“How are you?”
It’s a seemingly innocent question, and one that, unless you know the person really well, always comes with the same answer.
“I’m good, thanks, how are you?”
Or, perhaps, if you’re having a great week (or you’ve run into an ex), you tweak the answer slightly.
“I’m really good, thanks!” or even “I’m great, thank you.”
Or maybe, if you live in London, or NYC, or Toronto, or just about any other big city in the world, or probably even some smaller cities, too, or perhaps even the countryside, or I guess just everyone I speak to these days, you say this:
“I’m good thanks, super busy,” or “Yeah, good, but really busy,” or “Good, thanks, but so busy I don’t remember the last time I slept for longer than four hours and my back always hurts and sometimes I forget if I’ve eaten lunch so let’s just stand here and laugh for a little while so I can forget about my ever-growing list of things to do and all those unanswered emails.”
OK, so maybe that last one is a slight exaggeration. But over the last few years, I’ve heard myself give some variation of that answer to different people, whether they’re friends, acquaintances, coworkers, or someone in between. I’ve also written about it a lot on this blog. When did I get so obsessed with being so busy?
I believe it started when I moved to London three and a half years ago. Almost immediately, I started a full-time master’s degree and a part-time job, but I was also running this blog and all of its social media, taking on the odd freelancing job, trying to make new friends, date, sightsee in London, and travel abroad once a month. I kept that schedule up for two years, when, upon graduating, I took on a full-time job, upped my freelance work and public speaking engagements, joined entrepreneur groups, and still managed to go out at least three or four times a week with friends or boyfriends, all the while blogging and travelling.
Now don’t get me wrong – I love my life, and I love my work. But part of me feared that if I didn’t do all of that, that if I didn’t have some scrolling list of things I’m working on (I’m going to start blogging more, and redesign my blog, and get more freelance clients, and write a guidebook to East London, and finish editing my first book, and start writing my second book, and go to Italy for a month next year, and join acting classes, and take up jogging, and cook more, all on top of 40+ hours a week at my job) that I would somehow be judged by others to not be ambitious enough, or hardworking enough. That to be busy was a good thing, a thing to be admired.
Because let’s be honest – when we’re telling someone we’re “busy”, what we’re really telling them is this: please see me as someone who is so ambitious and so hardworking and so in demand and so popular that we don’t have time to stop and smell the roses. That’s right. I turned into that jerk who used “I’m busy” as a twisted sort of accomplishment, something to be proud of. “I’m busy” became a humblebrag.
As I mentioned, I really do enjoy being busy, provided I like what I’m doing. I do consider myself to be ambitious, even if sometimes my ambitions manifest themselves as daydreaming. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss just taking it easy, or spending a few days relaxing and recharging my batteries, so to speak. Somehow I became so “busy” that I forgot about the importance of just switching off for a few days; even on the trips I’ve done this year, I was always checking my email, finishing assignments, or worrying that I wasn’t getting enough photos for the blog or social media.
And yes – to spend a few days taking it easy is a privilege, and not everyone has the luxury to do so; there are bills to be paid, kids to look after, and homes to maintain. But I thought about how many of us, from my personal experience in North America and the UK, talk about being busy all the time; that maybe, if you admitted that you spent the entire weekend in your pyjamas binge-watching Black Mirror and eating takeaway, you’d be painted as lazy, or that it takes away some of your hardworking cred. I thought about all of those articles that show how people in America and England don’t take all of their holidays from work for fear of being labelled as not hardworking enough. And then I thought about my French and my Italian friends who value taking time to relax and enjoy life, whether that be spending time at a coffeeshop with a newspaper or taking an entire evening to complete a meal with family and friends. That, in parts of Europe, to say you’re busy is seen as a negative thing – if you’re busy, how can you be enjoying life? It’s that whole work to live or live to work thing, and I realised I was falling into the latter category.
I was recently invited by Hilton Dalaman to spend a few days at their hotel in Turkey, and those days were full of nothing but relaxation: swimming, sailing, taking hours to eat dinner over long conversations and endless bottles of wine. For four days, I didn’t do any work, barely went online. It was heavenly. And yes, I came home to an overflowing inbox and overdue assignments, but for those few days, I didn’t worry about being busy. It did wonders for my mind and my body, and I came home feeling refreshed and reenergised. For once, when someone asked how I was, I didn’t say I was busy. I said I felt great, end of sentence.
So now, on the heels of that relaxing trip, I find myself at a crossroads. I obviously can’t jet away to Dalaman every other week (as much as I’d like to). I still have those bills to pay, and so it’s not like I can just quit everything I’m doing; besides that, as mentioned earlier, I like my work. But I realised I need to start making a conscious effort to be less busy, even if only in words. I realised that nobody is going to judge me if, when I’m asked how I am, I say, “I’m really good, thanks, I’ve had a really relaxing week.” They’re not going to assume I’m not ambitious, or hardworking; if anything, they might be a little bit envious.
I felt so good after Turkey that I realised I need to let some of that trickle into my day-to-day life, too; I need to step away from the computer more, and then, once I’m away from it, actually let my mind switch off in order to be more present in the moment. Enjoy that glass of wine with a friend without complaining about tomorrow’s deadline. Go for a walk around the block to clear my mind and take in some fresh air. Watch a movie without sitting with my laptop on my lap, trying to answer emails at the same time. Yes, I’m still going to be busy, but I want to embrace the idea of being able to compartmentalise that busyness, of being able to put it away when I need to.
So if you see me anytime soon, ask me how I am.
My many thanks to Hilton Dalaman for inviting me as a guest to their hotel – they really were some of the most relaxing days I’ve had in a very long time. I will be writing more about my time in Turkey soon.
Do you agree with me – do you often say you’re “busy” as a catch-all answer? How do you unwind or switch off?