You Don’t Have to Be Busy to Make a Difference

Recently, I read an article about the top 5 regrets of the dying, as documented by a nurse in palliative care over the course of her career. The #2 regret was, “I wish I didn’t work so hard”. #4: “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. #5: “I wish that I had let myself be happier”. Both of the later can correlate as effects of the #2 regret. This past weekend, my husband shared an article with me, hoping that it would hit home (and it did!) about how “our insistence on staying busy can have damaging effects on our mental well-being: more stress, exhaustion, burnout, and an inability to focus on the present.” That article led me to another incredibly honest and candid post about “The Busy Trap”, which drew the following conclusions…

  • Life is too short to be busy.
  • Inspiration comes at idle moments.
  • We all want to matter, to be important. Communicating that we are busy makes us feel that we are meaningful, that we must matter.

For me, as a teacher and owner of a small tutoring business, I tell myself this all the time. I work my ass off because I feel it matters; it’s making a difference and I’m impacting lives. However, I’ve been doing so at the expense of my own health, working to exhaustion, skipping meals and exercise, and getting by with minimal sleep. I give and give and give because I care, but now I see that it’s because I want to matter and make a difference. While doing all of this, I neglect other areas in my life, perhaps take them for granted: hobbies, husband, and overall health.

Last year, I was out of work for two weeks because of a variety of neurological symptoms. Doctors thought it may be MS, and I was tested for a variety of other things. Ultimately, it was determined that I most likely had a month long insane migraine that triggered all sorts of symptoms: the headache of course, vision problems, disrupted speech, numbness in parts of my body that would come and go, hot and cold sensations, among many others that can only be described as weird. And I was beginning to feel crazy. As you can imagine, this was incredibly concerning.

I knew I had to change, and I had grand plans. I was going to make my health a priority, cut out time for myself to relax, exercise and eat well.

I returned to teaching two weeks later, cut back significantly on my own tutoring hours, but kept the business. Over a year later, I found myself baffled (and annoyed with myself) because I found myself back where I started; busy as hell. And I realize, it’s my own doing, my own choices, and my own habits that put me here. I don’t have to be busy. I CHOOSE to be.

CHOOSE (1)I’ve always been a firm believer in the expression, “shit or get off the pot.” So considering the realizations I’ve mentioned above…I decided to take a shit. Recently, I reluctantly gave notice that I would stop tutoring until the summer and focus solely on teaching, returning for summer tutoring, and then, most likely, shutting down the office and closing the business. With much anxiety, I delivered resignation letters to my families. To my surpise, I felt such relief afterwards, and I knew I’d made the right choice. Also, I realized that I am not that important. How narcissistic of me, right? To think that I am so important that these kids will struggle without me, that they will be stranded. No, they will find someone else and they will be ok.

Another realization: I don’t have to be busy to make a difference. I can make a difference and still have a personal life. Being a good wife, a good daughter and a good friend makes a difference. And haven’t some of the most impactful people in history made their differences or had their aha moments DURING free, unstructured times?

The guilt and anxiety that I feel when I am not working is ridiculous. I’ve spent so much time on the go and multi-tasking that my brain doesn’t know how to react to me-time. I need to retrain myself to focus on being present during non-work time, turning myself off of work and onto life.

Rather than restating what’s already been written perfectly, here are three links to articles that I enjoyed reading on this topic:

  1. 4 Ways to Break Free From Being “Too Busy”
  2. The ‘Busy Trap’
  3. Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Now, I’m going to go enjoy a fun, unstructured day with my sister!

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