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Leaving the Cult of The Busy

For most of my life, I have been a very busy person.

Even when I took a year “off” from my doctoral degree at 22, I was constantly on the move. At the time, a friend of mine commented, “You are the busiest unemployed person I’ve ever met.”

In this country (and really, around the world), busyness is almost like a cult. Everyone worships The Busy as if it's somehow going to save us. We keep adding hobbies, activities, jobs, and commitments to our To Do lists, and we're constantly rushing around trying to juggle it all. We are work-a-holics at work and in our personal lives, and we're very proud of it.

When I was running my business, I spent a ton of time working. And like most people I know, I walked around proclaiming how busy I was; I wore “busyness” like a badge of honor.

But busyness is not a badge of honor. In my case – and in most cases, I’d venture to say – it was a sign that I was profoundly off center.

I was distracting myself with busyness because I was in denial. Had I slowed down and had the courage to look inside and listen to myself, I might have realized earlier that I was on the wrong path. But I wasn’t ready to do that yet; I think I knew that if I truly stopped and listened, I would have to change my entire life. And I simply wasn’t ready yet.

These days, though, I am not busy.

I realized quite a while ago that if I wanted a life of meaning (which I do), I needed to stop being so dang busy. And no one was going to stop the busyness but me. Essentially, I needed to SIT DOWN and SHUT MY MIND UP. I needed to do nothing.

There are two types of “doing nothing.” First, there’s putting an end to the physical overscheduling: Rushing from one thing to another, adding and completing nonessential items on a never-ending To Do list…that sort of thing. Then, there’s the mental overstimulation that keeps you from living in the present moment. Multitasking, analyzing problems, scrolling through social media…these things make for a busy mind.

I don’t feel centered all the time, but I’m light years ahead of where I was a year ago. For me, being centered is about listening to myself, and knowing deep inside that I’m on the right path. It also means that, as much as possible, I try to take that tight feeling in my chest as a sign that I need to sit down and do nothing. And I accept that doing nothing for a while is both okay and totally necessary.

A big life lesson for me was this: Anxiety is not the universe telling you to do more. It’s telling you to STOP.

I used to be terrified of my inner voice, so I refused to stop and listen to it. Changing my whole world was a Big Deal and parts of it really sucked, so I suppose I did have a reason to be afraid. But you know what? My life is so much better now. I am a genuinely happy person.

It was 100% worth it.

Thankfully, I am no longer afraid of my inner voice – though I admit I am still learning to hear and trust it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what it’s saying, and at times I still get Intuition confused with my old frenemy, Anxiety.

Then there are the times that I flat-out don’t like what it has to say, because listening to it would mean leaving my Comfort Zone yet again. And holy crap, living outside the Comfort Zone can be exhausting. After awhile, though, I remember that it’s worth pushing through the fear of leaving the Comfort Zone.

Last week, I found myself uselessly busy. My house was really clean, the dishes were always done (that never happens)…I’d even organized and returned our library books before the due dates. I felt a small amount of satisfaction when I looked at my spotless shower, but emotionally I felt out-of-whack.

So I stopped and tried to figure out why I felt messy inside. And I figured it out - but knowing why didn’t help, so I found myself obsessing about how to fix it. Which clearly wasn't helping. So I stopped doing that, too: I sat down and did nothing. And then, interestingly enough, I felt much better. What a nice reminder.

When you’re too busy, you’re exhausted. You’re spinning around in circles, without any real direction. Being un-busy doesn’t mean I’m lazy. It means that I am purposefully taking time for myself, so that I can have the energy to propel myself in the right direction…and not waste time on the wrong path. It's a big lesson I learned...and one that I will happily wear as a badge of honor.

What about you? Do you belong to the Cult of the Busy? Do you take quiet time for yourself by practicing yoga, meditation, or something else? I’d love to hear!