The fullness of time: A take on The 'Busy' Trap

Busy bees. 2012.

Last week, in strange concurrence with the derecho-enforced quiet, Tim Kreider's article "The 'Busy' Trap" made rapid rounds across email, Facebook, and Twitter. The thesis of this New York Times piece? Busy-ness is self-imposed and over-inflated.

In it, Kreider claims:

[People are] busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. [...] Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

To which a nation of busy white collar worker bees said, "Damn straight," and then went back to their spreadsheets, having posted the article for other busy friends to read.

But this point wasn't what gave me pause. That honor goes to this quote (emphasis mine):

More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

Think about that for a minute. The cats and boa constrictors tended to be doctors, teachers, construction workers, farmers. They played simple, direct roles in the world around them with clear outputs and services.

Now think about what you do every day. Does your job end up in children's books? Can you describe it in one or two words? Are you essential?

I can't lay claim to any of those points. Managing Editors aren't often rendered as household animals (That bear sure does love calendars!), nor is the job summary compelling (I oversee content!), nor would the government turn to me in the event of a nuclear holocaust (Thank god you're alive! Can you update our website?).

This sobers me. What, then, am I doing? What am I about? What, as Kreider puts it, is "earn[ing] my stay on the planet for one more day"?

I like to think that my nonprofit work contributes to a greater cultural good. That tutoring and sandwich-making through church puts a little social justice back into the world. That writing and singing add art to a grand human tradition. That attention to family and friends deepens connection.

All worthwhile ventures, to be sure. They also require time spent and time invested. And what keeps them (I hope) from veering into "busy" is fullness. Not every minute is a winner, but the overall quality of time spent leads to deeper satisfaction. The investment results in more tangible outcomes -- much more than the internal memos I spend half my time outlining. Given these pursuits, I feel like my fellow humans could find a reason to keep me.

For now, I will strive to make at least one, maybe two corners of my life full. I will give them my best, if not my all. What would the Richard Scarry characters do? I'll think. And then I'll proceed to do the same -- to create something I can hold, and achieve something I can share beyond myself.

Prayer #217: In What I Have Done

What have I done? What am I doing? What have I yet to do? And what will You do with me?

All noble questions that, in their answering, draw nearer to truth. Guide me there in enough time to do something with it.