Busyness: how sick is this living style?

I have suffered from the addiction of Busyness since I was 10 years old, the age when I started to work — relentlessly with any meaningful volunteer or paid cause I could put my thoughts on. I did it because I felt it meaningful. I never needed or wanted the money.

“To go above and beyond” had been my mantra since then. Since then, I slept an average of 4–5 hours per night and didn’t stop to breath for a second during my day. Even in my early teens I never stopped to eat properly, because I had so much to do instead. I could not NOT endeavour at least 2 projects at the same time. Allied to this was my OBSESSION to always “be the best by far” in whatever I laid my hands on. Whenever someone told me to slow down (usually my mom) I would just roll my eyes mindlessly…

When my 20-year-old brother (who was the person I loved to be with, the most) died in an accident, I dealt with my pain the only way I knew: by working and working and working and intellectualizing my life.That was in January 2006, the year I received the recognition of UNICEF for a documentary I created and led in Italy. That was the year I started to write poetry and to believe (to Know) that words were immediate Reality. I had always overlooked the most cruel realities in my personal and family life by doing exactly that: working and intellectualizing. By myself.

Of course, this means that by the age of 23 my curriculum was amazingly stupendous compared to “the average person” (how I hate this expression!), especially in Brazil. But it also meant that I got severely sick: for a period my body wouldn’t respond anymore to the speed my mind wanted to take me. Before my 20s I had already become totally blind (literally) for 15 minutes, had unstoppable laugh attacks that lasted hours, had migraine crisis, had gastroenteritis crisis, etc. When I turned 24, I started to realize that to slow down was actually the road to accelerate. And the final coup of realization only came after I suffered the greatest of the greatest defeats (to me): I was among the finalists 28 people — among thousands — for the prize that I had for years yearned which would crown everything I had done with my life. That was the thing I had wanted the most for several years. 27 people won it. I lost it. That prize would certify that I was Master of Life. Oh boy, how I wanted that Stamp of Quality to hang on my wall of accomplishments, to prove how my life style was The Best.

After that blow I (fortunately) realized how addicted I was to Busyness. After that realization it still took me a few years to effectively change the way I lived. 2015 (being 27 years old) was THE game-change year in which I profoundly started to change everything (yes, everything) about how I dealt with the time I daily have in my hands. By means of my actions I finally stopped wanting to rival with the power of God The All-Mighty and started to actually yearn to become imperfect.

Psychotherapy — to step deeply inside each wound to understand the infantine reasons behind my addiction to Busyness at every level — was the cure.

I used to say “I’m allergic to mediocrity and efficiency is my sickness”. I keep saying this but there are now many additional layers of complexity to this expression… I am about to turn 28 years old and my life does not come with the price of death anymore. I still relapse, obviously. This is a daily work in progress, for life. And it is so hard.

I now look around me and see practically everybody (including kids!) falling in either end of the spectrum: either they just “do enough to get by” and live petty lives, or they proactively kill themselves with Busyness (in the most amazing or meaningless projects) with the illusion that they are becoming Masters of Life. I can’t say how happy I am to be walking down this middle road, being a front-seat observer of how little we (me included) know about “how to live”. The funny thing is that I am now able to give so much more meaning to everything I do by doing so much less (and this is coming from a person who has always done extremely meaningful things).

I envisage 3 shortcomings with this addiction and my arguments:

1) People (including myself for a long time) are proud of Busyness. The longer your curriculum, the longer hours you work, the harder the goals you have the most impressive you are to your fellow human beings. This addiction is extremely dangerous exactly because virtually all of the people in the business world (and beyond!) praise it, contrary to all the other addictions, which are “universally” despised. In addition, Silicon Valley and most of the greatest human endeavours would not exist in the absence of Busyness. Which means that finding this balance is much harder than just “Live in the Present” (what a cheap Eastern-turned-Western philosophy!), “Carpe Diem” (how I hate this!), all of us going to the jungle or to the poorest parts of the world to “Breath Life” with indigenous people, doing Yoga or Meditation to “Connect” with Life.

2) A person will hardly listen to this story unless she lives it herself, by means of daily deeds. Nobody can be taught the theory of how to best live meaningfully and nobody can learn this by reading a post, a book or listening to a guru.

3) With regards to my own culture: I personally had to create a tight balance between my own personal culture (of hard work, ethics of responsibility, autonomy, go above and beyond, be the best by far) while repelling my national heritage (of laziness, guilt-pointing, immediacy, complaint-loving, having-your-way-over-your-community’s). It is dangerous to say “slow down to accelerate” to a Brazilian person, whose approach to life compared to other cultures is (in general!) “to do the bare minimum to get the most”. Brazilians (in general!) like to live as the music plays, doing just as much as it takes to say “I did what I was supposed to do”. Brazilians (in general!) value immediate pleasure more than meaningful happiness. Brazilians (in general!) are proud of being “Espertos”, of hacking any system they can imagine to have an advantage over the “Trouxas”. Brazilians (in general!), will always “dar um jeito” the minute things get wrong, because they are horrible planners who have a hard time to think in the medium and long term. (I cannot find any faithful translation for these 3 expressions, because they are inherently Brazilian to me.) So what I am arguing could seemingly empower this Brazilian life style. Of course it doesn’t, but it could.

What matters the most to me now: to be the most stimulative person I can imagine, and to connect at the highest imaginable level with the fellow human beings I encounter, to bring about — together — the best inside us (whatever that means!), regardless of the recognition I get for it and of how “scalable” that project might be. And I know that in 5 years I will again look at myself and see how little I was when I was turning 28 years old, when I believed I knew how whole-hearted I was with my happy authenticity.

Written by Maria Cecília Rodrigues Campos, on Jan.16, 2016.