When did being busy become a status symbol? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now, and one that’s explored in this week’s Stylist, in an article that describes many as ‘slavish devotees to the cult of busy.’ The piece reveals 40% of the magazine’s readers secretly think women who don’t have a busy lifestyle are ‘lazy or not very motivated.’ I’m not surprised by that statistic. It’s something I’ve suspected ever since I moved to London 18 months ago.
I grew up in a small, quiet Yorkshire town, and from what I remember of being raised there, free time was heavily valued. When I was young, the adults I knew got home from work, did what they needed to do around the house then put their feet up and spent time with their families. Was this laziness? I’d argue not; rather a protectiveness of work/ life balance. Looking back now, I don’t think I knew many people who were burnt out.
Maybe back then things were just as hectic in big, bustling cities as they are now, but I had little idea that sort of life existed.
Now though, in London, I’m surrounded by people who never stop working; studying; exercising; socialising; blogging; campaigning; volunteering. You name it – they’re doing it – day in, day out.
And of course, all of that stuff is great, but I can’t help feeling that some people keep themselves ultra-busy as a means of self-validation. Does it truly make them happier? I’m not so sure. UK millennials have the second worst mental wellbeing rate in the world, according to the Telegraph, after all.
I have a full-time (often rather hectic) 9 – 5 job as a journalist and commute for around an hour and a half each day. I sometimes attend out of hours work commitments; I exercise a few times a week; I hang out with my boyfriend and catch up with friends. Some weeks are more busy than others, but in general I keep my evenings and weekends pretty clear.
It might seem like I’ve got a decent amount of stuff going on, right? But in comparison to many people I know, who Uber from one weeknight activity to another and have their weekends fully booked up months in advance, I’m positively slow-paced.
For a while now I’ve worried that my enjoyment of free time is somehow wrong. I feel a twinge of embarrassment every time a colleague asks what I did last night (cleaned flat, washed hair, read.) My free time can make me feel uneasy, like it’s a void I should be filling just because everyone else is.
But time and again, I have to reassure myself that there’s nothing wrong with having a few hours in the evening to realign and relax. I remind myself of the time, shortly after my move to London, when I had my first and only panic attack due to being suckered in to living at an impossible-to-maintain pace. I remember that taking the time to hoover my bedroom and stick on a face mask makes me feel centred; that running slowly and doggedly around the park clears my head and that bingeing on Netflix shows I’m obsessed with gives me a bit of joy at the end of a busy work day.
I go to sleep each night largely without worries, because I’ve had spare hours beforehand to process and work through anything that’s bothering me. I wake up feeling ready to take on the day because I’ve had enough sleep. I feel a strong sense of self-worth, even when I’m sat home alone watching old episodes of Kimmy Schmidt and eating cereal from the box.
I’m not saying that busyness and wellbeing are mutually exclusive. But for me, too much of the former can certainly affect the latter. I know it’s important for me to balance busy days with downtime in order to be my best self at work and in my relationships.
I might not have a side-hustle or a jam-packed social calendar, but I’m making choices that ensure I’m achieving my career goals, keeping relationships in check and feeling well both physically and mentally. If that’s what society deems ‘lazy’ then I think we need to collectively take a look at ourselves and what we view as most important in life.
So here’s to my fellow not always busy-people. We’re doing just fine, thanks very much.
(Main image credit: Max Pixel)