Wednesday, July 4, 2012

the irony of that 'busy trap' article. (an introvert's perspective.)

{photo by Pedro Diaz Molins}

This weekend, my Twitter account started to blow up as friends, family, and perfect strangers tweeted the mess out of an editorial in the New York Times. "The 'Busy' Trap" was published on Saturday, and when I finally made time to read it on Monday, I devoured it in about five minutes. I'm obsessed these days with anything giving me permission to say no, and I figured this would be yet another weapon I could add to my arsenal.  

Only, it wasn't.

Don't get me wrong: I appreciated and agreed with nearly every portion of the article. (Seriously, it's fantastic. You should read it here.) I, too, think we're all ridiculously busy. I think we love complaining about how stressed we are and how full our calendars become. (Guilty as charged, by the way.) I think we take far too much pride in our busy-ness, and it's nice to see someone at the New York Times agrees with little ol' me.

But I also got this nagging feeling that I'm still the lone ranger when it comes to my personal definition of busy-ness.

It's this paragraph that left me scratching my head:

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. (She once ruefully summarized dating in New York: “Everyone’s too busy and everyone thinks they can do better.”) What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment. It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.

Maybe it's all the reading about introversion I've been doing lately, but that paragraph right there? That italicized portion?

That sounds busy to me.

Last month, I spent a lot of time and effort trying to say no. It's not that I hate saying yes; in fact, I want desperately to say yes to the things I am passionate about. I want to be able to eat lunch with friends on a whim, to have date nights with my husband each Friday, to teach classes and write blog posts and read really good books.

I discovered, though, that in order to make time for the things I loved, I would have to say no to the things that were filling up my calendar first.

And I also discovered that for a personality like mine, replacing disliked activities with even more activities -- no matter how fun or enjoyable -- was a recipe for disaster.

For the friend of the New York Times writer, spending every night at a cafe with a big circle of friends is probably a little slice of heaven.

It sounds like misery to me.*

It sounds like she's just replacing work busy-ness with friend busy-ness, and as an introvert, that concept can be hard for me to understand.

To me, both are busy and -- if I'm being honest -- both have the potential to be a little stressful.

In June, I made a point to say no to things like freelance projects, speeches, and design work. But my goal was not only to say yes to girls' nights and lunches with friends; it was also to make time for sitting on my couch alone, for reading a good book, for lounging by the pool and doing laundry.

Here's my lone problem with "The 'Busy' Trap": It leaves no room for introspection and exchanges one form of busy-ness for another.

Since June, I've learned that sometimes, "I'm busy," is the only excuse people will accept for "no."

I've discovered, of course, that I actually am busy, even when my calendar looks slim. Without extracurriculars, I still work 40 hours a week outside the home. I help run a household, and I have a husband and a dog who depend on me for love, affection, and occasionally, food. I am an active member of a local religious body. I am a daugher and a sister and a cousin and a friend. All of that combined qualifies as busy.

Sometimes, when people won't quite accept my "no," I've learned to tell them I have plans. Those plans might be as simple as reading a book or watching The Bachelorette, but they are plans nonetheless, and they are vital for me to function as a happy, peace-filled person.

I thought the New York Times article was spot-on for the world we live in and the prevailing zeitgeist of our time.

I only wish the world was ready to acknowledge there is another possible solution for busy, stressed-out living, and it doesn't always mean collecting your nearest and dearest and heading to the closest watering hole. (Although goodness knows, I've got no qualms for that occasional solution either.)

Sometimes, the answer for busy-ness is nothing-ness -- true nothing-ness, the kind that involves sitting on the porch, sans telephone, with a giant cup of lemonade in hand.

* I can see my friends cringing now. Guys, it's not you. Fear not: It's the "every night" description that's a little worrisome to me.
Every night is just a little much for this quiet soul to handle. But you knew that already, and that's why I love you.


Kate said...

Now I MUST read this article! I wish I were better at saying no to busy-ness! Thanks for sharing!

Rachel Reeves said...

I read that article too and was also confused. It seemed to me that she simply switched out her forms of busy and found a type of busy that suited her better, which is perfectly fine if that works, but it is missing the point, IMO.

I think that you're right that we can't really see how busy we are or understand the implications of it until we remove it all and have real solitude.
And people won't like that, will bemoan it and will be critical, but that's ok....because, like you also said....those that know us, will love us still.

(and we can follow up this conversation in our emails, because it's worth talking more about).


melanie said...

i too read that article and couldn't help but feel saddened by the fact that people never just sit and let themselves... be.
myself included. finding time for god in the quiet moments is so, so hard. but so very worth it.

Chantel said...

I love this. I need spaces in my week to spend some time alone. Sometimes I realize this and say no to things but sometimes I forget and my week fills up. I feel like it is always a learning process. I absolutely love this post, it feels like me to a T.

monster cakes said...

Thanks for sharing this article! My soul needed it. My life needed it. My girlfriends and I once jokingly stopped making "lists" for a week because we found we were becoming prideful about checking items off. It's silly, but isn't it the truth? We think being busy and having lots of things to do is something to boast about, when in truth, it's not. I needed this reminder today.

Sierra said...

I love love love this.
Being an introvert myself, I have had to learn how to say "no." and that it is TOTALLY okay. I do (we do) a lot in our day and it's okay to recharge our batteries. Thanks for sharing this.
Oh, Just Living the Dream