Busyness… is an illness.
On a chilly January morning just inside the entryway to a Washington D.C. 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 people 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: A Tragic Mistake on the Average Day
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 of 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 to sleep 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 senseless and endless busyness. And most busyness on the average day is just a tragic mistake that makes life overwhelming.
Life Quickly Gets Harder than it Should Be
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 when truly difficult life events blindside 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 actually 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 10 minutes… 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 and more stressed out.
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 & Answer for Constant Busyness
Sadly, a big part of the reason we fill our lives with constant busyness has to do with the always-plugged-in, always-connected, always-sharing, always-comparing society we live in.
We subconsciously 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 and level up, is to be busier doing… whatever! After all, we are what we do, right? Job title, employer, etc. — aren’t these typically the first things we share with strangers we meet at parties?
We fill our social media feeds and our calendars with manufactured and airbrushed busyness to make ourselves feel special or more important than average. But 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 Angel and me…
Let’s wake-up every morning together and begin our days mindfully with some quiet journaling and self-reflection.
Let’s start making our days 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, and smile, when the opportunity arises.
Before you go, please leave Angel and me a comment below and let us know what you think of this essay. Your feedback is important to us. 🙂
How has senseless busyness affected your life?
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Photo by: emil mk