I read a blog by a far more experienced and successful blogger today praising the virtue of being busy. He made a good argument and, for some, it might even be a right argument, but it’s not the whole story. I remembered and used this quote by Thoreau in my response, and remembering set of a cascade of thoughts about what I’m doing this year and why I’m doing it.
My recent biography in a nutshell: After nine years in the casino and gaming industry, seven of those in middle and upper management, I quit last February, sold almost everything, and took a job caretaking a remote ski lodge for the summer so I could write a novel. The novel is going well, I didn’t write “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” once while secluded, and I haven’t regretted the dramatic change in my revenue stream once (well, maybe once, but I can wait for new tires). I opted to chuck all that stuff, all that busyness, in the trash can in favor of a simpler, less rushed and far more satisfying life. I’ve written here before that one of the things I know about myself is that, while I can multi-task effectively, I don’t enjoy it. Nor do I think that I do my best work while engaged in it. I am a good, three-ball juggler at the best of times, and while I might not drop them if I juggle more, it certainly isn’t as graceful to watch.
So, ‘simple’ works better for me, even if I have to make some sacrifices in terms of social conventions, fiscal security and conformity. I want to live a creative life that leaves lots of time to do nothing more complicated than walking in the woods, reading a book, or doing yoga with friends. I think that, while the ‘busy’ and ‘successful’ mentality permeates and suffuses our culture, it is neither particularly efficient nor lucrative in terms of our meta-lives. I’m not one to pin high hopes on the bible, but I do agree with the statement, “What profit is there for a man to gain the whole world at the expense of his soul” (not the King James Version). We trade an awful lot these days to be ‘successful’ and secure, and how much is too much to pay for a nice car, house, bank account or sense of accomplishment if we have nobody to share them with, no love to experience, and no sense of our own character and dignity?
So, yeah, I’m all for being busy if the cause is right. I like hard work. I just question the causes that are popular in our culture. I’d gladly give up security, wealth and the high estimation of my banker for a profound sense of intellectual strength and freedom; happily drive a beater and pound out a novel on a six-year old laptop than punch a clock, own a new car and have a company Blackberry; joyously sacrifice a long list of accomplishments for just one that really, really made a difference; blissfully abandon days full of meetings and power lunches for those spent being with, helping and being helped by friends.
Perhaps I’m arguing semantics with my fellow blogger. Perhaps he means ‘busy’ in a healthy way too. I just worry that the healthy definition is out of common usage, replaced by one that is an illusory lie, a hologram that looks like abundance and efficacy but is actually just a matador’s cloak, sucking us into a chase for financial or commercial success that is designed to not have a finish line, that is really designed to suck us into getting a sword in the heart. Like the proverbial carrot on a stick that we are told we might reach one day but never do and never will, once we start down that road, enough is never enough.
I wish to refute that lie with every breath I take for all the remaining days of my life. I know in my heart that, if I do this, though no other person would ever hear or take note, I will have spent my life successfully by the only definition I care to use – my own. Maybe not very busily, but it’ll do for me…