Friday, April 6, 2018

How to Go From "Busy" to "Meaningful"

Lately, I've been feeling like I never have time. It's true. I don't. I'm always busy. Busy with work, busy with maintaining a clean, organized, Pinterest worthy home. Deciding what healthy, wonderful meal I am going to whip up while my cookies are baking in the oven.  Keeping up with current events, posting my wonderful life on FB and liking all my 500+ friend's post so no one feels slighted (kidding, I don't have 500+ friends. No one really has 500 friends.)

Then, there is the volunteering at school, so my children know I love them. (But, let's be honest, a large part of why I do it is so other people see that this SAHM has her it together because since I don't work a 9-5 I have to prove I am busy.)

Somewhere I need to make time to go for a jog (which I hate) and/or to the gym, then grab my kale smoothie (Gag) because busy people still find time to exercise and eat their vegetables. However,  since I don't actually have time to cook anything during the day, I grind them to a pulp and drink them with some almond milk in my car on the way to my next errand (I actually grab a cookie.)

I wasn't always so busy.  When I first left work to stay home with the kids, I had more time, and I felt like I got more done.  I had time to ask people to coffee and to lunch, but they were always too busy.  It made me feel like I wasn't busy enough.  Like I wasn't busy doing the "right" things.  That was when I first became infected. I fell victim to the busy disease.

It started with adding things to my day that I felt like I "should" do. Other Moms have super clean homes that look like a photo shoot.  Other Moms are volunteering. Other Moms are dragging their kids to a million after school activities. Other Moms are, well, busy.

This pressure is self-inflicted for sure, but it is reinforced and encouraged by our culture. Listen to our typical conversations.

A Mom: "What did you do this weekend?"

Me: "Not much.  Just hung out and relaxed.  The kids and I read a little and went to the park."

Mom: "Oh, I wish I had time to do that.  We had a swim meet for Sue, then went to a soccer tournament 2 hours away for Jonny, then there was there Kumon and violin lessons, but we still found time to bake cookies for a bake sale, make slime together, and plant a garden. It was just go, go, go."

It's that phrase "I wish I had time to do that" that makes me feel like not being crazy busy all. the. time. makes me feel like my priorities are not in their proper order.  Like "just" reading and "just hanging out" isn't important. That if I am not busy and stressed with all I have to do, then I am not doing enough of the "right" things.

Imagine if someone asked you to help with a project at school, and you want to say no. You can't just say "No" and leave it at that. If you add, "I wish I could, but I'm too busy right now." The asker's face will soften in understanding, and they will say, "I totally understand. I am so busy too!" (Like it's a competition.)

What do you think their face would look like if you said, "I can't.  I'm making time to read more, or draw more, or paint, or just making more time to do nothing." Their face wouldn't soften in understanding.  Their face would more likely look like you just told them a space ship landed in your backyard last night and Sigourney Weaver walked out and you had tea together before helping her deliver her alien baby.

Then I stumbled upon this article, "Busy, Busy, Bullshit" . Great read.  The author contends that busy is something we do to ourselves.

At first I was a little offended.  How dare she insinuate that I really don't have to do all this stuff??

But, do I really? Here is the truth. When I worked full time with an hour and 10 minute commute both ways, I felt like I was less busy, and I had more time.  Don't get me wrong, I was exhausted a lot of the time. I did often feel guilty about my kids being in daycare. Was I being a great Mom, etc., and I felt guilty about work too, but I still felt like I had more time than I do today.

Part of it was because when I worked, people assumed I was busy all the time because I worked. I didn't have to explain what I did during the day anymore than that.  When I worked, I was better at setting my priorities.  I made the time to have lunch with my co-workers at least a couple of times a week or more.  My house was clean, but it definitely looked "lived-in" you know, by a real family with a busy Mom. When I was with my children, I was with my children because our time together was limited. I wasn't scrolling through my phone or multitasking three (or more) different things. I made time to read each night or do something for me because it was so important to maintain that work life balance, you know.  When I made time for me, I didn't feel judged by making that choice. I didn't judge myself for making that choice.

The other reason we stay busy is because it is easier than admitting that sometimes we are bored or unfulfilled or sometimes just plain old unhappy. When I worked, my purpose was figured out for me more or less.  Now, I have to figure it out on my own. Staying busy keeps us from thinking and feeling.  It is like a drug that allows us to avoid acknowledging the fact that we do feel empty sometimes, and it dulls the feelings of guilt that come up when that thought crosses our mind, and it allows us to feel important.

Don't misunderstand, I love being a mom, and I am blessed to be able to stay home.  I don't want to go back to work full time. However, there is a lot of my day that I don't love. Sometimes when I am standing there folding up a never ending pile of laundry, I can't help but think, "I went to grad school to do this?" "Does it really matter if I don't find the perfect Spring wreath for the front door?" Again, something that I never would have bothered with when I had a full time job. Then I feel ungrateful, and rush off to find something to keep me busy, and maybe post about it on FB as if someone might have read my mind, and know I had these forbidden thoughts.

So What's the Cure? 

1) Stop being busy all the time, so you can figure out what really is meaningful to you.  

Quiet your mind for a nanosecond, and think about what is really important to you or what you need to feel like a whole human being.

If shopping for the perfect Spring Wreath makes you happy - go for it. If cleaning your house gives you a sense of satisfaction, then grab that cleaning caddy and go to town. If sitting in a coffee shop reading brings you peace, do it.  Still lacking fulfillment? How about making time to find and volunteer for a cause near and dear to your heart.

In order to make this kind of space in your life, you will have to add a new word to your vocabulary.  That word is "No".  You can pretty it up and take the edge off it if necessary.  Find your own style of "no", that feels good to you. However, keep in mind, you are a grown up. You don't need to account for your time or explain to any other grown up. "No" is a complete sentence.

You need to use "No" in order to make room for "Yes".  Yes to the things that really matter.  For example, "No, I am not going to (vacuum, run errands, work through lunch, etc...) because I am saying yes to going to lunch with a friend, or read, or paint, or pet cats at the local shelter. Relationships matter (real ones, not FB ones).  The other stuff will eventually get done. (How to Live a Life with No Regrets)

CAUTION: The exercise above may bring up intense feelings of guilt. Persist. It will be okay, but it won't be easy.

2) Sources of Possible Guilt, and How to Deal with Them

Setting new priorities is tough. It is a huge change and change is never easy. Being busy, and it's sister "yes" is a habit, and habit breaking requires awareness and making new choices.

Handling Other People's disappointment.

There may be people who are disappointed with your new decisions, and that may make you feel guilty.  Acknowledge these feelings of guilt, but don't give in to them (and don't run back to busyness to dull them). Other people's disappointment or unhappiness is their problem not yours, and I promise you they will figure it out without you. So, be courageous. Be strong. Remember, no one is responsible for your happiness, but you and you are not responsible for anyone else's happiness.

It isn't "Important" Enough 

We tend to measure importance by a paycheck or the impact it has in the world.  I could make the time to pursue some things, but I don't because I don't think it is "important" enough because it is only important to me, not my family or the world, just to me.  Also, I struggle justifying taking the time from something else "important", and spending it doing something for me that can't be measured with a paycheck.  Maybe if I get started, then one day it will turn into a paid gig, who knows?  But, it might not, and that should be okay too.

Let me give you another way to look at this conundrum. My son works on movies every moment he has. He writes scenes. He designs sets. He takes loads of pictures and video. No one, but his parents, his sister, and maybe a friend or two looks at his movies. He doesn't get paid to do them nor do I think at this stage anyone will offer to buy the rights to his movies. If he said, "I'm not working on this anymore because no one but me will watch it," it would break my heart because he really, really loves doing it. It gives him such a sense of pride and accomplishment.

I would never say, "That's a wise choice because there are far more important things you could be doing." Hell no, I would say, "Go make those movies! Live your dreams!" I have even let him put off his homework or the occasional chore, so he can go catch the right light for a scene. Yet, here I am modeling behavior I would never want to see him display.  Me feeling like a whole person is a good enough reason to make time, but I am also setting a great example for my own kids.

3) Spend 15 minutes a day pursuing that thing that gets you excited or relaxes you.

Look, I'm not saying you can just drop everything and pursue you secret dream of becoming the next Monet, but can you spare 15 minutes a day to take a baby step toward something that makes your heart happy? Truth be told, I think this is important enough for you to take waaaay more than 15 minutes, but this is a new habit so baby step it.

I bet you spend way more time taking care of others than you give yourself credit for. Try this exercise. For a day track what you do, and the time you spend doing it. For me, I start at 6:30 getting stuff ready for the kids for school, and I am still doing family household stuff long after they have gone to bed.  I had a pretty demanding job, but I didn't regularly work 14 or more hour days, and I liked my job a lot, so stop being so hard on yourself now.

Another exercise is to look at what you do and decide what is truly important to you that you do it well.  Do I have to make an awesome dinner every night? No, a cereal night dinner every once in a while will not leave my children malnourished.  Truth be told, they would love it. (See How to Get Shit Done)

Does my house have to be vacuumed and picked up everyday? No, I don't have people dropping in unexpectedly ever, so why do I need to do this? And, on the rare chance that might happen, and they see dog hair floating across the floor, what is the worst that would come of it? Would they go and talk about how horrible of a mother I am in the car pool line? Not likely, and if so, do I really care? Will it really effect me? Will I stop being invited to or included in things? If so, good more free time, and who needs "friends" like that anyway. Truthfully, you may just be giving them the courage they need to lower their own impossible standards and be less busy.

Another time eater for me was all the activities I enrolled my kids in. One child wants to be involved in every opportunity that comes her way, and I said, you can pick two. That's it.  I purposely keep two school days a week free for two reasons.  One, for me.  I just don't want to be go, go, go all the time racing here and there, then stressing about diner on top of it. Two, I do it for them.  They need to be bored. The first couple of weeks was whine filled (we have a no screen rule for this time.) "What do I do?" they whine. "Play outside," I say.

After a couple weeks of this I found a box full of handmade brooms made with tape (a lot of tape), sticks and monkey grass (for Harry Potter scenes). I found notebooks full of songs and stories they have written, costumes for movie scenes, pages of rules and currency (rocks) for this pretend society they have invented.

Being this creative takes time. Time they never had when they were too busy with all the other stuff.  I think there is definitely a lesson in there for me, and I can definitely find at least 15 minutes of unapologetic time to do something for me.

I don't know what I want to do or what my "thing" is.

Don't despair if you don't have "Your thing" yet. Spend your 15 minutes doing nothing.  Just sit for 15 glorious minutes doing nothing.  You will probably be bored for the first couple of tries, but eventually you will come to treasure this time of being unbusy, and maybe in the silence your thing will speak to you.   When something pops into your head, make plans to go try it out.  Experiment. Do new things with new people.  It might turn out to not be your thing, but then again it might be life changing.  It doesn't have to be a big thing (although it certainly could).  It could just be something you have always wanted to try or that you loved doing as a child.  Go for it because life is way to short to be busy doing nothing. So right now, write down one thing to take off your "TO DO" list, and write down one thing you will make time to do for you.  Write this on your calendar and treat it like an appointment with someone important (because you are important.)

Three Types of Happiness

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