I Used To Be Busy, Now I’m Happy
I stopped wearing busy like a badge of honor, and I’m never going back.
“How are you?” my coworker asks, walking into the basement closet that serves as an office for a meeting.
“Oh, ugh,” I look up from my computer, “I’m so busy.”
“Me too,” she launches into an explanation of all the ways her time is soaked up.
I respond with more of the same.
Working endless hours at a job I don’t like.
Sporting events that drain our finances and that my kids are lukewarm about.
PTA meetings when I’d rather just cut them a check.
Writing lesson plans the principal collects and never looks at.
Cooking homemade meals six days a week because I feel like I should.
Packing bento-box lunches with cucumbers cut into stars because I want the teachers to marvel at my extraordinary mothering abilities.
Birthday parties full of streamers and screaming children.
Dinners with extended family.
Planning the perfect vacation.
Doctor’s appointments, volunteering in my kids’ classrooms, haircuts, grocery shopping.
Are you tired yet? If you’re anything like I was, you’re not only tired — you’re raging at your husband because you’ve told yourself he never helps around the house. Meanwhile, you’re rewashing the dishes he just washed and telling him he’s not putting the diaper on correctly.
When I was teaching, I’d walk around the school building wearing busy like a badge of honor. I did the same at the playground on Saturday morning. I wasn’t the only one. Every working mother I knew said the same thing. It didn’t matter if the conversation was in person, via text, or over the phone.
“How are you?”
“I’m soooo busy.”
Why do we do this to ourselves? We are human beings, not robots. We need time to play, sleep, rest, and wander through the woods with no agenda. Somehow, the mark of a good mother, a good employee, and a good person is being too busy for the bare minimum of self-care. Also, dad’s can change diapers just as well as moms can. Back out of the nursery and let him do it.
Our brains are story-telling geniuses. Women have taken in society’s messaging and told themselves that to be a good woman, they have to be busy taking care of everyone else. Your brain is making that shit up. It’s not real.
When we are that busy — when we don’t take time for stillness, we lose track of who we are, what we want, and what truly brings us joy. Then, we snap at our kids, recoil when our husband’s touch us, and drink a bottle of wine on Tuesday night just to shut off the hamster wheel in our heads. Being busy doesn’t make you a good woman; it just makes you stressed out.
What if saying we’re busy is just a defense mechanism?
If you tell your friends you’re busy; you can ignore the real reason you’re not writing, painting, or exercising. You don’t have to admit to things like fear of failure or fear of success.
When I was busy, I could blame the fact that I wasn’t writing on responsibilities. I did that until I forgot I was a writer.
If you tell your coworkers that you’re busy, you don’t have to get honest about how much your job sucks the ever-living life out of you. You can ignore the fact that you’re not happy in the career you spent five years and a pile of student loans on.
When I was busy, I could just roll through the motions. My job was easy, and I knew what to expect. When I felt restless, I signed up for more — another master’s degree or more responsibility at work. I stayed busy, so I didn’t have time to admit that I made the wrong career choice.
If you tell your family you’re busy, you don’t have to get honest about the fact that you and your spouse are disconnected. You don’t have to admit to your role in that, and you don’t have to do the hard work of addressing it.
When I was busy, I could ignore the way past trauma affected my marriage. I could hide behind “busy and stressed out.”
You don’t have to own or fix your shit. You can just be busy.
What if, instead of busy, you could be happy?
It took me getting so sick I couldn’t walk or talk to finally make the time to stop and find my truth and my joy again. When people would ask how I was, I couldn’t respond with “I’m good” because I wasn’t. There was a walker sitting vigil next to my bed. I couldn’t respond with “I’m busy” because I wasn’t. I literally couldn't do much. I started telling people the actual truth.
When I had an emotionally trying day, I said it. When I had an emotionally thrilling day, I shouted it loudly. I did this until, suddenly, I had more days filled with joy than those filled with despair.
“How are you?” My friend Rachel checks on me daily when I’m in a flare.
“Emotionally or physically?” This is my new response.
“Let’s start with physically,” I hear her smile through the phone,
‘Eh, my legs aren’t working, and my arms are burning from elbows to fingertips.”
“I’m so great. I just spoke with a coaching client I’m excited about and wrote 2,000 words,” I say, grateful for dictation and the ability to help others.
Getting sick meant I had to be selective about where I spent my limited energy. I couldn’t both go to work every day and spend time with my children. So, I stopped going to work. I couldn’t volunteer in my kids’ classrooms the same day I had a doctor’s appointment, so; I said no. At first, people pushed back. How could I just stop doing all of those things?
When your body shuts down, it’s easy to say no. But, you don’t have to wait until your body forces you to make changes. In fact, I hope you don’t wait.
What if you could just cut out the stuff you hate?
What if you said no to one thing this week that you really don’t want to do? Sure, there are certain things you can’t change. If you need your job to put food on the table, then not showing up on Monday is probably a bad idea, but let’s start smaller.
Don’t want to make dinner every night? Order takeout one night and let the kids eat cereal another, use that time to do something you love instead, which brings you joy. If your work life doesn’t spark joy, you need to find satisfaction outside of work. It doesn't matter if it’s crafting a stuffed rooster for your mother’s kitchen, getting lost in a novel, or writing the next New York Times bestseller; if it brings you joy, it will make you a better person.
Take time to write out how you spent your non-work time this week. Did all of those activities serve you? Which one do you want to cut out? Do it. I permit you to say no. You can even let your child quit the dance classes they hate so you don’t have to drag them out the door and sit with a manufactured smile on your face while they grumble through the warm-up.
Now, fill in your calendar for next week without that activity in it. Put in something you love instead. I don’t care if it’s only a twenty-minute window. Schedule the time for something you actually want to do. How does that feel? Now, do it again. Keep cutting until your calendar is so filled with joy that there isn’t any space for counting box tops for the PTA. You can just write them a check instead.
Maria Chapman is a parent of five, a personal coach, and a chronic illness warrior. Follow her newsletter, Lies We Tell Ourselves, for more truth.
I Was the Woman Who Said I Didn’t Get Along With Women
Defense mechanism, competition, or self-hate… maybe all three