“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” – Socrates
Chatting with a wonderful client today, we discussed the word ‘busy’. It seems that it’s a word much in use. It’s not a ‘bad’ word, nor is it necessarily a ‘good’ word. It’s just a word. A word which increasingly seems to have hidden meaning.
I’ve noticed a trend over the last few years. As a normally polite person, I tend to start client conversations with “How are you?” I do care what the response is, hoping that my clients are experiencing wellness and contentedness in their lives. If they are having a good day, I want to share their energy and enjoyment. If they have a cold, or their child is sick, I want to empathise and wish them well. If they are feeling a little low, I want to support them.
Probably nine times out of ten I get a response using the word ‘busy’. Busy is sometimes a hard one to respond to. Is busy exciting? Is busy stressful? Is busy fulfilling? Is it draining? Does being busy mean that they are experiencing the fullness of life, or does it mean they are in distress?
The definition of busy as an adjective is ‘having a great deal to do’. That sounds like daily life, and could be positive or negative.
When did ‘busy’ become so popular in response to a question about our well being? It seems to have become almost an expected response. Sometimes I detect a challenging tone that might indicate “Are you as busy as me?”; sometimes frustration “I don’t have time to answer this question!”; most of the time the tone is fairly neutral, almost like an automated response.
Do we EXPECT people to be busy now? Is this what success looks like in our modern world? Does ‘busy’ equal “I’ve made it!”? Do we sometimes say it because we’re too embarrassed to say “Well, I’m great!”? Are we worried what people might think if we are not busy? Or are we using this word as an implied cry for help in a stressful world?
Some days I am ‘busy’ – I have a great deal to do. Most of these days I am content, I feel healthy, and am grateful to have a good job. Sometimes I do feel overloaded – that usually means that I have taken on too much or agreed to unrealistic time frames – to me it’s more than ‘busy’, it’s a little stressed out and tired.
Some days I have less than a great deal to do. Most of these days I am content, I feel healthy and I am proud of the fact that occasionally I am committed to take time out to relax and recharge. This actually makes me more productive.
Many years ago a colleague I hadn’t seen for a while asked me “How are you?” I responded “Good – busy.” She laughed and said “That’s not what I asked you – I asked how you are, not how much you have to do.” This comment had a big impact. It made me realise that busy was a vague, ‘relative to what?’ word that did not convey my true self.
Personally I think I used the word ‘busy’ because somewhere along the way I had attached meaning to it – that busy equals “I have value in this world”. At times I’m sure I used it because I was stressed and didn’t know how to ask for help.
Now when people ask me “How are you?” I try to respond with a true refection of my well being. This, I believe, is what the question is designed to uncover.
An additional benefit of responding with words other than ‘busy’, is that I think it makes me different to what is fast becoming the norm – I don’t want to be the norm. I don’t want to drag people down by loading them with everything I have to do, or create competition with them to see who is the busiest. I want to have a meaningful conversation and I’m not sure ‘busy’ is a good starting point.
And remarkable as it may seem, I also am ok with not being busy at times. In my opinion (for what it’s worth!) life is not a world-wide competition to be the busiest. Sometimes I’d rather have much less than ‘a great deal to do’. Not least because that means that most times I respond to “How are you?” with “I’m feeling great, life is good.”
So how are you?
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