Apparently, being busy is a badge of honor that many people now like to flaunt.
What are lesser mortals to do? Are they to seem perennially insignificant and burrow in the dust-colored anthill of the multitude? So, they don the colored robe of the busy bee, like royalty wearing their clumsy ermine robes, and proudly tell you how harried they are.
“I have no time to breathe.”
“My weekends are worse than my office days. There is too much to do.”
“Busy, busy, busy! I have no time for anything these days.”
Of course, you are breathing, your weekends are free for chosen things and you have time for many things. Perhaps you don’t have time for me, the person you are talking to, and you intend to cloak that reluctance by claiming falsely exaggerated chores. But the likelier reason for your claim, when you habitually cite it, is that you want to project your importance. You are busier than the chairman of the country’s largest corporation or its president so saddled you are with giant responsibilities. By saying that, you expect to gain importance in others’ eyes. What you gain is the comical image of a self-important busybody.
Willard, my former colleague in a consulting firm, told me, “I used to say a lot, ‘I’m very busy,’ mostly to ward off requests from colleagues or clients. Then I realized what a rude thing it is to tell the other person in effect, ‘I don’t want to hear anything from you because I don’t think it is important.’ Worse, I was disparaging myself. I was almost making a confession.”
“Yes, I was confessing that I let others set my agenda rather than setting it myself. Bosses may set goals or targets, but my agenda is my province. I determine what goes into it, what I do and how I do it. If I am so busy that I am frantic, it means I have allowed others to set an unreasonable pace. Instead of suggesting that I am a person of importance, it suggests that I am so unimportant that I can’t even determine my own life. Others dictate it.”
Vanessa, who lives a busy life indeed as a pediatrician in the local hospital, gave me another point of view, “‘I am very busy’ is a silly thing to say, either as a motto or as an explanation. It amounts to saying I permit outside forces to decide what I do, instead of my own intentions or plans. If I am not anybody’s puppet, but an adult with my ideas and preferences, I may not always get what I want, but I must live my own life. I should set my speed and give attention to what I value. I should never be too busy to live my life my way, listen to my patients, my children, my friends.”
What does it mean to say, “I am very busy?” I asked my neighbor and friend, Victor, a technology entrepreneur who has floated and sold three companies and seems to live a full life with his wife and three children.
“Busy? Of course, I am busy. I look after my projects – any time I have three to five of them – but I would consider it presumptuous to tell clients that I was very busy. I know others who are busier than me. In any case, I should never be too busy to listen to my clients or my children.
“I would be ashamed to tell anybody, “I’m too busy to attend to you,” because it would be like admitting I have no control over my life. I am a professional, I take pride in managing my affairs. I am not always right, but I will never give up using my judgment and rush from pillar to post and claim I am furiously busy. It is like saying I can’t manage my affairs. Even worse, it means I won’t manage my affairs. Last month, when a close friend died, I cancelled all appointments. Not only I attended the funeral, but also took the whole day off to grieve for my friend. I don’t want to be too busy for that kind of thing.”
Am I too busy? I like to do things. Honestly, I want to do many things. I manage them poorly, but the management is mine and I will not give it up. I welcome others’ help, but I hope I will always be open to suggestions and counsel. Above all, I want to be ever open to friends and neighbors, colleagues and relatives, who want to ask a question, share a thought or simply want to chat for a minute. I never want to gain importance by saying, “Sorry, I am very busy.”