A couple of days ago I saw a tweet. It came at just the right moment, speaking to me through my haze of tired eyes and puffy feet: “The idea that we always have to be tired to be successful is wrong. We need new role models.”
It seems SO simple. But in a society where so many of us are rushing around all the time, proudly declaring how busy we are, it seems almost controversial to suggest that being busy and, ultimately, being tired is not always a good thing. There is such a thing as being too busy.
This week has been a bit of a strange one for me. After my pregnancy health scare last weekend I’ve been more aware than ever of the need to slow down a bit. And when I say “slow down” I don’t mean sitting on the sofa all day. I mean reverting back to a normal pace of being, that doesn’t involve running up and down the stairs, rushing everywhere and constantly fretting – to the point of waking in the night – that I’ve forgotten to do something.
Before I became a mum I found it quite easy to switch off. I’d go to work, work my arse off, then come home and chill out. Sometimes I’d go to the pub, sometimes I’d go out for dinner, sometimes I’d just sit around at home in my pyjamas with a face mask and a good film. The point is, I didn’t feel guilty about doing “nothing”, because I knew I’d fulfilled my busyness quota for the day.
But when you have responsibilities other than work, the thought of sitting around in your PJs seems like a huge luxury, rather than just a normal way of relaxing after a busy day.
Most days, I have just three hours of child-free daylight time to cram in all the freelance work I do. Considering I work around 30 hours a week that’s not very much daylight time. So my evenings often involve working too. When I’m not working I’m being a mum, entertaining, playing, talking. And when Frog is happily entertaining herself I’m doing chores, making tea, scraping porridge off the carpet.
It never ends. Parenthood is brutal. Add work to the mix and the idea of carving out any time for yourself is almost laughable.
When I take a step back, though, I realise so much of my hectic life is down to my own making. I don’t need to take on as much as I do. We moved to Devon for cheaper living and a better quality of life, after all. But as a freelancer, I find it hard to turn work down and, if I’m honest, there’s a competitive edge to me that doesn’t want to be “out-done” by my peers.
And then I burn out. Or get sick. And I rue my life and wail that it’s everyone else’s fault rather than taking responsibility for the fact the situation is entirely of my own making.
Partly, I think, this need to be busy is linked to what I see others around me doing. I compare my own workload, for example, with those who have full-time childcare or children already at school. I think I should be doing as much as they are, so I pitch more and say “no” less. And then I see other parents saying how busy they are too, like being busy is a badge of honour to wear with pride. We smile over our hectic weekend plans and share a laugh over the fact, “It never ends, eh?”
I’ve realised something this week though. As I’ve stayed up late to meet deadlines, comforted my daughter in the middle of the night over a bad dream, rushed to get laundry done and stop my home resembling a hovel, it dawned on me that sometimes doing nothing is just as important as doing something.
Sometimes you need to watch TV mindlessly without scrolling through Twitter at the same time. Sometimes you need to get outside and go for a walk without feeling the need to quickly check emails en-route. Sometimes you need to allow yourself to turn down a work project or sit for five minutes with a cup of tea on the sofa, without that feeling of guilt taking over.
Doing nothing doesn’t make you an under-achiever. Switching off your phone and having an hour in the bath with a good book doesn’t make you lazy.
We don’t always need to be tired, overworked and too busy, to be successful people worthy of praise and respect.
I just need to remind myself of this a bit more often.
What do you think? Do we place too much value on being busy?