Trading "Do More" for "Well Done"

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I hear myself say it, a reflex, a truth, perhaps, but one that I live without thought.

“How’s it going, Andi?”

“Good.  Busy but good.”

It’s become my standard refrain, and I hate it.

In our culture, we use busyness as a statement of our worth. If we are busy, we are in demand, our activities matter, our days are well-spent.  When we say we are busy, we are saying that we are important.

Almost every day, I talk with a writer who has an idea for a book, a good idea, and in almost everyone of those conversations, the main reason the person has not written their book is that “I haven’t found the time” or “I’m just so busy.”  I try, gently, to suggest that if a project is worth doing it may require a shifting of priorities; I nudge at the idea that perhaps the person needs, as Ed Cyzewski reminded me in his book Pray, Write, Grow, to make sacrifices of other activities and projects to fit the book in.  I suggest these things twice, and then I don’t push any further because I’ve learned the promise of busyness – the allure that activity will make us feel valuable or distract us from the ways we don’t – is too strong for anyone but the busy person to overcome. 

In my own life, the temptation of busyness is linked to something Brene Brown helped me identify – “the fear of being ordinary.”  Somewhere along the path of my 40 years, I have come to believe that to live a good, regular, honest life is not enough. No, I have to become famous, sell myriad books, speak on TED, have my blog turned into a movie in order for me to have lived a good life.  I strive SO HARD for that “extraordinary” existence some days that when the activity winds down, I just want to sob.

So this morning, as I read Henri Nouwen’s The Path of Peace I found myself cracking open to the simplicity of his life in caring for Adam, a man who could not speak, walk, feed himself, or tend his own physical needs in any way.  Nouwen lifted him to bathe, changed his clothes, gave him food, and laid him to rest each night.  In that simple, good work, a tidal wave of hope washed over me.

Most days, I wake with a calendar page at the forefront of my mind. “This has to be done then, which means I can squeeze this in here, and then I have this space to do that there.”  This mindset means that I am always thinking about the next thing, worried that in doing this thing at hand now I am going to not be able to get to the next one.  I am anything but mindful.  I’m a hamster on a wheel that is coursing downhill as I try my best to move my feet fast enough.

Today, though, I am choosing mindfulness. I am choosing to do things well rather than to do more things. I am sacrificing the artificial hope that my worth will be confirmed by more and trusting that it can only be affirmed by the gentle pressing of loving hands to my heart and a whisper in my ear that will say, “Well done.”

I am choosing today that what I do here on this farm, with my clients, in the glorious presence of my dear friends will become just what it needs to be whether that be loaves and fishes multiplied for many or soft hands lifting just one to drink and rest.

What are your thoughts on busyness in your life or our culture?