I started the day with good intentions. I was going to write a blog article for a client, write my column and get some cleaning done. I had all day before a Super Bowl party. So what happened? How did I not start my column until 11:29 p.m. the night before it's published? The answer is both unexpected and gross. I ran into an unexpected plumbing crisis that involved sticking one of my tiny hands all the way through that hole in the bottom of the toilet bowl into the trap to pry out unspeakable things. It was a day of all those mysterious, awful chores your parents do when you're little and you think, "Man, being an adult must suck" and that it'll never be you. Time ran away from me, and the sad thing is, this happens constantly. Most days it's not a clogged toilet, but there's always something, because I'm Meghan, and I'm a busyness addict.
When you're a busyness addict, everything feels like an obligation. And you're always letting someone or something down. My best friend reminded me last night I haven't seen her in two weeks. The New York Times wrote about this phenomenon back in June in "The 'Busy' Trap." Author Tim Kreider wrote, "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 is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint.”
I catch myself making this awful humble-brag all the time, and it sometimes feels weird, like I'm saying someone else's lines—some adult's lines—when I'm just a kid wearing mom's heels. Yet the most grown-up I've ever felt is this strange, stressful lifestyle. We make ourselves so busy just to get this adult, satisfied, purposeful feeling. As Kreider explained, "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."
Since I got hooked on being busy and see no way onto the wagon anytime soon, I've had to set up some rules that help me manage my very busy life a little better. Obviously, they don't work perfectly, or I wouldn't be racing against the clock to write this column before my drop-dead bedtime. But these tips might help you feel sane and stable even when you've made your life the ultimate cocaine-bender race to do and have it all.
Set reasonable limits.
I made a deal that I only have to do two to-do items a night. That might mean a date with friends or my mister and then a chore, such as doing the dishes. It might mean a writing assignment and vacuuming the floor. This rule keeps me from feeling like I have to do everything at once.
Learn to say no.
Some things are fun to say no to. It's honestly kind of flattering in its own way to have to turn down freelance offers. Other things feel awful to say no to, like tacos with my best friend. But either way, no is a good word. Stick to it.
Consciously manage your mental health.
It's important to know how to stay in a good mood and avoid stress. I've been experimenting with everything from earlier bedtimes (not happening tonight!) to cutting out caffeine and alcohol to saving a few nights a week to hang out by myself and recharge my introvert batteries. Don't be afraid to know what you need and give it to yourself.
It's OK if you don't have it all.
I read a great poem once, long-lost somewhere on the Internet, about how we all want to be successful at work, in love and with friends, but we can only have two of the three at once. Something will get neglected. Be honest and deliberate, and neglect the thing you need the least.
Consider being less busy.
You may feel it's the only option, but I guarantee it's not. If you don't like being busy, find a way to change things up, even if it means a radical career shift, rocking the single life, being a hermit with no social life or taking a pay cut. Just be real and intentional to make good choices.
I hope to try that last one soon. It's not always easy cutting back on busyness or getting on the wagon. It IS gratifying and an ego boost and all those things to be so in demand. But it's also possible to get that validation elsewhere, without the constant stress and guilt. If you figure it out, let me know. I'm still trying here, typing my last sentences just in time for bed, so I can get up and get busy again tomorrow.
Meghan O'Dea is a 20-something writer, pop culture critic and social media fanatic. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter if you have questions, comments or stories on being a young adult in the workforce. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.