My new quest – dissolving busyness

I am going to spend the next two or three years working on what I take to be the central issue facing most of my family, friends and clients. Way too many people, when I ask them how they are, say “I’m busy.” You’ve noticed this no doubt and perhaps you say it.

At first I thought people were not answering the question, because I couldn’t see how “busy” could be more than a description of activity level. After a while I caught on: “busy” now is an identity.

An identity is how we know ourselves and how we expect others to know us and interact with us. We refer to our identity to evaluate our progress/our success (for example—if my identity is a golfer I will keep track of my scores on the golf course — if I’m a father I may evaluate how I’m doing according to the success of my children—and so on). We protect our identity as we would our life because we humans are so deeply social that we take our identity to be us. Maybe you’re already seeing how difficult it is to deal with busyness once it’s become our identity.

Here are some of the consequences I see immediately:

  • We have almost no tolerance for not being busy because it registers as a threat to us and our whole body is designed to move away from threat.
  • We compete for being the busiest because it strengthens our identity and brings us social standing—which, practically, means a sense of worth reflected in how others treat us and the chance for social success in terms of money, promotions and status.
  • We insist that others treat us as someone who’s busy, which means they shouldn’t expect or really even ask for our full attention, much of our time, or partnership in what’s important for them.
  • We feel deeply isolated and worn out by our busyness but the only strategy we know is to strengthen our identity by increasing our busyness. If we try any other intervention or body will rebel, our friends well make fun of us, and our family won’t know what to do with us given that we’ve trained them to keep their distance.

What do you see?