My Manager called me into his office.
He motioned for me to take a seat opposite him and gave a big sigh as if what he had to say was going to be disappointing for both of us.
“Jon, I don’t think you’re giving this company what we’re paying you to give.”
Me, puzzled. “What do you mean?”
Him, with a strained look on his face, nose screwed up, eyes squinting. “Welllllll … when you’re at work, I can tell your mind is not on the job. Simple tasks seem to take you longer to complete. You forget small but important steps in processes. I think you’re stretching yourself a bit too thin.”
Bam. It was out. . . . And he was right.
I had been working as Assistant Manager in his store and, while I loved my job, my mind was preoccupied with a lot of other interests.
I taught piano part time after work.
I volunteered at a local community radio station and was, at that time, their Senior On-air Coordinator.
I was in a position of leadership in my Church and this involved preparing services, lessons and equipment every weekend.
Oh, and did I mention I was involved in Network Marketing?
Yes, I was stretched.
But I was proud, in a way, that I was so busy. It was a badge of honour I wore—a status symbol. I enjoyed saying “Yes” to all who demanded a piece of my time because this, in my way of thinking, validated how important I was and how necessary I was to so many people and organisations.
“Jon, I think you need to cut back on something. I want to know that, when you’re here in the store, this is the only thing on your mind. Our customers need to know that they will always get 100% value when you serve them. I want to know the salary I pay is giving my business a fair return.”
I caved. I quit teaching piano.
But . . . I increased my church work load.
From my present perspective, I can see that I was addicted to being valued by others. I thought that I could maximise this feeling of being needed by spreading myself across as many positions of responsibility as I could fit into my week.
And, although I never said “No” to anyone or anything, I could easily say “No” to my own ease of mind, my own need for rest and my own health and wellbeing.
As an added bonus, I found joy in complaining to anyone who would listen about how busy I was, how I never got a break, and how tired it all made me feel. It made me seem so . . . well, so . . . superior.
I must have been such a joy to be around!
My biggest problem was this: I was trying so desperately to prove myself valuable and attempting to impress far too many people.
Pia Edberg, in her excellent book The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of Simple Things through the Danish Concept of Hygge warns about this type of enslaving behaviour when she writes:
“You will never be free until you have no need to impress anyone.”
The key word here, I believe, is need.
I needed to be involved.
I needed to extend myself.
I needed to prove myself.
I needed to be busy.
In truth, I didn’t and I shouldn’t have found myself in such a predicament.
Lucky for me, Network Marketing came with its own Book-of-the-month club and over those years while I was doing everything for everyone, I learned so much not just about my business, but about my busy-ness. Things like:
1. Being busy robs you of the joy of doing one thing well. When your time and energy is divided amongst so many places, none of those is given the attention it needs to help you become the best you can be. Your time is not only stretched, its value is diluted so nobody gets a 100% commitment.
2. Being busy robs you of being fully present to those you love. I was never home. Fortunately, at that time, I was still single. Fortunately, my wife-to-be still married me even though I wasn’t giving her the quality time I should. Fortunately, my parents and siblings saw this as a “stage” I was going through and played along.
3. There is no award for “Busiest Man in the World.” Nor is there one for “Busiest Mum,” “Busiest Friend,” or “Busiest Worker.” Nobody wants to think they are second or third on your list of priorities, be it a family member, colleague or employer. Instead, they are looking for someone who is focused entirely on them—someone who, when in the role, is 100% committed to being the best dad, teacher, board member, volunteer or employee they can be.
There is no way I could have continued down this path. The juggling of my calendar space, head space and energy, had to stop. Someone wisely said, “Nobody is indispensable,” Sometimes the best thing to do is go step down and give someone else an opportunity.
So what did I do?
1. I learned how to say ”No,” even to some things I loved doing or found great pleasure in doing. Harvey McKay, businessman and author of Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive, famously said, “No one ever went broke by saying ‘No’ too often.” Reading books by folks like McKay gave me the vision and confidence that helped me to be able to say ”Yes” to those things that were truly important and those tasks I found immensely rewarding.
2. I adjusted my sense of importance. I gradually began to see myself as not needing the accolades and titles to prove my worth. My value was inherent in me from the first day I breathed on this planet. Having this re imagined sense of self gave me courage to quit the busy-ness treadmill. The world did not stop turning,. The kids found other piano teachers (and some were just as awesome as me). The radio station didn’t close its doors. (The church did fold, but that’s a story for another day.)
3. I got a new job. Although it took some re-education, over several years and a few intermediate lower-paying jobs, I finally found myself in a position in an organisation I can believe in, working reasonable hours, doing something I’m not only good at, but that brings me great satisfaction as well.
There have been moments when I slip back into the vanity of an overflowing calendar, and I have trudged enough down this road to know that going this way only can bring pain, to me and to those close to me. I have discovered that there is a very real joy and satisfaction in being able to say “No” to the unimportant so I can say a very loud “Yes” to all that is dear to me.
8 Ways to Slow Down and De-stress Your Busy Life (Entrepreneur)
The Cult of Busy (Johns Hopkins Health Review)
Enjoying Life in the Slow Lane (Becoming Minimalist)
Busyness: The Sign of an Unhappy Person (QZ)