Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When Did Being Busy Become an Excuse?

There are some unspoken norms in our society. When someone (that you aren't super close with), asks how you are, you say something like "Fine, OK, good." You don't usually tell your coworker or the barista at the coffee shop, "Well this bought of depression is really rough and man, my IBD these last few weeks, whew!" Because we probably figure that "How are you" from this person is more or less obligatory, and that they don't actually want to know the details on how you're doing.  This frustrates me, INFJ and small-talk-avoider that I am, but I have come to learn that it's how society operates.

But there is this societal trend, expectation really, that I just cringe at, and cannot seem to get behind: Busy. Everyone's busy. I don't think people even know what they're busy with some days. But that's what they are. "How are you?" "Fine. Busy." I've even found myself doing it at times, and it makes me angry with myself. But I'm an awkward small talker so I usually just put on the mask and throw out things people expect to hear - I'm fine and I'm busy.

But the problem with everyone being so busy is that we don't seem to examine it closely.  We don't sit down and think "What am I so busy with, and is that really what matters most to me?".  As long as we're busy, we are covered. Can't make that important event? It's OK, you were busy. Forget a friend's birthday? Well, you've been so busy. Have to change plans on someone when they were really counting on them? They'll understand, you're busy.  Not get to do something you promised someone. They'll understand for the 1st or 100th time, because you were busy. And rarely will someone question it. Rarely, it seems, do we ask captain busy-pants exactly why these things that they're busy with are more important than that family event, the birthday, plans that we were counting on, their word or promise that they gave you.

But when you battle illness every day, you sometimes have to ask yourself that. Is xyz more important than my health? Can I physically or mentally or emotionally manage to get through this relatively unscathed, or is it going to really put me out of commission? If I do x, will have the energy/strength/health to do y, which means more to me? I often have to prioritize the things that are the most important to me, and I have to live by that. What things matter most to me?

  • Family and loved ones (this includes four-pawed loved ones)
  • My health and sanity, because if I don't have these I can't be there for family and loved ones. 
  • Friends
  • Helping others, through my advocacy efforts and just in general
  • Work to a lesser extent, in the "I need my job because I am not independently wealthy" kind of way. 
Notice a few things here: there's not a 'thing' on this list. Nor is money on this list. Work is on this list, but it's the bottom of the list - not because I don't value my job but because my work won't be holding my hand on my deathbed, and because if I don't have my health and sanity, I cannot work. Yes, there are things we need money for:  food, a roof over our heads, paying our bills, clothing. And wanting some money for livelihood, I understand. But why are we so busy working to make money for things we can't enjoy because we're so busy working?  Wouldn't your family rather see you and have a less expensive TV or car ,than have a top of the line TV or car and never see you? If not, well, time to examine why that's the case. 

Being busy is understandable. But it isn't  some omnipotent reason that doesn't need to be further specified. If you're using it this way, it's become an excuse. You have to be busy with something, and the way you spend your time, what you're so busy with, shows your priorities, plain and simple. This is where that old adage "actions speak louder than words" comes into play. Time is the one thing we use that we can never get back - our most precious resource. So next time you're tempted to say "I was too busy" and end the sentence there, don't. Finish it out the way you actually mean it: I'mwas too busy with x, that I didn't have time for y like I promised you, because x is more important to me right now. If you don't like a sound of that, time to reexamine how you're using your time. 


  1. There are parts of this blog that I completely agree with and other parts upon which I have a differing opinion. I agree that being busy is often just an excuse people use without thinking. But, sometimes people are busy and things come up. At the same time, I do think we should do what we can to keep our promises and to not over commit.

    I think your statement "I was too busy with x, that I didn't have time for y like I promised you, because x is more important to me right now." Frankly time is limited and sometimes other things are more important. Is sending a christmas card or attending a birthday party important to me? Yes, but staying home with my sick kid, or making sure my family has food to eat or even just catching up on my sleep can be of greater priority.

    I generally tend to tell people the reason if I am flaking. But sometimes we are busy with personal things that we just don't want to share. If you are having health issues or problems with a spouse or child you may consider that to private to want to broadcast the reason, so an "I've been busy" covers it.

    Now, knowing you, I suspect that you are talking more about things like people over committing their social calendar or working long hours. I do get very annoyed when people over commit and then throw out "busy" as a eupemisim for "I'd rather do something else" or "I wore myself out doing other things and want to stay home." If that is the case then what I try to do is to suck it up and go even if I don't want to and then take it into consideration in my future scheduling.

    As this is a mental health blog, I will say that one thing that bothers me is when people make plans and then cancel due to social aniety or other mental health factors. I am not upset that they are canceling, but I do get upset that it is usually accompanied by a Bull $hit excuse like being sick or having to work. Just be honest and tell me "i'm having a panic attack and can't leave the house." That would sit with me a lot better. And if you know that every time you make plans this happens then it is time to rethink the plans you are making or you are going to estrange people. It is ok to say, "I don't want to go to a party, can we have coffee instead." But when you agree to go and then stand me up because you are "sick" it is so frustrating.

    As for the topic of people beging too busy working, I think that is a mater of values. There are many reasons that people work long hours beyond being shallow and only valuing things. They may get satisfaction from their work, they may be helping people, they may need the money to pay down debt or save for something important, etc. But if work is your priority then you need to make it clear to people that work comes first. It is not wrong, but it is a choice and you cannot expect friends or family to make you a priority if you prioritize work over them.

    1. These are great thoughts, and I appreciate the time you took to write them out, so want to definitely reply to each.

      I absolutely agree that sick kids and family obligations are an absolutely priority, and I would expect that to come before... well, just about everything. What I mean more is that if something is really, really important to me or I really need it (not would like but need) and someone promised they'll do it today, and then day after day there's another excuse as to why they were too busy. As you said, I'd rather someone just be honest with me and say "listen I have a sick kid at home and that has to take priority right now". Or even if it's "I have this looming work deadline, my a$$ is on the line", I get that. It's when it's one excuse after another, it gets draining. I don't even mind as much them not doing whatever, it's the promises that they will and then it doesn't happen because of every excuse in the book.

      I agree on the over committing, absolutely. The only thing is that with people who battle illness of any kind, the options sometimes seem like you just sit home and never make commitments other than work and errands, or you have to occasionally break plans because you are so ill or worn down by the time they come up that you just can't manage. I do usually try to suck it up as well, and if I can't I'm very honest about why and try to give them a heads up in advance. Unless I'm hit out of nowhere with a flareup, which definitely happens for some people depending on their illnesses, I'm lucky enough that I usually have some inkling in advance that I may not be feeling well and may need to reschedule. But I'm always honest about it with those I'm close to.

      I think with the mental health unfortunately I have to know who I'm dealing with to give the full explanation. If it's someone close, absolutely I would say that I'm having an anxiety attack or my depression is bad. If not - if it's something that's business related, for instance - I try not to cancel, but if I have to, I usually give it a more general "I'm not feeling well". Which is true, but new business connections don't always want to hear about my depression, as much as I wish I could be completely open with them. And as you suggested, with social plans, unless it's a super important party - like someone's wedding - I know things like parties are bad for me, so I always do the "let's get coffee instead".

      And absolutely with work being a priority - mine is too. I think my biggest issue with busy is that it's a catch all. I'm ok with someone saying "my work is really important to me" - it's people claiming, "no no my family and friends and loved ones are my top priority" but always being to busy with work to spend time with them or do the things that make them happy and help them.

      Mainly, my biggest issue is about being upfront and honest. If you don't have the time to do something, don't promise it. If you can't go becuase you aren't well or you're having an anxiety attack, be honest, and if you have other priorities, be honest - they're totally understandable, and each of us is a bit different in what has to be a priority. It's more people using it as an excuse instead of being up front that really bothers me.