Dear Busy Person: An Open Letter To You

Dear Busy Person,

I love you and I’m worried about you. I have noticed that you are spending a lot of time trying to keep up with things. It looks like you are working very hard all the time just to keep everything afloat.

I can tell from all the way over here that you are tired, and stressed.

You seem to have a hard time saying no to things, for yourself and for your family. You seem to take on a lot. Sometimes I wonder, do you really need to do all this? Can you cut back, just a little?

I wonder, do your kids love and adore every activity they are signed up for? What would happen if they didn’t learn to play the flute in elementary school? What would happen if they only played soccer and skipped swimming for a few months? Would that be ok?

What about you? Would the world collapse if you stopped managing so very much? Can you delegate and really let go on a few action items? Would your house be overrun by rats and cockroaches if you let it slide once in awhile? Would people judge you harshly if you said you weren’t available to take that new project on?

It has been one month since my eye surgery left me without binocular vision, without depth perception. It’s been one month of acute double vision, one month of eye patching. A month without leaving the house, gardening, or feeling capable, competent or normal. It’s been a month of periodic panic, a month of helplessness, a month of looking for patience and finding mostly fear.

It’s been one hell of a month.

The interesting thing about losing my functional vision, dear Busy Person, is that it has enabled me to see certain things far more clearly. Sitting around the house for a month gives one time to observe.

I see things like my own stubborn refusal to ask for help over the past two years. I see and cringe over the memories I didn’t make with my baby boy because I was so proud and busy being productive. I see the love and support that has always been there, waiting for the moment when I was brought low enough to ask for it.

My friend says, “It’s easy to get down on your knees when you’ve been punched in the gut.” How true.

Me? I’ve found it’s easy to curl up in the fetal position when you get punched straight in the eyes.

But this is about you, my darling Busy Person, not me. You are too busy to think about this stuff right now, because there are many very important things happening. I understand. Can you please allow me a few minutes to describe what my clear, disabled vision shows that you are not noticing?

That thing you are worried about? It’ll be okay. Unless it involves a loved one and a hospital, it’s a minor inconvenience at worst. In 5 months you’ll barely think about it and in 5 years you’ll be hard pressed to remember what all the fuss was about. You are resilient and strong and this too shall pass.

Those things that are more pressing than your kids? They really aren’t. No, I really mean it. Put down your planner and your list and your phone and go lay on the floor and listen to what your children are babbling about. Yes, if you have to, you can schedule a daily “Lay on floor, listen to kids” appointment in your calendar. I totally get it.

But stop thinking that there will be a less-busy time when you can make those moments up, because there won’t be. They will never come again. The best you can hope for is to not miss out on the present and future moments. Be alert for memories in progress. Catch as catch can.

You need to go on a walk with your husband or your wife or your partner or your best friend. You need to do it today. Shoot for everyday. There may come a time when you cannot walk anymore and you will be so glad you took those walks when you did. There may come a time when you are 85 and everyone around you has given up on walking but you still can. Think of the Badass Old Person points you’ll win then!

Busy, my darling, I need to tell you this. It’s time to start thinking about the way you really want to spend the remaining hours of your life. Now, I don’t want that to sound depressing. That’s not what this is about at all, but time is a currency that doesn’t pay dividends. You spend your hour and it’s gone. Please spend your hours on things you love and cherish and value. Yes, I know you are too busy running all over and managing critical stuff to think about this Self Help crap right now. But that’s exactly why you need to do this. It can’t wait.

This may be the clearest thing I see from way over here. You are blessed with people who love you and care about you and will succor you when you need it. Know this. I mean, really, deep down, know how fortunate you are because you are not alone. You, who are always taking care of so many and so much – there are people out there who will become your Atlas should your knees buckle. All that you’ve given? People stand ready to give right back.

The world will not stop if you do. I know, my dear Busy, that it feels like you alone keep the wheels turning sometimes. But you can stop spinning and the wheel will keep coasting of its own momentum for awhile. There is no shame in just stopping. Take a vacation. You don’t have to go anywhere. Be in your space and in your head and see what Not Doing feels like for just a little bit. Nothing will collapse if you do.

I know it’s constant, this treadmill. I know, I feel it too. But will you try to see it the way I can, even without the advantage of my blurry, helpless double-vision? Will you take a deep breath with me, and just pause for a minute?

I know you can.

Comments

  1. “Please spend your hours on things you love and cherish and value.”

    Yes! I needed to hear this today. I’m staying home with my four-month old son right now and I am finding it easy to get sucked into time-wasters that do not add value to our lives. Do I really need to check Facebook multiple times a day? Or would my time be better spent on a walk to the park with my son? I think the answer is obvious. We can’t be reminded of this often enough…

  2. We don’t participate in clubs or activities outside the home, so we aren’t “busy” in that sort of way. I have to admit, though, that I over-fill my days projects that are (or maybe aren’t so) necessary, housework and home maintenance, and other tasks. Not that those aren’t rewarding and even fun in their own way, but I don’t make time to do other fun activities, like crafting or spending time with my granddaughter just doing whatever she wants to do. Thanks for this letter…I need to get over myself and my need to have everything on my to-do list done before doing something fun.

  3. Interesting how it oftens takes a health crisis to make us finally slow down. If we’re lucky, we’ll recognize that we were lucky to be forced to S.T.O.P. My current focus is also on healing and while it’s frustrating sometimes that I can’t get other stuff done, I know that if I don’t deal with the health stuff, I won’t have the health necessary in the future to get anything done!

  4. With double vision comes double wisdom. Or something like that. Thanks for the reminder to slow down and not sweat the small stuff. :)

  5. Very good advice. It is very easy to get stuck in the whirlwind of DO, DO, DO, but it’s important to take time and BE, BE, BE. There’s no need to feel guilty about it either — it is what brings us peace and will help us to be more aware and to enjoy the moments when we are doing, rather than just doing them blindly.

  6. I blame my husband! He always agrees to do things for others without asking me.

  7. My “busy-isn’t-all-it’s-cracked-up-to-be” revelation came about three years ago, after a fall down the stairs and a concussion that kept me on the couch for almost four months. I learned a lot about how much I was taking on in my life only because I couldn’t bring myself to say “no.” When you can’t do anything, you really do start examining what is actually worth doing. Congratulations on your discovery! It’s a shame it takes times like these in life, with eye-patches and pain, to make us figure this stuff out, but without them we’d never take the time, would we? Blessings on you and yours. Enjoy your kids while the world doesn’t fall apart around you. :-)

  8. Excellent, and obviously hard-won, advice. I couldn’t agree more.
    There is huge societal status in people ‘out-busy-ing’ each other. It’s crazy how prevalent it is.
    As I write this comment, I am wearing my favourite T-shirt. It says, “Do It For Yourself”.
    I interpret this to mean that I need to take time to nourish myself (the same way I would encourage a good friend) to eat right, get lots of sleep, laugh with friends, pursue creative endeavours and live my life ‘being human’ rather than ‘doing human’.
    Thanks for a great post.
    PS: One of my favourite books along these lines is by Dr. Gabor Mate. It’s called When the Body Says No.

  9. I’m so glad there’s been a silver lining to this whole surgery nightmare for you. Yes, we all need a reminder to REALLY prioritize what’s important. For me, it really hit me when my girl started kindergarten. She was exhausted by the new routine. (She loves school, but it wears her out.) So we found ourselves culling any activities we could to keep her from having mini-breakdowns. First we cancelled gymnastics (still tired), then swim (still tired), then weeknight activities out of the house (gettin’ closer now), and then a lot of our weekend hustle bustle (now we’re talking!). It amazed me how much she wanted to just “chill” here at home, until I remembered that hanging at home USED to be normal. Busy is the new normal, as best as I can tell. Abnormal, here we come. :)

    • Homebrew Husband says:

      Our daughter is just the same way – I think that she’s a total introvert, just like me, so social events take a lot of energy out of her. She tends to come home, looking sort of zombi-like, wander up to her room for a couple of hours of reading or creating some amazing world out of cut-out paper and legos, and then emerge all happy again. It took us some time to realize that she wasn’t unhappy, sulking, pouting, brooding, or anything like that. She’d had a great time with her friends or at school, but now that she was home she’d realized how tired she was.

      • That’s good to hear, Nick! I’m glad we’re not alone on this one. The hubby and I are both introverts and get worn out by socializing. It only makes sense that the kiddo would be the same!

      • Just like Kat and me. She was just 7 or 8 yo when she recognized that she’d rather be in the company of one or two people than in a larger group. The art supplies and Legos have been a lifesaver for both of us.

  10. Adrienne Grau-Cooper says:

    This is a great reminder during a week that I have felt very overwhelmed, although normally we really try to adhere to not being too busy. Funny though, sometimes that translates into guilt about saying no or feeling somehow lazy. Good reminder that it is not so…

  11. A call to stop and take a breath is appreciated, especially this time of year! It will be heartening to follow your journey in this once you have the freedom to choose!

  12. You are so amazing, and I love each and every post you put up. This one made me tear up. PS. Go you for finding the silver lining, it can be hard to do!

  13. Thank you for this ! I too have been so busy in the past and life has taught me to slow down, listen, open my eyes, be there for me and my loved ones. What was I trying to prove, who was I trying to impress, what was I running away/hiding from ? Lovely letter. I’ve been thinking about you since your wild surgery wishing you to recover totally and not too slowly. All the best from the very rural Northwest of Ireland !

  14. I have been trying to slow down and enjoy my family – this is a great reminder of the time that we are losing, thank you. I am a landscape designer and the push to sell in this downed economy has made me lose focus on my love of plants and design (it certainly isn’t the money). Time to stop and smell the roses.

  15. I think, along with being busy, many parents fall into the trap of comparing what they are doing with/for their children to what other parents are doing. The only organized activity outside of the home/school that my son currently does is Cub Scouts and he really enjoys it. Talking with other parents, I sometimes feel like my son isn’t busy enough doing sports, or swimming, or music lessons, or horseback riding that all these other children are doing. But then I take a moment and think about all the time “I” get to enjoy with my son when we have movie nights together, or we bake/decorate together, or play together. I would much rather be a “together” parent than a “chauffeur” parent.

  16. Homebrew Husband says:

    From a kid standpoint, I think one of the reasons we fall prey to this “busy” trap is a sort of reverse-analysis-paralysis. Everyone wants their kid to do well, so we push for all of these activities. Martial arts build confidence and discipline, music builds analytical thinking, sports build self esteem and teamwork, blah-blah-blah. There’s a study (or an anecdote) to support every activity.
    So wanting the best, we err on the side of not choosing – and end up providing every option to our kids. And, I think, forgetting that sometimes depth is what matters. Racing from sports to piano lessons to homework to piano practice may not offer the various bits of development that each of these enterprises promises. Our workplace is a culture of multitasking – show the team that you are working on six different things at once so no one has to face being told their stuf is less important than someone else’s. Unfortunately, I think this reaches down to our children and back out to our homes.

  17. My 8 year old son had a stroke in-utero. Although he has a relatively ‘normal’ life, he has learning disabilities, ADD (what kid doesn’t?), hemiparesis, mild cerebral palsy, a coordination disorder and epilepsy. I didn’t go back to work when we received his diagnosis since we had 3-5 appointments per week (physio, OT, speech +++) plus seizures to deal with. Although I know many people would not wish to be in our shoes, our eyes are so wide open to what’s truly important in life. We honestly feel lucky and we are genuinely happy. After 6 years we quit all therapy and we now get therapy from life. I haven’t returned to work and likely won’t for a very long time. I used to say that I was a SAHM because of my son’s issues, but I no longer qualify it. I’m a SAHM. And I love it. I have turned our 8000 sq. ft. yard into a permaculture forest. My boys garden with me and are learning to appreciate where our food comes from. We dance, sing, love and play. And, after many years, I no longer experience that guilt that comes from not doing it all. I AM doing it all… just not at the same time. Thank you so much for writing this post!

  18. Erica, Your words ring true and clear; you have given us reason to stop and think.

  19. I’m angry with you. I’ve been crying almost nonstop for several days just from sheer exhaustion and lack of desire to put up with it all. I’m fighting my depression with caffeine and carbs and cardio- my combined secret weapons. And then you go and write this, making me cry all over again for directionally different, yet wholly related reasons.

    I get angry when people try to help me. So thank you. This was clearly just what I needed to read today.

    In honor of my being overwhelmed, I cancelled Halloween today. It is my favorite holiday, but I don’t have it in me to “do” the holiday thing for other people this year. I got a couple of “are you okay?” texts, to which I responded honestly. Normally I hide these things, but I felt like people just needed to know I am at the end of my rope. Just telling someone was pretty cathartic, and then I read your post. Wow.

    Additional chapter to the book I am writing on your blog today (sorry for that) – I’ve been trying out for my local roller derby team, and another girl trying out could be your doppelganger. I started to ask if she was you (this is Western Washington, after all- it is possible) but then realized she did not have a pirate eye patch. Then I started laughing. Now she thinks I am psycho. Thought it would make you laugh.

    Thanks again.

  20. Glad I’m posting right after positive pumpkin’s comment. I literally just finished a chapter in my (real) book. And I looked at the list of unfinished chapters and the looming deadline and frankly I’m getting nervous. I just “wasted” a whole week paring down and moving from a house to a tiny apartment and have barely had time to enjoy it. Erica’s post came in the nick of time and had me to tears twice. Then read positive’s post – oh I can relate! But really, all of you ladies out there, you are the superheroes of the world. You are taking it all on. Be there to support one another. You know Erica Eyepatch is 100% dead-on right. Thanks for the reminder, Erica, and thanks everyone for the care you show in your corners of the world, each one of you.

  21. So very, very true. I have been a stay at home mom (and graduate student) since 2007. I went back to work earlier this year, working for a firm at home. It was supposed to be part time, at most. However, the nature of the work did not afford me part time – it had to be whenever I was able to work, night or day. Sure, my boss would deny this, but my clients needed support with their situations. You can’t put office hours on someone’s life!

    And with that, I burned out. I hit rock bottom, I turned into Joan Crawford. I was a shrew, an absolute bitch, because of the JOB. It wasn’t even my fucking career – I’ll be a librarian when I’m done with my double masters’ degrees. I’ll be able to be adjunct faculty at a university, teaching what I love, and loving what I do. The kids will be older, and I’ll be able to work, but still be there for them when THEY need me. I finally said “enough is enough” to the job when I found myself dealing with a huge issue at work, my boss bullying me over it instead of assisting, and screaming at my children to leave me alone, Momma needs to work, no we can’t bake cookies. The very next day? I quit. I sent an email stating I was done at the time the email was received. I cuddled my children, I worked out, my son jumped around with me, and we baked those damn cookies. I even put extra chocolate in.

    Two weeks out, I am thrilled. Sure, we’ve got debt – I’m not even worrying about those pesky student loans because they’re so cheap. But those credit cards will get knocked down bit by bit. And I’m still ‘working’ per se, part time – I own my own cleaning and dog walking business. I can bring my kids with. They can play while I work, or help and learn to contribute. Thankfully, one of my clients is my aunt, and her house is our house. I took on another client today, once a week, while my children are in preschool. Life isn’t just good, it is perfect. Thank God He got through to me.

    I hope more people heed your letter…life passes so quickly. Children grow so quickly. I was robbed of 2+ years thanks to PPD that would not abate…I was not about to let some stupid job rob me of another few years. They got 9 months from me, and that’s more than enough.

    I am free. And I am NEVER doing that again.

  22. Excellent letter. Will you indeed remember in 5 months? Will the world come down around your ears?

    I am sorry that your vision is still messed up. However, I find it most interesting (but not at all surprising) that your loss of one form of vision has presented you with a different form of vision. :)

  23. Like. Subscribe. +10,000.

  24. Ah, I need this! Thank you for the kick in the pants.

  25. Charlie Clark ( Crystal's Dad ) says:

    I have a wee bit of understanding for your situation. I have had surgery on both eyes and have struggled to see anything clearly, except for the value of friends and family. I pray God will bring healing for you and restore your vision.

  26. Oh, Erica. So beautifully said. Everyone needs to learn this.

    Never commented before, but– Sending you positive thoughts, and grateful for your wonderful self! :-)

  27. So well written, so beautifully spoken, so frank, so lovingly done, loving the dear Busy…so many of us are those Busy Ones…Thank you for this letter. Thank you for being concerned enough to be honest and not just make things seem all as if nothing had changed, for this beautiful insight. I hope Busy Ones will find this and see with new eyes what you have discovered. I hope they hear the concern in your words. I applaud you for writing this letter.
    ~Blessings~

  28. Dear Erica, so well said. “time is a currency that doesn’t pay dividends.” That is quotable!

  29. I don’t consider myself a terribly busy person, but this is still so relevant to me, as I want to spend more time enjoying life and doing more of the things I want to do. Great post.

  30. blindsquirrel says:

    Thanks! I really enjoyed that. I found you from MMM and like your blog. Sadly, I am the least busy person I know and still very busy. Time to drink a beer on the deck in your honor.

  31. Hiya. Only recently found your work because a friend posted a link to your “Backyard Chickens” warning article. Anyway, I’ve been browsing around ever since, and am inspired. You make your lifestyle seem doable, but also take the time to admit that sometimes it’s difficult. Really enjoy reading about your projects, and appreciate the posts like this one that put modern life into perspective. Hope you find the time to keep this up, because it’s a valuable endeavor, at least for us readers. So thank you for putting this blog and your thoughts and experiences out there, for sharing with strangers.
    -Rachel

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