who have what I aspire to have, an abundance of free time, want to make it seem like they are too busy? Aren’t they winning at life by having more time to do what they want? When I am busy like this, I feel like I am losing at the game of life as I don’t have time to do the things I want to do. Are people that desperate to belong to what they think the norm is that they would rather pretend to be miserable? Is there some joy to being overworked that I am missing?
Even as I write this, I’m wondering if I am doing it even now, trying to prove that I am *really* busy and not just pretending. Why the hell do I feel the need to do that? To prove why I haven’t written a post in a while? To preemptively excuse a mistake or an unreturned email? I’m aware that I’m doing it and I can’t even stop myself! I’m working myself ragged and I weirdly want people to know that. Why?
I had a friend in school who was a terrible student. He got pretty crummy grades and would always talk about how he tried so hard and was so frustrated with his grades. But I lived with this person and watched his study habits. He would study for 30 minutes and play video games the rest of the night and later would not be able to believe that he had gotten a bad grade after studying “so hard.”
After studying him for years, I really, truly believe he thought he was working hard. He just had no idea what working hard actually was. He thought that studying for an half an hour was as long as you could truly study and it just didn’t compute in his head that the rest of us were studying for 5 hours or more for the same test. He just honestly had no concept of what hard work was supposed to be and thought he was doing it.
I wonder, sometimes, if “being busy” is the same sort of thing. We hear other people talk about being busy and we fancy ourselves to also be busy. My friends who are getting to watch all that TV may honestly believe, like my poor student friend, that they are busy and since they haven’t experienced anything different, what’s to stop them from thinking that?
A few years ago, I was listing some items on eBay and I had my IM program open and was chatting with a friend. The friend was nagging me to play some online game with him (which, may I add, was the lamest game on earth) and I kept saying, “No, I have to finish listing these items.” He got mad at me for not dropping everything and playing the stupid game with him and demanded to know why I had to do this work right now. “Because I’m going to be too busy tomorrow to finish it,” was my reply and he went into a rant about how no one was actually that busy and gave me the following line:
“Being busy is not a badge of honor.”
This line has bothered me for years. Now, in that case, was doing my work instead of playing a stupid game the right choice? Yes, I am certain of it. But there are millions of other times in my life where I say no to something with the excuse of being “too busy” and wonder if it’s all in my head. I wonder if I’m just saying I’m busy because I think that is the right thing to say when really I have plenty of time. Does my belief that I am “busy” at any given time make me view the free time that does come along different? Do I become blind to the free time because I think I’m busy? I really don’t know. (I’m picturing that old FedEx commercial where the guy is sitting at his empty desk screaming “BUSY BUSY BUSY” to everyone that passes because he used to be busy and hasn’t adjusted to the new, lesser amount of work that FedEx services give him. Is that me, scaring things away by yelling BUSY when really my desk is clear and I just can’t see it?)
Am I wearing “being busy” as a badge of honor? Do I, like my friend at school, think I’m working hard when I’m really not?
I don’t have an answer but as I know all of us sellers and buyers both are in the middle of the busiest time of year right now, I’d love to know your thoughts on this.