Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Too Busy? You May Have Your Priorities Wrong…

Gone are the days of long lunches and endless evenings.  In today’s hamster wheel of very important meetings and deadlines, everyone is just too darn busy to give you anything more than a 55 minute time slot.  The response to the question “How are you” is usually “Oh, I’ve just been SO busy.”  This response isn’t met with concern or disdain but rather congratulations and hearty pats on the back.  Being “Busy” is a badge of honor.


I met my friend Ryan for lunch yesterday.  We had planned the meeting over a month prior, since our schedules made it impossible to get together before.  As I walked down to the café to meet him, I hurriedly checked the messages on my phone, checking work projects and carefully arranging dinners multiple weeks out in advance.  How did every hour of my life become so calculated?  My engagements with friends had somehow transformed from fun evenings to another checkbox on my ‘To Do’ list.


As is customary for midday meetings, our lunch had a hard stop.  Ryan had a call at 2pm. I, for once, had a light afternoon but I was too embarrassed to admit that.


Saying, “I could stay here for hours and eat pastries” somehow would make me look unimportant (and fat).  To be accepted I must demonstrate I had significant purpose for every minute of my day and was desperately needed to solve the world’s pressing problems.


“I have so much to do,” I lied. “I may need to wrap up sooner than 2.  People are counting on me.”  I couldn’t tell him that my main plan for the afternoon was writing this blog post.


However, after we started eating Ryan admitted something rather scandalous.


“We were just in Italy for 2 weeks….and I LOVED it.  There people just hang out….like with no agenda!”  He looked at me incredulously as if he had just discovered fat free bacon.


“I guess it’s not like the rat race here then,” I said.


“Not at all! They are not focused on getting ahead in life or competing so that they just kinda enjoy themselves…”


What a novel concept.


Here in San Francisco nothing could be further from the truth.  We run around frantically trying to get higher on the life achievement scale.  Our evenings are triple booked with networking happy hours as we relentlessly seek to trade up: our jobs, social standing, even relationships.  Our culture is so fearful of “settling” that we don’t take the time to enjoy the current situation we are in.


A friend recently posted a great article on “The Busy Trap” from the New York Times.


The author, someone who has worked hard to preserve an unbusy life writes,


“The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college — she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again.…What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality — driven, cranky, anxious and sad — turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment….”


Gasp? Is our environment deforming us?  Should we all move to slow paced towns along the Mediterranean and cast aside promotions for afternoons of pastis and stinky cheese? Slower European countries like Italy and France do have a higher life expectancy than the United States.


Perhaps we don’t need to relocate, but just live differently. A good friend of mine runs her own technology company yet still makes time for fun….and romance  She was just trying to convince me to take off a few weeks for a trip to Ibiza.  “I could work all the time,” she said.  “There is definitely enough to do. But what good is working hard if I don’t get to enjoy myself, the people around me, or the money I’ve created?”


My friend was also very good at dedicating time for others.  She urged me to commit to only ONE (gasp!) event of the evening and refrain from checking my phone for bigger, better options.  Not only will slowing down make us more enjoyable company but it may open up space for creative thought as well.  Afterall didn’t Newton discover gravity by just hanging out under an apple tree?


I didn’t have an apple fall on my head yesterday but the open afternoon was slightly altering.  When I met another friend for dinner he asked me what else I had going on that evening.  “I have no where else to be but here.” I remarked.  It felt quite refreshing.


“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.”
–Jack Kornfield

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