Why Am I So Damned Busy?
A friend of mine wrote me a long email lamenting his lack of time, and he wrote that it’s not just him but it’s a chronic problem of our time:
“..As I drifted in and out of these conversations, I kept noticing how many times people said things like: “Oh yeah, I just wish we weren’t so busy,” or “We’d love to do more of this kind of thing, but there’s just never time, you know?”, or “life just moves to quickly,” “or life just gets in the way and pretty soon five years have gone by.”
In the circle of people that we socialized with back in Boston, “busy” is often the prelude and coda of conversations. So I very much know what he’s talking about. But his mistake is assuming that a guy who’s taking a whole year off would be able to somehow shed some light on this state of affairs. Sorry buddy. Living on a remote island without a job, I often ask myself the exact same question: why am I so busy?
Tonight we all went to the Rødøy school’s Christmas Craft Night. One station is candle making. You tied a string to a stick and dip it in hot wax, which coats the string with a thin layer of wax. And you dip again, and again. You must leave enough time between dips, or the wax around the string would get too hot and the whole thing would slide off the string. One parent said to me, “I rather go to the store.” Me, too. You can get a 12-pack at Ikea for $2.99.
That’s just it, isn’t it? We now have the choice. Once upon a time people didn’t. I’m reading a book about rice farming for the children. If you’re a rice farmer, your day is pretty well programmed. You plant the seedling. You flood the fields. Your hours are dictated by the amount of day-light. It’s hard work, no doubt, and I surely don’t want to be a rice farmer, but there is a serene rigidity to that life. There isn’t the luxury, or the curse, of asking the question, “what else could I be doing right now?”
For all the complaints of being busy, I think the people who cry busy, myself included, have historically unprecedented freedom and control over our time. Nobody really needs to work 10 hours a day. Nobody really needs to read Greek, Roman and Norse mythology for their children. We do it because we have a handful of pressing imperatives: career, money, children, family, fun, fitness, etc.. Unlike the rice farmer of the old days, these imperatives can never be fully completed. There is no limit. Why couldn’t Marcus be the next Yo-Yo Ma? Why couldn’t I be the CEO of Microsoft? Why couldn’t our family go diving in the Maldives?
So back to the man on a remote island without a job. I’m busy as hell! I need to spend time with the children and family. I need to exercise. I need to hike and catch fish and salt fish and cook them. I need to blog – damn this blog that calls my name every three, four days. I need to write the iPhone app that’s been my obsession. But that’s not a career – I need to keep in touch so I can have a job when I go back. Still, I haven’t had time to paint an oil painting, to play the Ukelele, to compile my travel notes from Africa, to finish reading a book! Do you believe it, I haven’t finished a book in the three and a half months since I came here.
So you see, I have total freedom and total control over my time. But somehow, I don’t feel it. But I promise this, before I leave this island, I want to have a solution to this problem.