Can I be busy and happy?

In America, we have this habit of equating busy-ness and success. If we’re swamped, we’re valuable… obviously. [I researched an article exploring WHY we do this as a culture]. In college I fully subscribed to this way of thinking. I worked multiple jobs while having a full course load (and a long distance boyfriend! Rough times!). I was always sprinting until I collapsed. Every Christmas and Summer, I would spend my first days near comatose… sick more often than not. “Resting” until I jumped right back in.

And that continued for the first decade or so of my work life, I was only successful when every minute was full. Either I was working through holidays, balancing personal and professional projects, multiple businesses and always, ALWAYS, pursuing additional education OR something was wrong. I looked at periods of ease as a symptom, something that needed to be fixed. I was busy, but I was miserable.

Then my Dad died.

It’s unfair to give him all the credit (or blame), a lot of other quality of life changes were happening in the background, but this was a thunderclap of perspective. It forced me to realize that I was in a hell of my own creation, fighting paper tigers that I’d created.

This was a few years ago now, and it marked a time in my life when I intentionally chose ease. I decided to earn less money, just enough to help us pay our bills but not a prestigious amount. To study, but only some. To fill my life with fun, hobbies. I started running regularly, I learned to play guitar (badly), I properly unpacked and nested each time we moved (me move… a lot). I gave most of my energy and love to ease, and business (and busyness) took a back seat, while I learned a new trade and built my practice. And in all that space and rest, I found happiness.

But then last November… my practice filled. Really suddenly. Which is great, wonderful, a dream come true, but also terrifying. I’m back to feeling busy, and I’m so afraid I’m going to fall back into my old habit of

Busy-ness = success = misery

Some days I see it happening. I catch myself scowling over spreadsheets, or spinning out and feeling overwhelmed. And that’s really normal – times of stress are exactly when we abandon our hard-won, intentionally formed habits and go back to those old habits of a lifetime.

It feels like I’m walking a new tight rope. Habit wants me to either fall into busy-ness and exhaustion, or blow up all this opportunity and fall into ease and happiness.

It’s hard not to laugh at myself. If I was a client I’d ask myself, what about you has changed that will make this time different from last time? (And this is exactly what my confidants and coaches have said to me.)

So as busy as I am, I know that the only way to find a new balance, to create new habits is to put even MORE energy into being intentional and aware at work. So my first step is awareness, and rather than re-inventing the wheel, I’m using this Activity Tracker worksheet (here’s a link to a free download) I put together that is riffing off of one from Designing Your Life.

I’m using this to figure out what makes me happy, what frustrates me, what drains me, what dials my stress up to 11 and what gives me those easy feelings.

I’ll keep you posted as I try to figure out this balance, but I’m curious – do you have any models in your life… people who are busy AND happy AND not stressed?