Losing Your Life to Busy
I wake up at 5 am every morning.
While it’s dark and the stars are still twinkling and the moon is bright, I light a candle and I pour myself a cup of coffee and beneath wall art that says “inhale” and “exhale,” I sit in the stillness of the pre-dawn.
I have a new job, which is why I now wake up before the sun. It’s a nonprofit job, an Americorps job; I don’t get paid much (read: like, below minimum wage), so I have a second part-time job on top of this new full-time job. Throughout the day, my inboxes fill up with my other two “jobs”— freelance work for another nonprofit and running That First Year.
But I know this busyness isn’t unique to me. You’re busy, too. We all are.
I’ve had two days off in all of September, and I’ve worked several 15-hour days. Sometimes this busyness makes me feel important and needed, but really, I’m just exhausted. Exhausted because so much of my time has been claimed by obligations that I find rest difficult to come by. Time has become an enemy and I can feel the pressure on my chest every time I look at the clock: Fifteen more minutes until it’s time to get ready for work. Thirty minutes until I need to leave. Six hours until my alarm goes off and it’s time to start all over again.
My life has come to look like a marked-up agenda, each hour of the day assigned to a task. And as much as I love a good planner, it feels suffocating to live in this hour-to-hour segmented life. Because what if I lose myself to this busy, to this chaos?
I no longer have the luxury of lazy mornings and long afternoons of writing or reading in a coffee shop or any of those little joys because there is no time for such things. My life has become a race against the clock; I see it most when I am trying to do several things at once: brushing my teeth while making the bed while picking out my clothes, all because I have only five minutes left before I must leave and more tasks left to complete than five minutes can accommodate.
Even when I am resting, like right now, writing this, I still feel the tension of a to do list looming. My brain has always had trouble focusing on the present, but right now especially it seems as though it’s gone into overdrive. When at a redlight, I feel like I must be sending emails and texts. When drinking my coffee, I feel like I must finish quickly so that I can edit posts and make breakfast. When I am doing one thing, I feel the pressure—real, physical pressure—that I should be doing something else.
“There is no time! There is no time!” shriek the panicked minions in my mind. No time, no time! It’s become my frenzied refrain.
But this is not what I want. I don’t want to be racing through the weeks ahead, through my favorite season of fall like this. I want to be alive, but can you count what I’m doing right now as aliveness?
And boundaries are hard, because what are boundaries? I need both of these jobs, and they aren’t bad jobs; in fact, there is joy in the work (if I can enjoy a concert with a cute boy from One Direction at my side, IT IS NOT A BAD JOB). I also have a desire to cultivate some sort of life outside these jobs, both socially and quietly for myself. And what about cooking? And exercising? And cleaning?
Oh, and writing. I need to write too.
I just don’t know when to do all of these things. Because 24 hours suddenly seems so lacking.
“Where is the Life we have lost in living?” asked T.S. Elliot.
That is my fear—that I’ll lose my capital “L” Life to this busy living.
And so that weight in my chest presses down heavier and the tick of the clock grows louder, like the beat of the heart beneath the floorboards in Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.
Over coffee one Saturday morning, I expressed my frustrations to my roommate, Chelsey.
“Life doesn’t ever slow down,” she reminded me. “You have to learn to find rest in the chaos.”
Rest within the chaos. Breath within the minutes. Capital “L” Life within the living.
And she’s right. There is Life to be found in this living if only I can untangle myself from the web of my to do list and the go-go-go refrain and stop long enough to acknowledge the simple joys of my day—on my morning commute, the way the fall fog burns off slowly; as I drink my coffee, the way the candle flame dances about; as I sit at my desk, a first listen to a new album’s unfamiliar notes.
Rest can be as simple as a deep breath and opened eyes to notice the quiet delights planted throughout the hours, no matter how packed those hours may be.
So I light a candle, I pour myself a cup of coffee, and in the pre-dawn darkness, beneath the wall art, I breathe.