full (moving past busy)

atlas mountains moroccoAbout a year ago, Austin and I started getting massages. Up to that point, getting a massage had been a novel activity — done before a big event or to celebrate an occasion — versus something therapeutic and regular. It was fascinating to have an expert assess the contours of my body and help it to perform better.

As I saw a masseuse regularly, she’d often note as she worked how tense my shoulder muscles were — these were the most bound up shoulder muscles she’d ever felt! I’d silently grin into the massage table. My tense shoulders were a (strange) point of pride for all their metaphor. I was a busy woman with an important job and a packed calendar and I wore life’s tensions in my shoulders. How else would my shoulders be, but full of everything on my plate?

I feel shameful and green reading that, now. Really, I felt shame the moment I thought this thought. (Do you ever do that? Think a thought, and then berate your subconscious for even entertaining the idea?) I started considering my misplaced pride and the identity carried around by my poor shoulder muscles. About lives that are not worthwhile unless they are overflowing. With what? It doesn’t matter. So long as we are busy.

Over the past year, I’ve challenged myself to be more conscious with this word — to stop glorifying my schedule and celebrating “busy.” Busy is lazy. Busy is closing the door to good conversation. Busy is boring. You’ve heard all this before. And yet, how often is “busy” the default answer — to a friend as we plan to meet for drinks, to a colleague in the elevator asking of our weekend, to a concerned mom who hears the workweek wear in our voice?

I don’t want to suggest that eliminating busy is an easy undertaking or an overnight fix. Like correcting any bad habit, it takes time. I used to default to busy a lot, especially in response to “how are you?” Sometimes I still do, before I catch myself.  I clip my tongue and figure out a better answer.

I’ve fought to (gently) push others past busy in conversations. If you listen, really listen each day, you hear busy everywhere, in every exchange. So I ask what projects they’re working on, how their kids are doing in school, and to see some photos from a recent trip. The eagerly described details are always better, more wonderful, than busy. We have so many stories to share that are stunted by “my life is busy, yours is too!”

I’m trying to replace busy with full.

Wonderfully, sometimes-maddeningly, full. But a fullness of choice. I (and probably you, reading this, lucky us) choose my full days and how to fill them. Sure, I have to go to work each morning, and those days are long and challenging. But, goodness, it’s a job I enjoy and work I choose to do, over any number of callings. There are five loads of laundry to fold from that last trip, classes to attend, dinners to cook and friends to meet for tea. Shoes that need be taken to the cobbler, and a stack of books to read and the kitchen faucet we fixed twice that’s broken again. My full probably isn’t even half of yours. It’s entirely of my own making, even the tedious bits.

As I settle into this year, I want to be conscious of life’s fullness and ensure that when things are to the brim (as they will be) I’m happy with every last bit I carry with me. I want to have the courage to dump unhelpful pastimes that take up my finite hours. I want to, equally, have the courage to add things that are challenging and out of my norm and take work.

A year later, my shoulders aren’t bound like they used to be. My therapist will take credit for her good work, as she should. But I am, too. I’m storing less inside myself, just to keep up with busy. I’m no longer proud when I hunch over with the weight of the day. Life is fuller.

[photo: my own, sunrise in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco]

2 thoughts on “full (moving past busy)

  1. Thanks for this, great read. It reminds me of high school, where I was part of an exhausting humanities magnet program. My nerd friends and I would brag to each other about our lack of sleep. It’s only a point of pride until it slowly drives you mad.

    1. I’m in that situation now as a high schooler, it seems like it’s all about how much sleep you didn’t get because you were busy with homework and packed with extracurriculars, and now that I’m reading about it it all just seems so stupid and pointless.

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