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?
Kerrie McGiveron says
This is a great post. I am constantly busy (not saying that in a I want a medal way!) but it is all of my own choosing. I hose to have three children, do a degree and work and blog and everything else. Sometimes I am TOO busy and my mind races from one thing to the next. It is nothing to wear like a badge.
However, I have had a couple of weeks off work, and it is my summer off uni. And my word – I am BORED. Despite having three kids to run around after and a house to sort, and still blogging – I am fed up. I think my business may have become me.
I don’t know if this is a good or a bad thing. Excellent post, gets you thinking doesn’t it 🙂
I think so many of us are so used to being busy that we don’t know how to be still any more. I include myself in that category! I have to physically force myself to do something like read a book, or potter in the garden without checking my phone or constantly feeling like I need to be “on”. You’re not alone there. Mind you, you do sound like you have enormous amounts of energy – I want some of what you’ve got!
Sarah MumofThree World says
Such a good post. With three big kids and a house to run, a fledgling freelance career and a blog I spend far too long on, I’m always busy too. The kids always need taking to clubs or help with homework. The short time they’re at school is taken up with freelance work and housework, the hours before they get up is taken up with blogging. Sometimes I give myself a break – a walk or a read or even a whole day off. But I daren’t admit it to my husband because he thinks we should be busy all the time!
I think I’m probably like your husband – and I hate it! My husband is SO good at switching off and doing nothing. I often joke that he’s lazy but I envy his ability to zone out and I’m sure he is a far less stressed person because of it.
I’m guilty of this too. I feel like I’m failing when I can’t keep up with all of my responsibilities, but it’s not best for me or my baby to keep pushing myself whilst pregnant.
I’m going to try to get as many of my jobs done as poss in the first half of the day and then try to take it easier after the school run. I prepped dinner before taking my daughter to school this morning so that I don’t have to do it when I’m shattered later in the day.
Good luck with slowing down and be sure to post your tips for getting rest in pregnancy. I could do with some of those! 🙂
I know what you mean – I think sometimes being pregnant makes you want to prove a point to others that you’re able to keep on, even though you’re knackered and have a big old bump and just want to sit down for 5 minutes. Or maybe that’s just me…
Oh that’s so very true – and I think it’s probably universally true for any of us who try to combine parenting with anything else (so that’s all of us then!). I work part time and I know I feel a pressure to perform well at work to show that part time is still an OK thing to do and that it doesn’t mean I’ve stepped back or should be disregarded or anything, and then at home I want to make up for being away from the girls and make sure that we’re still bringing them up the way we want to, and at times it’s brutally exhausting (like when you find yourself emailing things to work at gone 1am more than one night a week!), and then I have to force myself to trust that the girls are fine and trust that work notice and appreciate me – and then go and get some sleep!
Charlotte - Write Like No One's Watching says
Loved this Moll. I am so guilty of this and it often leads me to wonder if my own ‘definition’ of my personal success is what gets me feeling so burnt out. I do think that my blog is a particular area of my life that I could cut back on, but I enjoy it so much. Sometimes I’ll feel guilty because I’ve not watered tomatoes or played enough with the cats, when I finally get to bed at night and I realise how much pressure I put on myself. It’s so silly. And we do work hard. But surely that means we’re more deserving of a break than ever? Loved this. And love that you and bump are both okay. That’s the most important thing. xxx
I’m exactly the same. I put myself under pressure too. I think it’s about recognising what things you enjoy and what things you need to do, at least it is for me. For example, I like being out in the garden, growing veg etc. So I need to factor that in to “down time” and not feel bad for doing that over something else like blogging or working etc. I love blogging too, but I know what you mean about it sometimes sucking you in. Difficult to get the balance right sometimes isn’t it?! xx