Reading Tim Kreider’s NY Times article The Busy Trap, I could not decide whether to log a protest, applaud him for his insights about our national cult of busyness, or be offended by his smugness. His opening paragraph:
If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
Kreider goes on to say these complaining folks are not the people struggling to put food on the table or the heroes working endlessly to save the world, but rather professionals who have simply over-committed and think there’s something impressive about that, or at least something unimpressive about not being busy. “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,” he says.
I am not denying the essential truth that we have made too much out of busyness in this country, that many of us have lost sight of the simple pleasures of relaxation, reflection and mindfulness. But I also think Kreider is missing the point that for some of us, small business owners in particular, busyness really does mean something good. Most of the time I am not very busy compared to my friends and colleagues who have jobs. But occasionally when business is up, I run around like the mad hatter, and yes, I do talk about being busy. Maybe I am really bragging. I’m not bragging about being busy, I’m bragging that my businesses are successful. So when people say to me, “That’s a good problem to have,” I know they’re right and I appreciate the comment. I’m making more money when I’m busy, and that means I’m putting away money for the quieter, leaner times.
So don’t take my busyness away from me, Mr. Kreider. I enjoy it just as much as I enjoy the less busy times when I can relax and play more, and the reality is that I can’t have one without the other.