The Dark Side of Being Less Busy

If busyness is the enemy, then who or what is our friend? Once we vanquish the excess from our lives, once we free up space in our schedules, what are we left with? Emptiness? Or possibilities?

When I first began to simplify my life and make time slow down I was rather busy with the task of actually doing those things. I was busy decluttering. I was busy thinking about which things I could cut out of my schedule. I was busy setting goals that would help me create a life less busy. And I was busy sharing my experience of becoming less busy. Before I knew it I had replaced the mindless busy with a new kind of busy. And for a while this was ok. I was enthusiastic, I had a purpose and I was moving towards the reality of a life I had hoped for.

But then a strange thing happened. I had nothing to do. I had checked off my to do list, I had reached my goals and I had actually created a life less busy. So, what was I supposed to do now? Suddenly I felt lost. I had spare time to do all the things I loved to do… only I couldn’t remember what they were. I could live a life more in line with my true self… but who was that? I realised that somewhere along the way, during all the busyness, I had lost myself. And now, here I was, in a chasm of space that left me no choice but to confront my fears and my insecurities and ask the really hard questions. Who was I, and what exactly did I want?

Now I don’t want to discourage anyone from following my advice thus far regarding the benefits of slowing down and simplifying your life. Rather, I write this as both a warning and a promise. By creating space in your life you will no longer be able to hide behind the endless busyness and avoid doing the real work of personal growth and self-awareness. For some of us this is exciting, and it may even be the motivation for simplifying or slowing down in the first place. For others it is quite scary. Having to face the reality of where your life is, having time to reflect on your dreams and all the things you had hoped to achieve, remembering the person you once thought you’d become…this stuff is confronting. Terrifying even.

The good news however is that it provides us with a wonderful opportunity. If we remain busy we can effectively avoid ever having to face ourselves. But inevitably life will provide us with a time where we have nothing to do. And then we’ll have to face it regardless. This may be when we are in our final years, when time has slipped away from us and regret takes hold. Or it may be when illness visits and prevents us from making the changes we would like. Or, if we are very fortunate, it happens sooner. It happens when we slow down enough to escape the grip of the busyness drug. To shake it loose and wrestle out of its grip. It happens when we have the strength and motivation to squarely face reality and the consequences of the choices we have made so far. It happens when we have the ability to change the story, to start moving in a new direction.

This may all sound rather melodramatic. I mean, surely having a few hours of free time a week doesn’t change that much. As peculiar as it sounds, it’s the little changes that add up. A bit more time to think. A bit more time to reflect. A bit more time to mourn. A bit more time to dream. In the end we become possessed with an urgency to be the author of our future. Enough of being carried along by a tide of busy that sweeps us away from who we are and what we really want. Busy can be okay if it means you are engaged in things that bring you joy and allow you to be authentic. But when busy is used as a diversion from what really matters, we are at risk of being swept into an ocean of regret.

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