Many of us have developed an obsession with keeping ourselves busy. And I don’t just mean with work. In addition to our professional lives, we overload our personal time with so many extra-curricular activities that we aren’t left with a single minute for ourselves.
This is an insidious obsession that often masks itself as being healthy for us. We delude ourselves into believing that as long as our extra-curricular activities are wholesome and healthy – like going to the gym and spending time with family – then it’s ok for us to be so busy that we barely have time to catch our breath.
Well, as a recovering achievement addict and workaholic, I’m here to bust this myth. It’s a myth that I’ve bought into for most of my life. The myth that I’m only good enough if I’m working hard, achieving a lot, and in hot pursuit of “having it all.” However, as Anne-Marie Slaughter shares in this article aptly titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, “The women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.”
In other words, it might actually benefit your health and well-being to stop trying to have it all. (And the same goes for men, too).
As Elizabeth Gilbert shares in this fantastic article:
“Let’s just anticipate that we (all of us) will disappoint ourselves somehow. Go ahead and let it happen. Let somebody else be a better mother than you for one afternoon. Let somebody else go to art school. Let somebody else have a happy marriage, while you foolishly pick the wrong guy. (Hell, I’ve done it; it’s survivable.) While you’re at it, take the wrong job. Move to the wrong city. Lose your temper in front of the boss, quit training for that marathon, wolf down a truckload of cupcakes the day after you start your diet. Blow it all catastrophically, in fact, and then start over with good cheer. This is what we all must learn to do, for this is how maps get charted — by taking wrong turns that lead to surprising passageways that open into spectacularly unexpected new worlds. So just march on. Future generations will thank you — trust me — for showing the way, for beating brave new footpaths out of wonky old mistakes.”
Many of us are tired. Tired of trying to fit it all in. Tired of trying to be the perfect mother, father, husband, wife, employee, boss, and everything in between. But we keep pushing. We keep trying. We keep filling our schedules to the brim.
I think a fundamental question that arises in relation to this issue is, what are we distracting ourselves from?
In other words, why are we so obsessed with keeping busy? Are we afraid of what we might find if we spent more than two minutes face to face with ourselves – without Facebook, work, or TV to distract us? Are we keeping ourselves busy to avoid admitting that we are unhappy, or that we feel inadequate, or that we’ve never taken a single minute to contemplate our lives and how we want to be living them?
This reality hit me hard recently as I started noticing how busy I’ve been since moving to Prague. One of the reasons I moved here was to take on part-time work so that I would have time for personal development and other Soul-filling adventures. But I’ve barely had time for anything except work.
And I noticed another disturbing habit. I work from home, and my new apartment is very open-concept, so the kitchen, office, and living room are basically one huge room. I realized that in this space, I don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not at the computer. I only feel productive and worthwhile when I’m at the computer “doing something.” I’ve resisted going for afternoon walks, or spending time journaling, because I feel like these things aren’t worth my time.
So I started asking, what am I distracting myself from? There are many layers to the answer, but one obvious piece that came to mind is that I’m distracting myself from homesickness. Because the busier I keep myself, the less time I have to think about friends and family that I miss back home, or about how hard it can be to live in a country where you don’t speak the language.
There is also a part of me that is scared to spend time with my Soul. My Soul has asked me to do some pretty crazy things in the past, like quitting two perfect jobs and living in the woods for two months. A big part of me is tired of personal development and craves stability.
Which leads me to the antidote for the busy-ness plague that is infecting us:
Really. Book a day or an hour or five minutes where you turn off your cell phone/computer, you don’t speak to anyone, and you simply spend time with yourself. Maybe you go for tea or meditate or journal or go for a walk. Don’t pressure yourself to do anything – not even personal development or Soul-work.
Personally, I think there’s an authenticity revolution that’s gaining momentum all around us. Marriages are crumbling. People are losing jobs. Many of us are being stripped, piece by piece, of everything we thought was important (emphasis on the word thought).
It would be relatively easy for me to post regularly on Facebook about how awesome my life is, how I went from bankrupt to six-figures in one year (and how you can, too!), and how I’ve managed to create a perfect job, marriage, social life, and physical health.
But that would be bullshit.
In my opinion, authenticity is way sexier than pretending you have it all. And part of being authentic involves tuning in to your authentic Self. And in order to tune in to your authentic Self, you need to spend time doing nothing.
(Note that by “doing nothing,” I don’t mean binging on Netflix or spending hours on Facebook or even reading a really good book. I mean pretending, at least for a moment, like none of these distractions exist and asking your Soul what it would most like to do).
It’s an uncomfortable paradox, but sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing.
@BethanyButzer (Click to Tweet!)
Maybe your time spent doing nothing will give you the inspiration for your next book or the stamina to finish your next big project. Or maybe it won’t seem like your nothingness did anything. And that’s ok too. Sometimes there is work going on behind the scenes that can take years for us to fully understand.
Take my recent work-life sabbatical for example. I spent two months living in the woods, but I’m not exactly sure what came out of that time (from a productive, tangible perspective). Even from a Soul perspective, did my time in the woods lead to enlightenment or any grand insights? Not particularly. But I know that on a Soul level, I’m still deeply processing that experience. And while any future insights that I have might not seem directly linked to my time in the woods, I can almost guarantee that they are related on some level.
I will end by asking you to add one more thing to your already busy schedule:
Spend some time doing nothing.
Unplug from Facebook. Stop reading blogs (even this one). Unsubscribe from newsletters (even mine). Tune out. Tap in. And ask your Soul how it wants you to spend this sacred time together.
You never know what sorts of productivity might come out of it.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Frank Park.