I usually try to avoid using the word “busy.” The word often suggests a never ending barrage of tasks with value being placed on the amount of tasks, rather than quality. “I’ve been so busy” is simultaneously used as a gripe and humble brag, deducing our lives to series of to-do lists and check points. To not be busy, by today’s standards, is to be lazy, noncontributing, and unambitious. Which is why I choose, instead, to use the phrase “actively engaged.” When I am actively engaged in my life and work, I remain present, time spent has value for myself and others, and the goal becomes the engagement rather than the juggling.
However, for the past month, there’s no other way to say it: I’ve felt busy.
So busy, the only possible thing to reflect on this month is this busy-ness. Or more so, as someone adverse to busy, a reflection on "how did I get here?"
There’s a chance I hold a certain sense of “missing out” carried over from my twenties - a time when “I can’t afford it” or “I’m in rehearsal” prevented me to saying yes to certain social events, performances, or projects. Whether or not this post-active FOMO is warranted will have to be saved for another reflection (or private therapy session), but regardless, it’s led me to actively seek a lifestyle in favor of autonomy of schedule and financial freedom. While this is a worthy and understandable goal, the past month has me wondering if freedom of finances and freedom of schedule can truly go hand in hand. Maybe if you’re independently wealthy or have mastered the art of passive income, but for those of us “actively engaged” in our life’s work there’s no separating time from money. So while I am incredibly fortunate to have found a work-life with a certain amount of predictable income with a certain amount of flexibility in my schedule, the bottom line is a time commitment is a time commitment, and it doesn’t go away just because I drag it over a few inches in my Google calendar.
Which leads me to my June-busy. With three weeks off from teaching, I was excited to jump back in to a few of my own creative projects. I adjusted my work schedule, settled on some designated creative time, then, unexpectedly, said yes to enough additional events to color in all of the white sections of my G-Cal. Was all this Yes-ing a result of “making up for lost time,” or was it just poor planning, or was it simply a case of “when it rains it pours”? Regardless, I found myself rushing from commitment to commitment with no time left over for other important engagements I take for granted, including exercise and quality time with friends and my partner.
My challenge now, being on the other end of it, is that I can’t look back and pinpoint any one thing I should have said No to. There was value and growth in all endeavors. I was actively engaged. And also, busy. So while I can’t say I wouldn’t do it all again, I would like to say I’d do it a little more consciously. Ultimately, it’s just about cultivating the millennial plight for work-life balance, acknowledging that every Yes is a No to something else. I wonder, though, if I’ve been thinking of balance in the wrong way. Rather than a scale, perfectly level on each side, perhaps it’s more like a boat steadying itself atop a flowing stream. Items in the boat may roll from end to end, making the bow momentarily heavier than the stern, but it remains afloat. Similarly, perhaps it’s not about finding balance day to day, but balancing out the seasons. Stormy weather will change our boat's balance but as long as the boat remains upright, it’s successful. It’s functional. It’s performing its duty to keep us safe and carry us to our destination.
I’m grateful for my stormy season.
I’m more grateful it’s over and I haven’t capsized.