“Look, honey,” the mom said, “I’ve got a million things to do. We’re moving. I’ve got reservations to make, and cars that need to get upstate, and all sorts of meetings.”
Her daughter half-smiled in the morning sun and tapped her sandals on the ground to some rhythm only she heard.
“I know, Mom,” she said. “I get it. You’re busy.” She didn’t seem annoyed, but there was something in her voice that was a tad weary, a note of resignation you did not expect to hear from an 8-year-old.
“I’ve got so much to do, honey. I know sleepovers are important, but I just can’t make time. I wish I could,” continued the mom but I don’t think her daughter was listening anymore, her gaze distracted by a stink bug making its way across the hot concrete.
It was just one conversation on a summer day, and not a new one at that. One that most of us have heard many times over, or that we’ve been involved with ourselves.
And that’s the problem.
It’s a conversation that happens all too often in our lives and in the lives of so many people around us. The Cult of Busy grows every hour, every day. We find prestige in how packed our lives are, how scheduled our days are. If we are busy, we are desired, right? Our egos puff up. “I’m so busy.” We can’t fit people in. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe next month.
But the sad truth is that no one cares about your schedule but you. And maybe your boss. Someone who makes money off your time and effort.
Your kids don’t care. Your lover doesn’t care. Your mother, who has been patiently waiting to have lunch with you or go shopping for a pair of pants at Macy’s, doesn’t care either.
The truth is no one wants to hear you recite your appointments and commitments. They’re too polite so they won’t say it, but I will.
Listen to that again:
NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR YOUR SCHEDULE, EVEN IF YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO MAKE THEM FEEL HOW STRAINED AND OBLIGATED YOU FEEL.
Talking about your packed schedule makes you feel important (and less guilty for not having time), but it makes everyone else feel like dirt. Because, when people ask you to do something with them or for them, what they are really asking is this: Am I important to you?
And you’re answering with your obligations: a list of other, more important things that you need to do. Even if you don’t mean to make the person in front of you feel small, you probably just did.
Now do you get it?
Imagine how this could be different. Imagine how you could change your daily interactions with everyone of importance in your life and make them feel loved and appreciated. Imagine if, instead of listing your schedule, you said this:
“I’d love to do something with you. How about tomorrow? (Or tonight, next week, next Tuesday, etc.) Would that work?”
“I’d love to do ______. Can we talk later to pick a good time?”
“I’d love to help. But I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Any of these options give truth and dignity to the asking party. Any of these options convey your feelings and answer the asker’s question “Am I important to you?” with a “yes” instead of a “not really.” All of these answers speak with love.
How do I know this? Because I used to be just like that mom at the top of this story, until one day I heard the resignation in my son’s voice when he asked for some time with me. I really, finally heard it — and it hurt. I was The Busy Mother, and that certainly wasn’t the legacy I wanted to leave in his memory banks. That wasn’t the human I wanted to be, no matter how much I had on my plate. So I struck the word “busy” from my daily vocabulary. I try not to say it, I try not to type it, I try not to think it. I don’t always succeed. But I’m trying.
Give it a go. See if it works for you. Strike the word “busy” from your life and think about what you’re saying with your words. Stop listing your schedule when people ask for your time. Commit or don’t, but stop talking so much about your time. The Cult of Busy has enough members. You can still work super-hard, but you don’t have to talk so much about it. Give your loved ones a new answer to that question “Am I important to you?” — and that answer is a big, fat “YES.”
That’s how you want to be treated, right?