On Being Busy

On Being Busy

I sat with my head tilted upwards, my eyes concentrating on the temple ceiling, trying to use the advantage of gravity to force the teary sadness back into my eyes. What an amazing life this busy man / husband / father / grandfather / lawyer / volunteer had lived.

On this particular Sunday morning, my husband and I were sitting at a funeral service, helping to honor the life of a dear friend’s father. Listening to close friends and family tell stories of his life made me realize with certainty that being busy isn’t always a bad thing.

An Uncomfortable Conversation

Lately I have been reflecting a lot on the act of “being busy.”

For instance, the other afternoon while at a sporting event for one of my children, I ran into** a mother who (admittedly) intimidates me. Every time I am in her presence I get this uneasy feeling that she is judging my every move and it makes me uncomfortable.*

*As a significant side note, I have come to realize that I have 2 different reactions to feeling uncomfortable: a.) try to avoid the obstacle causing the discomfort OR – if that isn’t an option – b.) talk.

**At the moment it would have been tougher to avoid this obstacle-of-a-woman, so I choose to talk.

I shot her a wide smile and casually said:

“Hi! How has your weekend been?”

To which her response back was simply a flat, monotoned:


Feeling even more uncomfortable I continued with my one-sided dialogue.

“Our weekend has been busy!” I proclaimed brightly. “We’ve had a baseball practice, three soccer games and still two more to go! Whew!” I finished. (Trying to force a smile and feeling increasingly ill at ease.)

There was a short pause where in she glanced up at me as if she might have something significant to say back. However, instead of sharing her weekend adventures with me (as I had anticipated), she replied in an irritated tone:

“You know, you do it to yourself. You don’t need to be so busy.”

I smiled and quickly exited, trying not to let on how frustrated and disappointed I was in the outcome of our conversation.

Defining Busy

Being busy often gets a bad rap.

People use the word busy in place of the word overwhelmed or stressed. Sometimes the word busy is used to describe a series of events that the speaker themselves wished they didn’t need to play a part of. (I know, I’ve used it in this sense too.)

However, I’d like to take a moment to write in defense of the word busy. Because sometimes busy is not a 4-lettered, bad word.

When I think of my life I would probably use the word busy to help describe it.

And the thing is – I’m okay with that. A majority of the time I’m exponentially more happy being busy than being idle.

Honestly, if you think about it we’re all busy… we just vary in what we’re busy doing.

  • Some of us may be busy driving kids around town.
  • Others may keep busy working out, or planning vacations, or cleaning the house.
  • You might be busy working, or worrying, or dealing with an unforeseen tragedy.
  • Or maybe you are busy relaxing?

The dictionary defines busy as:

Having a great deal to do
Occupied with or concentrating on a particular activity or object of attention.

Notice that specifically what you occupy your time with IS NOT part of the definition.

Of course I have times when I am too busy. (I often refer to this as “crazy-busy”.) Or moments (even days) where I may be doing something that feels like a waste of my time or which frustrates me.

Yet when possible I choose to fill my time doing things I love.
Most of the time I am (or at least strive to be) happily busy with life.

In fact often when I am not busy is when life starts to feel lonely.

Respecting Others’ Busyness Limits

I walked away from the brief, previously described sporting event encounter with that other mother feeling a little mad, a little sad and a little defensive.

See the thing is, if I had further explained my busyness, I would have told this woman what a fun weekend it had been. How we had spent Saturday cheering on our daughter in soccer and that same evening touring downtown Ann Arbor, enjoying the beautiful weather which allowed for a lovely street-side patio family dinner.

But I let it drop. I didn’t owe her any explanations.

In defense of the word busy, maybe we should not automatically assume just because someone says they are busy that they are overwhelmed. These two words are not always synonymous with each other.

I personally attempt to set and constantly reevaluate my own limits on busyness.

Not every day will be happy. Not every day will be well spent. However, from this point forward, I intend to respect others’ busyness limits in hope that they’ll respect mine.


One day, when my close friends and family bury me, it is my hope that my life will have been filled with even half the happily busy days recalled of the amazing gentleman put to rest that Sunday morning.

For me, being “happily busy” feels purposeful and right. What about you?

Leave a Comment: Have you ever noticed how different every person’s (and family’s) ideas are on being busy?

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