Growing up, I learned quickly not to say I was bored. Every time I did, my mom picked a really unpleasant chore for me to do.
“Why don’t you wash the walls. I wouldn’t want you to be bored.”
“Must be time to clean the baseboards, if you’re bored.”
I learned to be self-entertaining, in self-defense. If I was off reading a book or practicing an instrument or out playing with my friends, I wasn’t earning myself extra chores for an inability to keep my mouth shut. I possibly learned to occupy my time too well, given how over-committed I find myself perpetually to be.
So when my boss just asked me if I had enough to do, it made me nervous.
The truth is that I’m not all that busy. And there’s something nice about that. I come in, I do the job, I’m learning and thinking and planning, but I’m done by the end of the day and it doesn’t follow me home at night or on my lunch hours or over the weekends. I know it will change— I’m the kind of person who finds ways to keep busy. But it makes me uneasy. I make myself mission-critical— it’s what I know to do to make myself feel secure.
She’s doing it on purpose. She knew there was a learning curve, she’s happy with how I’m spending my time, she’s not concerned that I don’t have a stack of widgets piling up next to me— she knows I will. I’m the one who feels nervous about it.
My BFF sent me a link to this, yesterday. (There’s a reason she’s the BFF. She would know.) Here’s the thing. This totally nails me.
Sometimes when you fill up your day planner, your closets, your dance card, you’re telling the universe that you’re too busy to pick up the gift you ordered—your hands are full, you like being distracted, you’re okay with killing time.
Because of course, there’s this.
The thing is, letting some of the spaces in your life be blank and open can be uncomfortable. Without stuffing your time and space, you’re going to feel how the wind moves through the holes in your life, and it might make you wince a bit. Clearing out the metaphorical living room in your psyche to make room for finer furniture can feel, well, empty.
Yeah, about that… But she’s right, of course. It’s a lesson I’ve heard over and over again. The story of the Buddhist master who came to the wisdom seeker and poured him tea, until it ran all over the floor. The wisdom-seeker yelled stop! Why would you do that? And the Buddhist master explained that the cup was the seeker. He’d come with a full cup. If he wanted wisdom, he needed to come with an empty cup, so the master could fill it. I can’t have been out of high school when I heard that, and I knew it was about me. I come saying “I know, but” instead of saying “let me hear what you have to say.”
This is where I am. Every minute, every nook and cranny, everything is full because I’m afraid of what happens if that’s not the case. And I need to stop. I need to clear it out, cancel my plans, and wait for my real life to overtake all the things I started doing in the meanwhile.
On one level, it terrifies me, and for stupid reasons. I remember being in my 20s and hitting the end of the weekend day and not really having anything to show for it and feeling like I’d flushed it down the toilet. I remember being in my early 30s and watching rom-coms every Saturday until about noon, and then thinking “wow, I should really start my day.” Somewhere along the way, like a trick I was playing for someone else’s approval, (“Look Ma! No free time!”), I got so good at using every spare minute that I never have a minute to spare to do the things I want to do. I’ve had an idea for a children’s book knocking around in my head since before Christmas. It was almost fully written in my head, and it was one in a series. I can tell that I’m losing the thread of that idea, and still I tell myself that I can write it down if something falls off my calendar, or after this weekend’s guests and after I get my and mom’s taxes done and… not before March, let’s be honest. Seriously? Whose plan is this? I finally get the inspiration and it takes me 90 days to get to it? No wonder my muse doesn’t much bother with me. And let’s not even talk about romance. The only effort I’m expending there is wondering whether I should have cut loose the guy I knew two years ago needed cutting loose, and talking to my ex from last year with whom I know nothing is worth rekindling.
I know that living all-out is unsustainable. One of my first posts was about getting myself some margin. I’m pretty deeply ingrained in this habit of busy-ness, but I’m going to try to break it. Try to face that wind and not fight it. Because I’m ready for the gifts that are waiting. Finally ready.