I—like you probably—love nothing more than telling other people how incredibly busy I am: “So busy,” “I don’t have time,” “I’m afraid I won’t be able to, I’m too busy.”
These, and statements like them, are commonplace phrases used by nearly everyone living in contemporary America. And we’re proud of it. If there’s one thing we thrill in, it’s proudly telling others about our stress!
Granted, I do go to college, where everyone has baggy eyes and an addiction to caffeine. But I can’t help but notice how everyone is always so damned busy. And it is everyone. Chronic busyness isn’t limited to emergency room doctors or people working two or three minimum wage jobs, but is instead a widespread phenomenon. Busyness strikes everyone; we are a culture of professional workaholics.
Yet it isn’t necessarily work that is the issue. Most of my own personal busyness is self-imposed. I voluntarily chose to attend USC and take on 18 units. I voluntarily chose to commit 15 hours a week to tutoring students through USC’s Jumpstart program, voluntarily chose to take on an internship and I voluntarily chose to write this piece on busyness. My own personal busyness is entirely a result of things that are really not crucial to ensuring that there is food inside me or a roof over my head.
Why do I, and by implication millions of other busy people around our country, choose to live a life so filled with perpetual and hysterical stress?
Actually, we can find the answer by looking to the Puritans who set down roots in New England nearly 400 years ago. The Puritans practiced Calvinism, meaning that they believed in predestination—the premise that God predetermines from birth who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. But they also believed that signs of where one might be destined for in the afterlife, heaven or hell, might be visible during one’s lifetime on Earth. The most notable “sign” for the Puritans was a commitment to hard work, meaning that one would be graced with a healthy family and productive farm. Circular reasoning aside, their beliefs created the sociological concept now identified as the “Protestant Work Ethic” in which the most productive individuals were assumed to have the greatest favor with God. The Protestant Work Ethic is highly entwined in our modern conception of the “American Dream,” the notion that if one works hard, they, or their children, can live a better life.
This ethic has simply strengthened over the centuries into its present form; endless resume building simply to reach the next checkpoint on the path to becoming something.
I’m going to be honest. I’m voluntarily over-committing myself as an undergraduate because I want to become a prime candidate for a top graduate school. I want to attend a top grad school because I want to be a person whom employers seek to have on their staff.
The cycle continues.
But to what end? Perpetual busyness means I am missing out on so many things that I could otherwise be doing to improve myself as an individual. I can’t even begin to list the number of books I want to read, movies I want to watch and projects I want to create yet can’t because I can’t find the time.
Additionally, the idle moments not structured by some outside commitment are perhaps the most important moments a person can have. Allowing one’s brain the chance to simply take a few moments each day and reflect on what exactly is going on can be remarkably sobering.
It is in these moments that I find all my best thoughts happen. These thoughts aren’t driven by a need to satisfy anything or anyone, but simply driven by my own intuition and are, therefore, thoughts in their purest form. Thoughts for the sake of thought, I suppose. Letting my mind wander in and out of various day-dreams is an excellent way to simply unwind and find a place of solace in a world that seems so relentlessly driven.
Does this mean that I am going to stop being overly busy? Of course not. I need to be a successful human being, after all. Busyness is a mark of prestige in our culture and I am not going to stop boasting about my lack of free time. But I do try to set aside some time every day simply to unwind.
Needlessly busy as I may be, it’s all for the future. Living in the future is good some of the time, but many times I just need to take a moment and appreciate the here and now. For without knowing just where I am, I may lose out on an opportunity right in front of me that I previously did not see.