If you can spare a few moments, read this. It’s about the ‘busy’ trap we tend to set for ourselves.
Do you know the ending of The Paper Chase? If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch. If you have seen it, do you remember the final scene? When I saw that scene I was dumbstruck. I could never have done that.
At school I kept telling myself that the grades didn’t really matter, since the A students and the C students all walked away with the same piece of paper. Even if I hadn’t been balancing my grades to maintain a scholarship, I still would have needed to know what some instructor thought of my work.
And that’s a hard feeling for me to shake. Almost 75% of my life so far has been dedicated to getting grades. The first 20% was dedicated to not choking on LEGOs.
I remember thinking what would I do with my life after grad school, after grades. In The Real World as we students called it, with a mixture of aspiration and terror. What would it feel like to go home and not have to do homework? To ride the TTC and read something unrelated to business case studies or historical methodology?
Turned out I made it just as busy as it was before. I volunteered my time, filling it with things to do. And why do I do it? At least many of the articles about hyper-schedules have kids to worry about, and their kids’ schedules fill their time. But I don’t have kids. All I have to is wake, eat, work, and sleep. I’m assigning myself everything else.
I thought it was a Gen-Y thing. You know, we bratty entitled youth who’ve been told all through school we’d enter a workforce desperate for new blood after the baby boomers all retired, only to end up over-educated and under-employed?
Back when I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture (one of my favourite work experiences ever) all the summer contract workers had lunch with the Assistant Deputy Minister. He was asking us about our backgrounds and what brought us to our contracts – and where we’d be applying for university. Most of us had in fact already graduated for university, or some (like myself) were just finishing graduate school. Yet we were desperate for these contracts because it was what we, with all our extra training, were able to get. Since our school and experience weren’t enough, we were also big on the extra-curriculars, filling our time with volunteering and freelancing.
I thought maybe it was some socialized woman thing, a need to help others and make oneself useful. My partner would look so despondent when I told him I’d be home late yet again because of a volunteer engagement, something I heard echoed by my fellow volunteer-addict women friends. But when I tweeted about the feeling, a bunch of my men friends said they knew they, too, made themselves busier than they had to.
So if I can’t blame it on my age or gender socialization, why do I do it?
I think I worked it out, and if you make yourself too busy, if you’re a volunteer-addict, I want to know if the following rings true at all for you.
It’s because I want to impress people. I want to build my profile. I’m volunteering for initiatives in which I believe, of course. But I’m also doing it for my career. I’m doing it so you’ll be impressed and say good things about me, and refer me. I’m jumping through hoops that I set up for myself so I can be engaged and involved and build the career I so desperately want. I’m putting on a show! I’m doing this for you!
You feel me, Maximus Decimus Meridius?
Alright. Well written down I come across like a giddy puppy desperate for approval. It’s not quite like that. But there’s absolutely some truth to it.
I’m really glad these articles about the false nature of our busy-ness are coming out. I think of a time in the future when I’m more established in my career, when I won’t feel the need to busy myself with so many things.
And I’ve already made some progress towards that state. Sorting out the things I just do with my time from the things I do with my time that make me happy, make my life fuller. Notably, in recent weeks I’ve been freelancing on the art/design side, something I realized makes me a truly happy woman. So I’m going to work on doing that more. Because it’s all well and good to fill my time, but I’ve only got so much time. So here’s to maximizing the good times.
What say you? Have you mastered a blissfully idle lifestyle? How did you do it? Are you instead like me, a busy bee spinning your wheels and asking yourself why do you it? …Why do you do it?
For reals. I want to know. Tell me your secrets, over-achievers!