The Cult of Busy

Growing up abroad with the expat lifestyle and internationals, I grew up with professionals and intellectuals who were very driven and passionate. I had an image held in front of me that I felt pressurized to live up to. Sometimes, I felt that I was nothing more than a pet peacock. There was always this increasing expectation to excel in everything and hustle from school to sports practices and the programs. As a teenager, there’s that rat race to get into college and be this successful person following his or her dreams or passions. This mentality happens to everyone across different cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. Then, once I hit puberty, there were some personal and family issues entering into my life. I don’t want to discuss the details, but I often felt like I was deteriorating and screaming in a crowded room, but no one hears me and walks past me. That’s how I felt since my teen years. 

Life pressures got worse when I started developing a neurological illness and depression. Recently, I had to leave my teaching career. This was the first time I felt like a failure. I cried when it happened. At least, this bump on the road forced me to pause and reflect on my ambition and constant busy-as-a-bee mentality. Now, I wonder. What the fuck was that all really about? I spent the last couple of years pondering the real purpose of stuffing my calendar as much as possible, the pressure of volunteering for everything, hurrying and scurrying like it’s a compulsion. 

Hurry sickness is the by product of our culture’s Cult of Busy. Since our teens and possibly childhood, some of us have been conditioned to be busy and hurrying from one place to another. I used to get anxious at six years old. When I didn’t understand the homework, I worried that I can’t finish it, and will get into trouble with my teacher and my parents. My grandma saw that and was commenting that at such a young age why I was worrying like an old lady. That’s the result of the constant pressure to do well and feel that you are worthless if you don’t. And if you’re expected to be an extension or be a reflection of narcissistic image-conscious parent, it can be overwhelming.

Some people say, “But you won’t understand till you’re parents.” Oh bullshit! Where do you think I’ve been all this time? Under a rock? I live out in the world. Unlike the cliquish mainstream American culture, where all the teens are isolated, the moms with kids are isolated together, single men are isolated together and so on; I grew up integrated, seen and spent time with people of all ages and stages of life.  I learned from people’s mistakes and paid attention instead of sinking into my self-absorbed self. Now that I have a small child, I don’t feel dramatically different than when I was single. I want my stepson to try different activities and become the best person he can be and excel in his talents, not because it reflects on our parenting, or that we have something to talk about at dinner parties. It’s not about us. I also want Eddie to be a child and have his playtime. He may take a music class after school. But, he should also have unstructured time playing with other children or by himself. When out drinking with the ladies, I met one moms’ daughter who has cheerleading practice and competitions that takes up 6 times a week, which sometimes goes till 7pm. I thought her daughter was in high school, but this was for a 6 year old! Isn’t this too much for a child that age? That is how children are initiated into this Cult of Busy. This cult reinforced the idea that a person’s identity and core being is all about what they do. There’s more to me than what I can or cannot do.

Busy was a cure for finding purpose and well-being. When I was feeling sad or down, rather than talking to me about it or lending me a shoulder to cry on, I was told to get distracted with another goal or activity or keep busy. It didn’t help alleviate my sadness. I was still sad and down but exhausted. This is a symptom of our fucked up, selfish world. No one seems to have the time to help a friend and truly be there for another person. How can that be possible when a person apparently doesn’t have even a minute to breathe?

Have you ever been out with a person but the person seems so preoccupied with his or her next activity that you feel that quality of conversation and time spent has been compromised? You feel like you’re just another slot in their schedule and they are not really present or really hearing anything you’ve said. We’ve all been guilty of this at one point or another (myself included), but we should avoid texting constantly during a conversation or date with a person. At least say something like, “Excuse me…” If needed, check the phone or send a quick reply or call, and then get back to the person you are with. You’re not an ER doctor and no one will die if you don’t answer your cellphone. If you are constantly texting under the table while hanging out with someone, it’s rude and socially unacceptable. That seems to be becoming commonplace and seems to be characteristic of the busy cult. Let’s say you are meeting with a client, would you do that? Of course not. It’s unprofessional, rude, and you will lose your client because he will think you don’t care and will form negative impressions of you and your business. If you are capable of showing courtesy towards a client, then why shouldn’t you towards a family member, friend, or significant other. This is one of my goals: unplugging from that damn phone! One of the pitfalls of technology is that people have lost the sense of being in the present and being fully there. Technology isn’t bad. I love Facebook and keeping in touch with my peeps all over the world. Just know the limits.

Where is this obsession to be incessantly busy coming from? I have been questioning that as a driven person who likes variety. Has being busy become a status symbol? Apparently, the busier, the higher the prestige and importance. There are these C-level executives who rely on secretaries to manage their schedules and calendar. I’ve been a secretary for C-level executives. They run around, but they don’t have this compulsion of having to do everything to seem important. It seems that a superficial, idealized image of that person has become an aspiration for the rest of us. At social gatherings, it seems people want to talk about their busy lives to impress people, affirm themselves, and seek approval of some sort. The superficial comment, “Oh I have so many e-mails to answer” is really about self-exaltation.

My old boss would say no to things and took time to golf with his friends, dates with his wife, and time with his kids. Most people like him I’ve encountered or seen growing up weren’t the Devil Wears Prada boss types. People who are successful and worthwhile of respect don’t go around trying to act like they are important. (Ok, some do but not all). Based on my own experience, (and I suppose anecdotal evidence) it’s usually the wannabes, basic bros and broads seeking self-importance, and insecure people. For example, in a social event, I ran into a Harvard professor who was well-known in his field but he was very chill and down to earth. At first, I didn’t know who he was. After introductions, I was impressed and thought “Wow, a Harvard professor”.  He had a hilarious but nerdy sense of humor and didn’t look at me or my friend as if we were nobodies or people who he can’t use. It’s true that our resumes are no where near his and we won’t be able to do him a favor of any sort. A sign of character is a person who treats someone who can do nothing for him with equal respect. I can’t stand people who are only wanting to associate with people who they can use. I had someone ignore me or have this holier-than-thou attitude till she found that I’m of some use. Then, it was endless flattery out of no where. People like her can move along. I can see right through it. 

I remember an old conversation with a few student service professionals. One of them was explaining a situation where there was a student having constant anxiety, but she was constantly loading up her plate. She also complained about her peers who didn’t care and were lazy. After a conversation, he helped her understand that the root cause of her anxiety is arrogance. It’s wanting to appear better than others. Self-absorption and arrogance was the root of her destruction. She was working her ass off but also suffering from anxiety and isolation from others. I admired the compassionate, gifted, wise student advisor who was able to speak to her.

For others, it can be trying to gain a sense of control. My life has been dysfunctional and traumatic. I got tired of being the “troubled teenaged girl”…you know that means the type on her way to alcoholism and self-destruction, slut, girl from a broken home, misfit, loser, useless… On top of it, I was struggling with a neurological illness/minor disability. I was in denial. I didn’t want to accept it. Our society and even church despises people like me. I knew that it meant lack of support, judgment, discrimination. I got tired of being told or implied that I’m overexagerrating, attention-seeking, being weak whenever I’m open about my struggles or seeking help. Or being treated like an idiot. I’m not. In fact, my test scores and any other testing will prove otherwise. I had a college reading level in 10th grade. Disability has nothing to with intelligence. Even if so, they are people who need to be treated well and like how you’d like be treated. The self-righteousness and lack of support doesn’t help. It’s too much to deal with and makes it harder. This opened my eyes up to how immature, self-absorbed, selfish, self-righteous people can be. It’s a reality. That’s why I hate the world. That includes organized religion. 

I wanted to have a life that’s in control. In a way, I was overcompensating by being busy. I didn’t want to go back where I’ve been from. When things were at the worst, I wanted to die. I cried everyday. I wanted things to turn around. I wanted a sense of control over my life. I wanted things to be normal. I wanted to be a productive member of society. And I thought, I had my life under control. I had an impressive resume, had achievements, traveled the world, went after the things I wanted. I finished college while working full-time jobs. People only see the surface, but I’m broken, a mess, and falling apart. I didn’t want to become an alcoholic like some of my family members. But, I started getting into other vices. Regardless, I kept going. I graduated when there was a lot of drama in my family. I got my first job. I thought that I was healthy and fine. But, my illness reappeared with the most spiteful vengeance. I had constant pain, migraines, physical exhaustion, tiredness, nausea in the morning, unable to concentrate or focus that it interferes with work and daily tasks. I was constantly sick, unable to keep with with the demands of a teaching career. I appeared frustrated, irritable, uncaring, apathetic, lazy, negligent but the reality was that I was fighting against the shit I had to deal with. I was just too tired and exhausted.

Now, I’m in my 30s and recovering. I feel about 70-80% of myself. It’s better because 2 years ago, I felt more like I was 20% of myself. I’m thankful that I found a good doctor who prescribed me an efficient treatment and prescription pills that helps me. I know some granola crunchy types who rebuke me for subjecting myself to pharmaceutical addiction and chemicals. But guess what? these chemicals help me and makes a difference between living a normal life versus constant hospitalization and being on the street. And, possibly the difference between life and death. I eat a healthy diet, exercise, take herbal remedies, and also follow my doctors advice with medication.

To those self-righteous charismatic pentecostals: please shut up. Do the world a favor and SHUT UP.  Illness has nothing to do with lack of faith or being enslaved to the world. Being enslaved to the world is: arrogance, self-righteousness, hypocrisy. I may be physically ill but I could be thriving spiritually. How would you know? This illness showed me the fickleness and temporal nature of life. It pointed me to eternity and my hope isn’t in the things of the world. No one cares about what you know. Wisdom is about having empathy with your fellow human. And remember, as believers God tells us “to bear each other burdens” not to despise the weak or sick; or, to have opinions about their lives, and self-righteously judge. That is the very definition of a Pharisee. Wasn’t Jesus the most angry with the Pharisees?

I have embraced the importance of being present, taking time off to relax and do nothing, and seek a well-balanced life. I started writing and journaling more. It’s been years since I published something. I’m going to give it a try. I started meditating. Meditation isn’t for those new-age or weird people. It doesn’t have to be weird. It’s the simplicity of keeping still and knowing who is in control of the universe. Keeping a still, quiet mind was a great experience. I feel empowered. This will be another post.

When I left the Cult of Busy, I first felt lonely, rejected, and didn’t fit in. When I changed my mindset of having to be constantly busy and practicing stillness and balance, I truly experienced the same emotions and experience of leaving a cult. I get reminded of my degrees and my hard work and that I’m wasting my time. Or the whys. Ok. So letting a job or position literally make me ill is a better option? Shit happens like an illness. I realized that it doesn’t matter. I have another 50 or 60 years left. I also discovered that among the self-righteous assholes in the world, there are genuine awesome people. I thank the person who told me that I’m worth more than what I do and reminded me why she always respected or admired me. It wasn’t my resume but something deeper. I was stunned. Really? I have it that? I also thank people who take the time of their busy schedules to reach out to me and really want to know me beyond superficiality. I’m thankful that I have people who accept me at my worst. One of them is my soon-to-be husband who loves me and I feel we can really share our lives, my stepson to be who is just adorable and once cuddled with me and said “I love you”, my sister who kicks my ass when I’m being an idiot and motivates me and hears me out, my close friends who have seen my real journey and everything about me and still want to be in my life.

Getting out of the Busy Cult is a challenge. I can tell you all about cults because in the past I left a charismatic-pentecostal religious cult and also left a Hindu cult. Once you leave a cult of any sort, whether an organized religion or a destructive mindset. It’s truly freeing and empowering to discover that you are more than what you do.

3 thoughts on “The Cult of Busy

  1. I decided to leave the cult of busy a couple of years ago after my naturopath pretty much gave me an ultimatum. And I’ve never looked back. People can have their trophies and accomplishments; I take pleasure in the simple joys and living a healthy, satisfying and fulfilling life. I mean, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but it’s mine and I can own it and make it whatever I want to make it. Thanks for sharing your journey. ❤️

  2. Oh tell me about it. It is hard in the beginning. The simple joys, living a healthy satisfying and fulfilling life is what makes it worthwhile and keep our sanity. I know a man who killed himself, his wife and child because he lost a job. His wife used to thread my eyebrows. Its really sad that his achievements were so tied to his identity that he resorted to extreme measures.

    I also realized that I almost died. That event shook me and made me seek the deeper truth. Jesus himself said that the path is narrow and not easy. Right now, it’s kinda my honeymoon period of feeling free from pressures. But I will then keep going through this thing called life.

  3. Pingback: New Year’s 2017 UnResolutions with tips for those with depression, anxiety, recovery, or any chronic illness | The Pen Life

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