Engaging the “cult of busy” comes at great cost.
While it’s become trendy to overextend ourselves—seeking happiness and our sense of value in the achievements of all we can accomplish—cramming our to-do list with demands, robs us of the experience of life and the joy of living.
As a young woman, I believed my worth and value rested on the many things I accomplished, yet that sense of being enough was never satisfied. It was like a hungry monster, increasingly demanding more of me. The monster was never satiated, and I never felt it was enough.
The belief of “learn more, try harder, stay busy, and maybe I’ll be happy” left me feeling flawed and separate from life. I felt spit out at the end of each day.
Psychologist Tara Brach calls it “the trance of unworthiness.”
“Both our upbringing and our culture provide the immediate breeding ground for this contemporary epidemic of feeling deficient and unworthy,” says Brach.
I’d hoped to find that sense of being good enough through all the things I did, the accomplishments I achieved and the accolades I received. None of it was enough, and the internal sense of discomfort and feelings of lack created anxiety and emotional distress. I felt desperate and wondered when I’d feel like I was enough, when I’d be happy.
Feeling unhappy despite having everything I could ask for left me feeling ungrateful and guilty. What was wrong with me? Couldn’t I just be happy?
Like many, I was conditioned to try to avoid uncomfortable emotions by getting busier to distract myself. The veneer of perfectionism and over-achieving I’d created to try and protect myself and feel safe cracked under the pressure. It was a never-ending cycle of suffering and what was important in life seemed to pass me by.
The “cult of busy” is all too common today. Through supporting others I’ve learned I’m not alone. The good news, and the challenging news, are that gaining self-worth and happiness is an inside job.
As strange as it sounds, I bless, and am grateful for, the experience of burn-out that’s led me out of a life lived in reaction to stress, over-load and anxiety. It caused me to question false-beliefs and returned me to the source of my suffering, which was my own mind and habits of life.
While I wished someone else could awaken me from the trance of unworthiness and soothe my mental and emotional torment, I found this wasn’t true. There was no white-knight who was going to come charging in to save me and make right my world.
While loving family and friends were helpful, I learned that finding my self-worth and changing my internal climate was something only I alone could do.
If we find ourselves struggling, it’s important we know we’re not alone. It saddens me how many people wonder what’s wrong with them, why they aren’t happy, despite having accomplished the many things they’d been told would bring happiness.
I’ve learned to call it a “seek and don’t find world”, the belief we’ll be happy when we reach some illusory goal or achievement when we have the perfect partner, home or job. It isn’t true. While we may feel OK for a while, those old feelings tend to resurface all too soon.
While not a panacea, engaging in mindfulness practices helped me to gain distance from the self-critical rhetoric that coursed through my mind. In observing my thoughts, I began to question whether my operating-system of staying busy to find my value and avoid painful feelings was valid. I learned it was not.
When the “cult of busy” calls and I notice feelings of stress, or that old sense of “not-enoughness” surfacing, I’ve found the most powerful question I can ask myself is, “What do I need right now?”
Instead of trying to push those feelings down, turning to myself like a compassionate friend to see what I truly need has been so helpful. Just pausing and asking the question causes an internal shift. As I distance myself from that internal chatter, I find the answers to what I truly need surface, and I follow the inner wisdom that responds.
I’ve shared this simple exercise with many who have found it more helpful than getting busy ever did.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.