Busy is Not A Badge of Honor


Ok. Here’s something I’ve been afraid to share. There’s this stereotype about business owners. They’re type A, detail-obsessed, high energy, high performing 24/7, insane hustle machines. I believed all of these traits were necessary to make it as a self-made businesswoman. I was proud of my grit, proud of the fact I had the endurance to work longer hours than others, and I wore my sleep deprivation like a badge of honor. The truth is…there isn’t one part of that statement that reflects who I am at my most authentic self— who I am and what I do when no one is watching.

When no one is watching, I’ll retreat to quiet spaces and get lost in my own thoughts.
When no one is watching I’ll sleep for 10 hours of sleep to the recommended 8.
When no one is watching I worry about money.
When no one is watching I doubt my abilities to lead our team and achieve my dreams.
When no one is watching I avoid email and social media and anything to do with work.
When no one is watching I spend all day in my PJs, eat all of my meals on the couch and binge Netflix.

When no one is watching I wonder why I feel so busy even on the days when I get nothing done.

We are living in a culture that glorifies hustle, and in this predominantly female community interested in “lifestyle and wellness,” we cheer each other on as we make room for our dreams, run towards risk, and get back up when failure after failure knocks us down. One could say many of us inherited a subconscious can-do belief that in this “land of opportunity” we must always be living up to our potential. It is here, in this duty to live up to the best versions of our self, that we cannot escape the damage hustle culture does to understanding who we are at our core. To constantly be focused on improvement, we avoid the stillness and truth that is revealed in the present. We stay busy to avoid going inward and truly asking ourselves what we want out of our lives.

As I’ve been prepping to write this essay, I went inward to work through what it meant to me to be busy all the time, and how it was tied to my self-worth, ego, and identity. Who am I without all the doing? Who am I if I don’t have my work? Minorities, especially WOC grow up realizing they have to hustle that much harder, be that much better, for the same opportunities. If busy is a badge of honor in American culture, who are we without all the doing?

Much to my dismay… I draw a blank when I ask myself who I am without all the doing. I feel emptiness… then a sense of honor when a voice inside my head says “you are a mother who shows strength through embracing her shortcomings.” Then, “your drive comes from curiosity.” This was new. When you remove what your work reflects to OTHERS, you have more room to explore the why behind the doing.

And then, I started to explore why pain was required for achievement. Perhaps it was years of dancing on bloody, fractured feet, but everything I had ever worked for had pain associated with it. I realized I looked at those long hours, the anxiety, the physical wear, and tears as a sign that things were going right… that if I just keep going I’d reach my goals. I have a lot of work to do to uncouple my self-worth from these associations but I know the answer is exploring what drives me towards my curiosity in the human experience and exploring creative mediums like writing, design, and art. I know I’m interested in people, in helping people find peace and acceptance inside themselves. Instead of looking for the pain in hard work, I’m looking for opportunities where the act of doing flows like water, to find the path of least resistance in each day.

As I get older, I get more comfortable with ambiguous endings. In unanswered prayers, the lessons in failure, the complexity of our collective human experience and the constructs that divide and separate. In understanding that beneath the shiny veneer of success can live an emptiness that money, power, and prestige cannot fill. Breaking up with being busy gave me a new perspective for those driven by knowing who they are, who live by rules governed by their authentic selves, not ego. I’ve also uncovered a deeper empathy for the shy girl inside of me who wishes I hadn’t founded a business on social media. I have a new understanding of the strength it takes to advocate for life choices that are not glorified in a capitalist culture. More than anything, I want all of us to know, in a heart, that we are so much more than the labels we are given.

We want to hear your stories. How do you avoid the busyness trap? Who are you without the doing? Comment below and we will share a select number of stories on social media!
  • “When you remove what your work reflects to OTHERS, you have more room to explore the why behind the doing.” – Now that was a powerful statement!

    As an introvert, there’s always something firing in my brain. Even if I don’t outwardly look like it, I’m usually quite busy overthinking and over-planning things that, honestly, probably don’t require all that much thought.

    Meditation has helped me learn to slow down and just breathe – in all areas of my life. I’ve come to relish the stillness that comes with it, the ability to simply be in that moment and let that be enough.

    It’s still hard to check out sometimes though, but that’s why I keep doing the meditation thing. I know it will feel more natural with time.

  • I love being busy, it gives me energy. But being busy for the sake of being busy is a concept I hadn’t even realized until I moved to London. There everybody seemed to be so busy 24/7… And not in a good way: looking haggered af while running around like headless chicken, and jumping and shouting in their expensive suits on the metro platform when they missed a train when the next one’s 2 minutes away. When it came to the point that I found myself running for no reason – I wasn’t late or anything, but everybody around me was running so unconsciously I did too – I decided that’s it. Even if I’m late it isn’t worth getting caught up in the mess that all these people are caught up in. From then on I’ve paid extra attention to the speed I walk, never run 😉

    Teresa | outlandishblog.com

  • Why was “no pain no gain” ever a mantra to success?? The battle for who’s first in the all in game is exhausting. I’ve been a willing participant all my life. Missed birthdays and weddings, too busy. Actually, I never married as I was too busy to bother with that! Would I have done it differently? I don’t know. Being older is a horse halter with a big WHOA Girrrl! You’re not going to take me that fast and hard down this path again. But then I’m bored…..I started playing a game app of Wordscapes. Must. Keep. Mind. Racing. I’m so over myself. Thanks for sharing, I also enjoyed your piece related to this about giving birth and working so you could relax to have a baby. You do many things well. And that’s enough! I need a needlepoint pillow of this saying. I’m too chicken for a tattoo. AND! I don’t have time!!!

  • I love this! When I look at my life – I see that it is busy – work, husband, daughter, dogs, workout, girlfriends, home, cook, bathe. The days are full – with good things. I know that I enjoy all of it. Productivity and accomplishment feel good to me. But I also crave simplicity. To find that simplicity, I’ve focused on a few things:
    1. Get up early and take it slow. First, coffee. Make a real breakfast. Get dressed last. I used to love to worry about every detail of my outfit but now my priority is actually enjoying my cup of coffee while its warm.
    2. Give all my attention to my daughter when I first get home from work. I may want to decompress from work with a snack or some instagram, but it never feels as good as hugs and playdough creations.
    3. Say no – even if it sounds like fun. Like trivia with friends tonight when I still have to unpack from vacation and my in-laws are coming for the holiday tomorrow.
    Without the doing, I find a more confident version of myself. Someone who believes in and trusts herself, who lets the opinions, thoughts, and words of others just pass on by. Someone who processes, delights, finds gratitude – instead of someone who just reacts.

  • “Who are you without the doing?” A powerful and brave question! A few years ago after my daughter was born, my manager at the time asked me what my passions were. And I couldn’t answer her because I didn’t have any. I was droning and hustling at my corporate job, going home and going through the motions. I wasn’t very passionate about any of it. It took a lot of time with myself and introspecting, and I revisited things that used to give me joy when I was a kid, like writing, poetry, history, music, and embracing curiousity. And to lean into these things with no expectations – to not label them as things to keep me “busy” – then I felt welcome to them again. And now I can eagerly and enthusiastically list my passions ☺️ The real “me” underneath it all.
    This quiet time with yourself is essential to revealing the ‘you’ underneath the doing. It’s easy and natural for us introverted types – and now I crave it like air!

  • who I am without the doing? There are so many things that lie beyond the surface, at least I like to think there are, of what I do. I’ve always thought the actions and the busy work were something that made me who I am. I guess I am still trying to figure that out everyday. In short, I like to believe I am someone that tries, that cares deeply, that has had a lot of failures, I am someone, who is growing still.

    I loved this article— Thank you!

  • I make sure one Saturday a month I don’t do anything. I tell myself whatever is pending can wait, it’s hard & takes practice but it’s worth It. I’ve learned that I am capable of surviving even though everything isn’t complete.

  • Beautiful essay and message, Kate. Thank you for sharing!

    Practicing self-care, particularly as a woman of color and as a new working mother, is now an essential priority for me. I’m interested in self-care that goes beyond the commercialized and shallow definitions of self-care (i.e. massages, manicures, a yoga class, etc), but exploring a more nuanced and transformative type of self-care. Some of those practices include learning how to say no and redefining the boundaries of my relationships to others, learning how to give from a place of abundance and joy and not from a “should.” For me, self-care has become tied to self-love and acknowledging my worth. It’s telling myself that “I am enough as I am” and not basing my worth on what I do or do for others. Thank you for keeping this conversation going! Best, Pauline

  • Thank you for sharing this piece and your introspection. I’ve learned that underneath the glorification of “being busy”, I am a human who loves spending hours alone in nature, who can enjoy my own company and that of others, and exactly how empty my life feels while being “busy”.
    I was in a career and job that worshiped this-it took the clarity of chronic fatigue and my health starting to suffer in order to wake up. I quit my job and realize I will have to incorporate boundaries and be honest with myself and others with whatever is next-it’s really worth it to ask one’s self these questions thank you!!