Busyness… is an illness.
On a chilly January morning just inside the entryway to a Washington DC subway station, a young man took his violin out of its case and brought it up to his shoulder. He was dressed in regular clothes – just jeans and a t-shirt. And although he had a face many women found attractive, on this particular morning it was mostly obscured by a dark baseball cap and shaggy brown hair.
After plucking the strings for a couple minutes to tune his instrument, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a few dollar bills, which he tossed into the violin case in front of him, with the hopes that a few passers-by would do the same. It was a very active morning in the subway station as the young man began to play.
Thousands of people were busy hurrying to work, school, or wherever they were headed. Trains were coming and going – the morning rush was in full swing. Yet through all the busyness, the incredible sound of this young man’s violin filled the subway station.
It was impossible to ignore.
Or was it?
Over the course of 43 minutes, more than 1,000 people walked through the doors of the subway entrance where Joshua Bell was playing. And if he was any other street performer, perhaps it would have been insignificant that he earned the attention of just a few people and just a small handful of change.
But Joshua Bell wasn’t just any street performer. He was… and is… possibly the world’s most renowned violinist. And he was playing one of the most difficult classical masterpieces ever composed. And that masterpiece was being played on a $3,000,000 (yes, million) violin that emitted one of the most pure, eloquent sounds in the world.
Yet almost nobody noticed… Why?
Because he didn’t look like anyone special.
And because everyone was way too busy hurrying to pause and notice the music.
Busyness is an Illness
Think about it…
How often is that your excuse?
It used to be my excuse every single day. Like those 1,000 people who ran past Joshua Bell’s music without a moment to spare, my schedule used to leave me zero time for unplanned presence and awareness.
And I was proud of my busyness. I wore it like a badge!
I wanted to remind everyone how tough I had it. I wanted everyone to know how driving from place to place to place in my comfortable Honda was a huge pain in the butt. Not to mention how Angel and I would have to juggle business and family. Helping our course students and readers, and then immediately rushing out to buy and wrap birthday gifts? Don’t even get me started! And then only having an hour to get our son fed and bathed before bed each night, so we could get him down and prepare to do it all over again…
“Didn’t you hear me? I am super busy, everybody! Keep this in mind, and have mercy on me! Please!”
Yes, that’s exactly what I used to want you to know about me….
But not anymore.
Now, I actually pause to hear the music. And I’m proud of it.
Here’s the thing: Busyness is NOT a badge of honor. There’s no honor at all in endless busyness.
Busyness is just an illness that makes everything harder than it has to be.
Busy for the Sake of Busy
If we’re not below the poverty line, juggling three jobs at once just to put food on the table, then our busyness is self-inflicted 98% of the time (the exception being that 2% of the time that a random series of incredibly difficult life events blindsides us).
I finally got a handle on my busyness when I studied it long enough to realize that, yes… my busyness was within my control. In fact, most of the time I actually created hurry and worry where none really existed. On any normal weekday, you would have found me running around begging family, business associates, and basically everyone nearby to move faster…
“If you don’t finish eating, we’re going to be late!”
“If we don’t get this task done in the next hour… we’re never going to hit our target!”
The funny thing is, whether I provoked everyone around me to move faster or not, we always collectively moved at about the same pace anyway. But when I provoked them, everyone (including myself) was unhappier.
It became crystal clear to me that nearly all of my busyness was an overreaction in my head. I was manufacturing it in hopes that it would create urgency in others, and somehow make my life easier. Instead, it did the exact opposite – my busyness only created anxiety, bitterness and complexity. And even on days when the busyness was real (lots of things to do), it was typically due to an overbooked schedule I had personally created.
All of this got me thinking:
Why in the world am I voluntarily making my life harder, busier and unhappier than it has to be?
The Reason and Answer for Needless Busyness
Sadly, a big part of the reason we fill our lives with needless busyness has to do with the always-plugged-in, always-connected, always-sharing, always-comparing society we live in.
We default to defining ourselves based on where we are and what we have in relation to everyone else.
If we don’t have a “better” career, house, car, or pair of shoes, we feel inferior. And the only way we can possibly do better, is to be busier doing… whatever! After all, we are what we do, right? Job title, employer… Aren’t these typically the first things we share with strangers we meet at parties?
We fill our Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat feeds, and our calendars, with manufactured busyness to avoid just being exactly who we are, exactly where we are. In the process, we not only miss out on the serenity and beauty that exists within ourselves, but we also miss out on experiencing that same serenity and beauty in the world around us, because our busyness has buried it with “hurry” and “worry,” and the endless need to be somewhere else, doing something else, as fast as feasibly possible.
Ready for a positive change in your life?
Join me, and let’s wake-up every morning from here on out and mindfully let our needless busyness and stress GO!
Let’s start making every moment less busy and more beneficial.
Let’s start keeping our lives ordered and our schedules under-booked.
Let’s start creating a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin for error, and room to think and breathe.
So we can pause to hear the music for a moment, and smile, when the opportunity arises.
How has needless busyness affected your life?
In what way has it been making your life harder (and busier) than it has to be?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.
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Photo by: emil mk
Wow, I was too busy yesterday to read the blog!! LOL. Great post; what hits home for me is that I use busyness as an excuse for those occasion when I needed to be more thorough and wasn’t.
Am reminded of a practice I was taught to walk with grace instead of walking with hurry.
Have an awesome day!
Suzanne Andrews says
Wow this brought tears to my eyes as I have many Josh Bell CDs – his music is Angelic to be sure, I am dumbfounded that no one stopped no matter who it was playing, as really good violin music should stop anyone in their tracks, and a deep wonder at least should have stopped them at who was playing so wonderfully. I feel deeply sorry for the thousand people who’s hearts were obviously closed to the simple beauty of something that morning. I have always been the opposite of the chronically busy person, and have been chastised constantly for it, I stop to look at, and wonder at everything, always have. I’m worse now after my beloved Mother died in my arms 4 years ago, and I saw her Spirit leave her body out the top of her head. I am a Mystic in training, and practice mindfulness, and awareness every minute just about. After my best friend died in 2004 who was a very beloved, and very busy Vet, I used to go visit his grave site constantly to come to terms with life, living, and death. He died of kidney cancer that spread to his lungs at the age of 49, leaving a wife, and four children, and hundreds of friends and pet patients behind. I remember sitting there tears streaming down my face, and laughing at the same time that I never needed to make an appointment through his awful front desk girl anymore to talk with him, or visit him, I now always knew where I could find him…he is always in my heart, and when I call from there he will hear me, no apt necessary. As sad is it to say we all must remember the hustle, and bustle of Asleep Souls will go on two seconds after the bus hits us head on and kills us in front of 200 people on a Tuesday at 1:30 pm. The skill here is to WAKE UP TO OUR DIVINITY. Wake up and be present and quit getting so caught up in the Material World it will always be there weather we are there with it or not. Be different be the Magic, Stop and Smell the Roses or Hear the Music every second, the Bank Account of your Heart will suffer if you don’t. Love, and Peace Suzanne
I’m rarely very overloaded with my time but like you said busyness gets you going… nowhere. I’ve had it where I have too things that need to be done and then it’s either taken me a long time to do or I crumple somehow not being able to see reality, saying, “it’s too much”. Well tonight I’m just gonna read a good book.
Erna tieman says
Omg.. is this a big Mirror for me. Over the years “burning out” taught me a lesson. But now I am back to walking the same road of busyness again … always busy … Thanks for the wake up call! ?
F Chery says
Thanks for this. In this generation it seems like if you are not busy, then you are lazy, which is a complete lie. It has been hard for me to truly grasp that. I’m only busy for what matters now, which is God. I have learned to manage time better and get more rest throughout the day. My good man keep these insightful words coming. Thanks again.
Jessica Norman says
…”if you are not busy, you are lazy.” I feel this way all the time. Because I don’t jam pack my calendar and have time for lazy strolls around the lake or movies in bed.
Thank you for this timely reminder. I am a teacher by profession. I’ve just had a week off for half term (UK holiday) and spent most of it ill. It’s the same story every holiday. I spend most of school term counting down the weeks and days to the next holiday, and then fall ill when I do finally get time off. I’ve realised it’s due to my crazy schedule when working. I work 8am-6pm Mon-Fri and quite often through most of my lunch break. Then once I get home, I often have more work to do. I also have work to do over the weekend. I am pretty much a single mum to 3 children (have a partner who does not contribute financially nor shares household responsibilities) so I have all the other duties pertaining to running a household. I love my job, but it’s grueling. In England, teaching has become an increasingly stressful job with many leaving the profession.
I’ve somehow got to strike a work-life balance otherwise I will burn out. Yet, I find it so hard to cut out the ‘unnecessary’ parts. Everything seems necessary/important. I can definitely relate to the addiction of ‘busyness’. The only thing is, my body just can’t take any more. I get home and some days crash out on the sofa. I long to have slow days where I do nothing. That would be absolute bliss.
Kennedy Isagi says
Always informative. Here in Kenya I have my brothers and sisters and friends always looking forward to the next post of these article – they have helped us see a path midst lots of confusion! Be blessed!
This is so true and we need to find that balance between busyness and over simplifying our lives. At one point in my life, I went from too busy to not busy enough. It took years of effort, trial and error, and I am still working on it but I’ve been able to find time for relaxing while still getting things done. It’s a daily effort though. Thanks for the blog. I enjoy reading your articles.
Marc Chernoff says
Everyone, thank you for all the positive feedback on this post. Cheers to being less “busy” and more present! 🙂
Nelu Mbingu says
Beautiful post! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I think that sometimes we turn to busyness in an attempt to distract ourselves from the void we feel inside. When you’re busy, you rarely get time to think about your unhappiness and it’s cause.
Jessica Norman says
THIS!!!!! Well worded Nelu, well worded.
Sue Velazquez says
Thank you for this gorgeous story. I regularly fall into busyness, then I remember who I am. Someone else said that there is a misconception that if you are not busy, you are lazy. Our entire culture thrives on this idea and exploits it. Busyness was invented not so much to get our own lives going but to keep us ‘productive’, making riches for those above us. Slowing down is antithetical to the hysterical, ever-speeding process of things. Work-more, buy-more. We should not wonder at the increase in mental illnesses.
On a more everyday level, you really do get an astonishing amount done by slowing down and thinking clearly. Be prepared for disapproving looks, even snide remarks when you refuse to panic and make yourself ill like the rest of them. Nicely and quietly, defy the rules.
Melanie Newdick says
I am involved in the public sector and see “busyness” everywhere. Lots of action leading to standstill. This is accompanied by the culture of “busyness” in which everyone tries to convince everyone else how busy they really are. Busyness and productivity are so often confused.
Oh yeah, I hear ya. I used to be an advertising exec and it made me want to scratch out my own eyeballs. So instead I kept working harder and harder and harder in a search to find… something. “I’M SO BUSY I HAVE TO DRINK ALL THE COFFEE ALL THE TIME!” I’d yell on social media, sometimes literally.
And then a turning point came, and I realised I hated myself, and I left. Do I still get busy sometimes? Sure. Am I manically busy *all* the time? No. And I’m doing what I love, so I no longer feel horribly unfulfilled. Plus, when part of your being busy is doing stuff like stopping to appreciate (and make) music, it stops feeling like work and starts feeling suspiciously like living.
Breoni Harkleroad says
The funny thing is, I’m about to go buy a last-minute birthday gift…in my comfortable Honda. I can definitely relate to this post. While I was exercising this morning, I was focusing on the time. I came home, layed down on the floor and tried to relax for a couple minutes, and kept thinking about the time. It’s not easy to let everything go and just experience the gift of the present. Thank you for this post:)
Ida Turner says
Indeed, your post made me realize that I dictate the “to do” list. It has cost me dearly in recent past. The undue pressure of “keeping up” with me caused the downfall of my relationship with the love of my life and there was no way I could go back and fix it.
I do however respectfully disagree on the “why”. I’m a single mom who have clawed her way up the ranks by “going the extra mile”, “doing more than the expected”, and was rewarded because I did. I still have a long way to go but am bent on getting there. Not at all for the glory of it you see, but to give my daughter the best I can as well as being a role model to show her that “hard work pays off”.
Thank you for giving me pause to reflect the price of “busy-ness”.
I’ve found some relief from reading this article. Relief from the guilt that just about drowns me due to feeling like I’m not busy ENOUGH! Or that I’m not contributing enough or that I’m “lazy” because, again, I’m not busy enough according to societies expectations. Hell, even my own expectations! Unfortunately(?), I no longer have a choice in the matter. When I was younger & newly married, we started our family! Three children! Boom! Boom! Boom! Lol! I was literally pregnant for three years in a row! You can imagine how BUSY I was! (I wouldn’t change a single minute of it either??)
That said however, the busyness was intertwined with a lot of stress. Marital stress, financial stress, and the stress of being a single parent in a two-parent household. I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom for thirteen years, which I’ll be eternally grateful for. It allowed me to be involved in such things like school related field trips, volunteering in the classroom, & helping with homework. I was able to take/watch/sometimes join, in their sports related activities. I volunteered to operate concession stands too! I cooked, cleaned, disciplined, loved, & laughed 24/7 for 18+ years! I drove these three beautiful children to doctors appointments, school dances, on & on & on, you get the point! And when money was REEALLLYYYY tight, I started babysitting anywhere from three to five children to help make ends meet!
WOW!!! Look at me go!! Hahaa!! Now, I’m months away from turning 50. My oldest is soon to be 27, followed by his 25 yr. old brother and 24 yr. old sister 🙂 and I ended my marriage at its 20 year mark! As with all of us, life kept me very busy UP until two years ago. At which time Fibromyalgia STOPPED me cold in my tracks! Just like that, any & all busyness took a nose-dive out of my life! This was a long story with, (I think), a very valuable lesson. Life is Life. We all have families, jobs, activities, etc., that keep us all VERY BUSY. Sometimes it can’t be helped, the majority of it can be helped. No matter which of these it is for YOU, it is of the UTMOST IMPORTANCE for YOU, to find a balance in all of this! If you can’t? And the scales must be tipped? Tip it in the favor of LESS busyness and MORE “here & now” time. You’ll love your family, your life, and EVEN YOURSELF more for it!
*VERY IMPORTANT NOTE RE: FIBROMYALGIA* – While its absolutely true that any type of stress can be a cause of it, busyness/Stress is definitely NOT the ONLY cause of it. For some there are many other factors. And others? It may be something more specific. For me it was/is a combination of chronic stress as well other factors. (IMPORTANT TO ME FOR YOU TO KNOW THAT I’D DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN JUST TO BE A MOTHER TO MY THREE AMAZING KIDS!)(Upside to FM? I’ve learned its more than okay to stop and smell the roses!!)
Thank you for sharing! Thank you for listening!
Michelle @ Modern Acupuncture says
Wonderful post. I’ve recently been noticing that a lot of the stress I feel is from self-imposed goals and deadlines. I’m trying to be gentler with myself and be in the moment more, instead of feeling like I have to be so busy all the time. Thank you for this!
I can’t agree with this more. We can always find a way to do what we really want to do or happen. It’s our personal choice. To be occupied all the time is an illusion we create in our mind instead of making time for something. If we really do value something, then make time for it and appreciate the moment. Don’t forget to pause and live what the moment has to offer whether it’s some good music or something spontaneous.
Thanks for this post! a great and timely one for a mother of two, one 8 and the other 3 months old! It made me contemplate about the unnecessary busyness and rush that I “create” in my life to ensure everything is done perfectly, yet it goes quite the opposite way! Even now while writing this I was unsure about whether I would have the time to leave a comment here or not, but decided I would nonetheless.
Thanks again for this reminder and hope we all in our most “busy” times really pause and cherish and enjoy each moment of our lives with our loved ones as no tomorrow will be the same as today.