The ‘Busy’ Trap (and my dirty little secret)

“You’re so busy!” “What have you been so busy with?” “Try to fit me in a few months down the line when you have time.” “You’re crazy…always doing stuff.” “Call me! Where are you?”

I get these comments said to me a lot, and I can’t think of many things that are more personally irritating. 

It’s true that I am often busy – whether it is a work commitment that goes into the evening or a plan with friends or a class or a stroll – yes, I’m busy. I live in New York City, where everyone moves a mile a minute and planning something for work or pleasure often has to happen months in advance. People get booked, and even folks who enjoy spontaneity – as I do – need to plan certain meetings in advance so as not to miss the chance. A concert here, a lecture there, a dinner or drinks in between…. well, that’s life. If you want to take advantage of it.

In a recent opinion piece by Tim Kreider in the New York Times, The ‘Busy’ Trap, frustration for these super-busy, ‘crazy’ lifestyles and the people who complain about have them is expressed loud and clear. (It’s actually a very good, interesting read.) Kreider writes:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

Fair point. Could be true for some. Fine. But, the author also self identifies as “the laziest ambitious person [he] know[s]”; so who is he to speak to what busyness is? In fact, this is the problem I have with being told through scolding voices how busy I am: I like what I do and know that my life is not trivial, and I feel that the activities I choose to fill my days and evenings with are in fact quite meaningful. Kreider and other doubters would know if they asked what folks were busy with instead of judging the quality of their busyness.

It’s easy when you have a large network and many interests to want to do it all, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do it without resting. As Kreider correctly argues, you get tired. But, to keep a healthy balance of planned versus unplanned time for that multi-faceted, highly rooted in many social relationships person, you frustrate some people (friends! good friends!) in the process. You’re certainly not available every time they want to hop on the phone for catch up or go to the movies or grab dinner. I have seen this expressed – unfairly, albeit benignly in intent – over and over in whining statements of busyness in the tone of Kreiders article.

Here’s my dirty secret: I like committing to only what I can actually be fully present for. I don’t like to be late or overbooked or flake out. So, I decline things I don’t especially want to do, or can’t do fully. I also keep 2 nights a week and a large chunk of 1 weekend day always booked… for me. They are nights when I say I’m busy should people ask me to do something a few weeks out; I keep them free so I can enjoy these nights or weekend days however I choose in the moment. It could be alone or with others, at home or out, exhausting or relaxing, educational or silly, healthy or unhealthy. It’s time that I keep so that I don’t fall victim to having no time for myself, to allow for a healthy amount of spontaneity, and to recharge. I don’t do it to sound self important or too busy for others, although that is certainly a potential outcome.

There’s a balance to strike. It’s ok to pass on some things to open the door for others, and to hope that things you want to do and people you want to see can happen on a whim, or to just enjoy sitting sipping a (spiked) lemonade by yourself without feeling guilty. If you are always rejecting plans with the same person (like Kreider cites), perhaps there’s a larger self check-in of where that relationship fits in to your personal priority list. Taking some initiative to either spontaneously connect or schedule that connection on your time is a good step to fairly maintaining that relationship and your sanity.

To me, losing control and awareness of my time is what moves me from happily busy to pathetically busy. It is rare that I put something on the calendar many weeks out, because then I do indeed start to feel trapped. I see complaining about being ‘crazy busy’ or using busyness as an excuse (Kreider’s nemesis!) as a good tip off that I need to re-adjust, but not necessarily to stop doing. I don’t owe anyone but myself an explanation, but I do feel a need to be sincerely on board with my calendared items so that ‘busy’ doesn’t just become a transparently obnoxious rhetoric.

A last thought: every person has their own threshold for busy, too, and need for idleness. For Kreider,

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. 

For me, idleness is important though perhaps not as much so. Regardless, it’s the responsibility of a ‘busy’ person (you know who you are!) to recognize how your (seemingly) booked life might come across to others so that it can be communicated in a way that you are comfortable. Otherwise, people make assumptions often qualified in spiteful statements about busy people. A friend shouldn’t make another person feel guilty for leading a fulfilled life, so long as there is still quality time together.

I am a busy person. I’d like to think I’m good at it and have found a nice balance that is both fair to others and fair to myself. I do not think I’m generally overbooked, or pathetic, or using planned activities as a placebo for meaningful action. I don’t feel trapped by ‘busy’, but recognizing the threat of the trap is how I immunize against it. And I’m happy. Think twice before judging busy people, Kreider and friends.

Single Lady Brags About Using to Get Guys to Buy Her Dinner

Jen Doll hits the nail on the head again. This really ticks me off…. I’m all for dating on 1,000 levels, but not to be a gold-digger. Get real, ladies. Sure, a free meal sometimes is nice (especially in good company), but your monthly budget shouldn’t be based on dates, and I would hope that it’s not assumed that your date needs to pay.

Business Insider today writes of a woman named Jessica Sporty, who, at 23, was simply too poor on her $45K salary to take care of her $1,475 a month (ahem — Murray Hill) apartment and also her extra $500 or $1000 in credit card bills, so, she took to Internet dating on to essentially get dudes to buy her dinner and keep her out of debt. Jen Doll has problems with this. 

(via villagevoice)

Single Lady Brags About Using to Get Guys to Buy Her Dinner

Softball is a load of fun. So don’t ruin it, ump.

[editor’s note: This is going to turn into a rant, so apologies for deviating from my normal style.]

I play in a wonderful softball league on a wonderful team. We have a good time and play to win (and also have fun). So do the other teams in the league (for the most part).

Tonight’s umpire was a true class act, a one of a kind man. A man in his 50s, sporting a pair of thick frames and a verizon wireless phone with a terrible ringtone, this ump had the worst attitude I’ve ever seen on the field, especially in what is frankly a beer league-type league. [editor’s note: I brought carrots and celery to the game today for my teammates. On average, more of these were consumed than beer.]

INSTANCE #1: He called our runner out at first. The first baseman from the other team was clearly off the bag and did not put the tag on. In a feat of incredible sportsmanship (for which we applauded), he told the ump that he definitely didn’t put the tag on. The ump called our runner out, and yelled at both teams not to make a farce of the game. [editor’s note: Nobody was. Trust me. It was intense.]

INSTANCE #2: Bags were slightly moved. People (both teams) were warming up on the field, because it’s a park in NYC and there’s nowhere else to warm up. Girl was wearing non-stud earrings. Commence Freakout by ump. None of us take the game seriously, nor do we come prepared! GOSH!

INSTANCE #3: Batter hits a grounder to short, who overthrows to first (common trend). Runner on second had held up on running, but began when overthrow was evident. Stopped at third, because the ball was then dead. We all yelled for him to come home, because he gets the extra base. Ump yells at us that we’re wrong. He then yells at our runner on third to go home. It was very confusing.

INSTANCE #4: A hit was made. The runner ran. During the next at bat, the ump let everyone know that the runner hadn’t touched the bag [editor’s note: He did.] and all the fielding team had to do was say so and there’d be an out. The fielding team’s pitcher announced that their team’s previous home run hitter didn’t touch second, but so what, none of this is in the spirit of the game. FARCE!!!

INSTANCE #5: Runner (who wasn’t running anywhere) moves (ever so) slightly off second base, probably to see the batter. Called out for leading.

INSTANCE #6 & #7: [both recurring] Ball is hit foul. Yell at everyone for miles to LEAVE IT. Next batter is up. Ask who is on deck, and who’s on double deck, because you CAN’T PLAY IF YOU’RE NOT READY. [editor’s note: It felt like boot camp]

Look, all and all, it’s always a good time. But Ump, why do you have to make it stink? We DO care about the game and playing by rules, but not to the point where both teams agree that you’re being an arrogant jerk with a superiority complex who has nothing better to do than look for violated technicalities or make them up if they’re not apparent. I would say I pity the man, because clearly this is something he cares about, but I don’t. Not even a little.

Does anyone ever really like an ump though?