“The busier you are, the more successful and important you are.”  

This message has controlled me most of my life.  Working in the litigation profession taught me that being overwhelmed and out of time reflected success.  The “best” attorneys were always stretched for time, which made them seem more in-demand to me.  Add to that a billable hour requirement that virtually guaranteed an uncertain future if you didn’t hit the mark.

The message was clear to me:

Being busy meant you were important and successful and had a solid future.  Being calm and stress-free meant you must not be working hard enough.  Being “busy” became my badge of honor as I excelled in my career.  I didn’t stop there though… I filled every minute of my day with something.  Graduate school at night.  Social activities on the weekends.  Training for half marathons and pottery classes and volunteering to work overtime.

I thought at the time that I was just being well-rounded, but looking back, I was exhausted.  My life had zero margin.  I got sick a lot, and I was always stressed out.  “Busy” was my middle name.

Then I added a husband, and a couples of kids to the mix and I hit my limit. 

I knew something had to change.

At first, I blamed the chaos in my life on being a new parent.  It’s true, being a new parent involves a period of adjustment and has a pretty steep learning curve.  But over time I began to realize that the stress and overwhelm I felt as a working parent was actually a result of my holding onto a busy lifestyle as a badge of honor.  I had plenty of time, but I wasn’t using it wisely.

Here’s what I used to think about my jam-packed schedule.

•  I am indispensable at work.  They just can’t live without me.

•  No one else can do this job as well as I can, I guess I’ll have to work late (again).

•  It’s okay if I’m running late, they’ll understand just how important I am.

•  Other people (including my infant son) will just have to accept that I have to send a quick email or check my text messages while I’m with them.  My attention has to be shared.

•  My free time is filled with back-to-back social and family events… I’m clearly popular and loved.

•  I am helpful and generous with my time.

•  Other people obviously need me.

After I had my son, it became clear that I had to re-evaluate the way I had been operating my life.  I’ve done a lot of research on the subject of efficiency and productivity since then, and in the process have become familiar with the habits of truly successful people.  I’ll tell you, very few of them run around like chickens with their heads cut off.  Instead, they are calm and in control of their lives.

One of the most important things I’ve done to reclaim control of my life (and to actually be more effective) is challenge this belief that being crazy-busy is proof that I’m important.

One of the most important things I’ve done to reclaim control of my life is challenge this belief that being crazy-busy is proof that I’m important.

Here’s what I learned my jam-packed schedule actually meant all those years:

•  I am unable to manage my own life.

•  I’m inefficient and disorganized.

•  I don’t value myself, my family, or my time.

•  I do what everyone else tells me to do without thinking for myself.

•  I don’t respect other people enough to focus my time and attention on them.

•  I am insecure and need other people to need me in order to feel worthwhile.

•  I’m not experienced enough to accurately estimate how long an activity will take.

•  I should continue to put off being happy until “someday” (which never comes).

•  I make decisions based on what other people think of me rather than confidence and knowledge in myself.

More importantly, here’s what I inadvertently reinforced in my life when I filled every moment with activities:

•  An addiction to “busy-ness.”

•  An inability to be present and engaged with those I love.

•  No time to reflect on my life, to be creative, or to experience myself without the crutch of a distraction.

•  An increase in hyperactivity.  Without giving myself time and space in my day, it felt uncomfortable and weird when I wasn’t rushing around.

•  A tendency to make up “faux emergencies” or “urgent tasks” to fill the quiet moments.

•  A fear of aloneness and solitude.

•  An inability to enjoy a stress-free life.

If any of the above sounds familiar to you, ask yourself whether you’re adding activities to your schedule because they are priorities in your life, or because you think they validate your worth.  If it’s the latter, start eliminating activities in your life that aren’t absolutely essential.  Create margin in your life so you can begin to get comfortable with a calmer life.  Begin to appreciate the feeling of being present and relaxed, rather than rushed and exhausted.

Let go of thinking you aren’t important if you aren’t constantly “in demand” and stressed out.

Challenge yourself to answer the “how are you?” question with: “I’m great!  Life is calm, work is going smoothly, and I have plenty of time with my family… I couldn’t be happier!”  Strive to achieve your definition of success, rather than influence others’ perception of your success.  Being able to control your life so that you are satisfied and fulfilled is what will actually make you successful and happy in the long run.  Let go of being “busy” as a badge of honor in your life.

Strive to achieve your definition of success, rather than influence others’ perception of your success.

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