This year I let myself off the hook for believing I had to act and look busy to earn my spot at the business table. I have wrestled with ‘earning my worth’ for a while and had reached a place I could joke about it with my peers and teammates, but it still influenced my day and ruled my work energy. I wanted more of the freedom that I had been successful in creating in other areas of my life.
Over the years I learned about the busyness trap – from the shame I’d feel if I wasn’t productive or the dark feeling that I wasn’t good enough. There was the fear I’d be left behind if I didn’t work harder.
Whether I look at my own busyness and what it says about me, or the busyness I help my clients address, I’ve noticed common denominators about why people are busy.
Are you perpetually busy? What would it say if you weren’t?
There are many variants: Busy to show others you are important or a hustler. Busy to get rich. Buried in obligations because you can’t say ‘no’. Busy because life pulls you along like a strong river current. To feel a sense of self-worth. For others being busy pacifies their drive.
Much of my busy trap was fueled by my father's voice telling me to be productive and wanting to avoid his disappointment which would activate my shame. This was a block that kept me from having what I wanted: peace and freedom. Let’s look at some common sources of busy.
Can’t say ‘no’
A typical block where life takes us for a ride is when people say ‘yes’ when they want to say ‘no’. You know them – finding time with them is hard, the impacted schedule, commitments upon commitments, running from one thing to the next, the harried type who looks exhausted in the middle of the day. How are you? is met with I’m busy!
The obvious observation is there’s not enough time in the day, and they don't seem relaxed or present with you. The dangerous undercurrent operating here is resentment. They say ‘yes’ when they want to say ‘no’ feeding frustration, then building to anger and finally resentment.
Resentment is dangerous to healthy relationships, whether found in a marriage or between a parent and a young adult. And what makes them so dangerous is once we adopt one, we become righteous and brittle leading to a certain kind of blindness that is difficult to overcome.
Discovering we have a choice in life is the first step to curing a person of the ‘yes’ trap. Imagine saying ‘no’ when you mean ‘no’.
It’s never enough
This pervasive blind spot is about creating value – our place in the world and has earned a spot in it. If we achieve enough or do more, we’ll be accepted. The discovery of all who pass this way is the realization it is a bottomless vessel that can never be filled, and thus, never be satisfied with life or our place in it.
If you have this tendency, ask yourself, If I do or become enough, what does that look like? It cannot be answered and once you get clear on that you’ll see the futility of operating with this as a core value. The never-enough dynamic is akin to chasing your tail. There is no satisfactory ending. We call it earning your worth.
Keep my mind off things
In my work with private clients and in Men’s Groups, this one comes up a lot. After a little digging, they share, I’m busy to avoid feeling. It is a simple diversionary action that helps them avoid basic emotions like fear, anger, joy, shame, and sadness. And it works! They don’t feel what’s going on inside themselves.
What happens to those ever-present emotions? Left unexpressed, they get bottled up and pressurized inside. Left unaddressed, a man or woman will begin, broadly speaking, to stop feeling and become increasingly disconnected from their loved ones. This is not a natural state. We are designed to feel our emotions.
Keeping busy builds walls to protect our emotional hearts and forms armor used to protect ourselves that leaves us feeling alone.
The impact on relationships
Looking beyond my own relationship with being busy, I had to look at the impact it was having on people around me. My actions showed up like this: calls or texts weren’t returned, appointments were missed, I was habitually late, and invitations were responded to with non-committal maybe.
What people experienced was everything is a priority, but no one is, leaving them frustrated and distrustful. In my case, while “earning my worth” I was in a constant state of doing and proving that reduced my connection with friends and family - I was emotionally unavailable.
Avoiding feelings this way didn’t help people to know who I was; to my disappointment, it undermined their trust in me. If it happens enough, the other person also ‘shuts down’, leading to a sterile relationship void of the richness that comes with connection and feeling.
My new relationship with busy
I challenged my forms of busyness and the ‘blind spots’ they created. Today I feel freer and more comfortable ‘being me’ rather than ‘doing me’. I have a softer relationship with my desire to produce and emotions that run freer that help me connect with people.
Today I’m as productive as ever without the weight of guilt or shame.
I never met a person who didn’t enjoy getting in touch with their emotions, whether it was joy or sadness. People in touch with their emotions are fun to be around for their sense of clarity, speed of decision-making, and the trust that develops. And we all know what it is like to be around a person who knows what they want – they feel solid and inspire us.