There was a great opinion piece in the New York Times this week that may make you take a hard look at how you live your life. I dare you not to recognize yourself– even just a little– in writer Tim Kreider’s diatribe on why we’re all too busy.
The column made me laugh as he blatantly mocked me and all the busy people, who only have ourselves to blame for creating activities and events that keep us on the run day after day, like products on a factory conveyor belt.
Kreider says ” busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. ” He suggests people are busy “because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”
I related to Kreider’s observation that people feel tense and guilty when they aren’t working or promoting their work. When I quit my fulltime job as a TV news producer after more than 15 years, I was desperate to fill my days with legitimate activities. The idea of loafing around brainstorming, reading, or watching TV was abhorrent and– even though I was doing the hard work of raising three young boys– I never could shake the feeling that I was playing hooky.
Five years later, my calendar is still packed with work commitments, volunteer duties, kids activity responsibilities, house projects, and errands galore. God forbid I just take some time to relax and recharge my battery.
It’s been difficult to figure out what I want to do with the next part of my life, mostly because I haven’t allowed myself the time to really ponder it in a thoughtful way. Who has the time to contemplate the future when I have to drive baseball carpool, write a blog post, water my garden, or run to the grocery store?
Krieder has high praise for idle time. So do I….in theory. But in practice, I can’t help but feel contrite and a bit antsy when I lay in our hammock and read a book.
Kreider argues that idleness is necessary to seeing a broader perspective, which can lead to inspiration and increased productivity. I know clearing my mind –whether it’s through meditation, yoga, exercise, daydreaming, or even a long quiet walk– always leads to new ideas, but it’s challenging to discipline myself to do it.
Last week, however, I fulfilled a dream and took my 12-year-old son, Jacob to Paris for a week. In true French style, there was no hurrying as we walked the city’s various neighborhoods, stopping now and then for a crepe or gelato. We sat in cafes to watch people and I drank wine at late lunches and dinners.
And guess what? Life did not seem meaningless even though it slowed down. I noticed after a few days I wasn’t clenching my teeth and had increased energy. Due to the expense, I suspended internet service on my phone all week and didn’t have the twitchy need to check my email or Twitter 8 times a day. This left me time to think and be more aware of my surroundings.
I don’t agree with all Kreider’s points. It doesn’t sound like he understands the dynamics of raising kids and how much time they require, even without over-scheduling. But much of the piece resonated with me.
The article is long so I’m sure many of you will be too busy to commit. If you can spare the time between activities, read it here.
Let me know what you think of his theory in the comments.