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Stop the glorification of busy

Keeping on the subject of slowing down, isn’t it about time we try and rewire the brain, so that busy, doesn’t mean better. Nicknamed ‘Holly Hurricane’ at times of my life, it was if this was a badge of honour. Sometimes you find yourself falling into that no mans land of where what should be a complaint, is actually a mini boast.   

Now don’t get me wrong, small businesses need to be busy to survive. Frigging full stop. But it’s how we redefine our success, to not bring ‘busy’ as a key component. Of course just being happy and busy all the time is totally fine, as long as this is something that you are choosing, that benefits you long-term and that you are happy about. This is actually all about the ‘not glorifying’ it. When you think about it, the aim of this life is not just to be ‘busy’ all the time. It is about being happy and living and sometimes, that’s going to require you to be comfortable in slowing down; proud even of your slow moments.  

I was recommended a book by my sister, by Arianna huffington called ‘Thrive’. What a book! It made me think about how we glorify being busy so much in our culture and the toll that this path takes on our lives overall. She talks about redefining success –  “There’s no prize for working the most hours per week or making the most money. At the end of our lives, we’re all about the same amount of dust, so the question is how much joy you’ve brought into people’s lives and how much have you made the world a better place.” How we actually set up our conversations? Well we set them up in a way, without even thinking, to respond to the whole ‘busy’ phenomenon. “How are you?” “I’m sure you are so busy, but…?” “Rushed off your feet? I’m sure!”. I know these questions are well meaning, but we need to maybe respond in a different way. Or maybe ask a different question? I don’t know, but I wish we could be inspired what the Muslim culture mean by the question “How are you?”

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask in Arabic “Kayf haal-ik” or, in Persian, “Haal-e shomaa chetoreh”. How is your haal? Mine is not great, so I translate. It basically means, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?”  They are not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many emails are in your inbox. They want to know how your heart is doing, at that very moment. They want to know if your heart is joyous, aching, sad or in need of advice. This question is not asking for a quick, text book response. It’s asking you to examine your heart, explore your soul and then tell the person about the state of your heart and your soul. Let us set up this conversation to be a healing one; a dialogue filled with grace and presence.

It’s not just us who become busier, with the whole ‘busy’ talk going on – it’s our kids. Maybe they don’t big it up like we do, but has any 11 year old been busier than they are today? Scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities – what is going on. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I remember telling a friend without kids, that Harry (once homework is done) is doing a 9-10 hour day. She could not believe it. I have to admit, it felt very odd, saying it out loud.  I then added, that some of his friends do the same, but with an after school activity too. I personally, have never enrolled him to any after school ‘anything’, for that very reason. But, I also know that for some, it isn’t an option with the ‘busy’ lives we live and school day not finishing at 7pm! But, outside of the school stuff, kids can just be overly busy – generally. I know it’s not Harry looking to glorify being busy, or kids his age – it’s us parents. If we are in the hamster wheel and that means, so is everyone we influence.

Anyone else guilty of telling-off the other half or the other household members, for seemingly doing nothing? While you run around like a headless chicken, donkey and ostrich – all in one?! And, yes, sometimes they need a serious kick up the arse, but if we’re honest, sometimes they’re doing exactly what we should be doing – just being idle. Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice, it’s actually been referred to as indispensable to the brain, as vitamin D is to the body! Deprived of it and we suffer mental affliction. Fact. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it as a ‘whole’. For making unexpected connections and waiting for inspiration to strike. History is full of stories of inspirations that come in idle moments and dreams, such as Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath, Newton’s apple and Jekyll & Hyde and the benzene ring.

So, is it time that we let our flock off the wheel, sooner rather than later? What are the things we could cut out of our lives, that are there because of our own doing? Two kids, two different after school clubs! Really? Are you busy because of your ambition for them and/or your drive or anxiety? What could go out of the everyday, to make way for the ‘living’ bit and the idle bit? And as I’ve said before, for some of us, the ‘privileged’ ones, the lines between work and home have become utterly blurred. We’re on our devices. All. The. F**king. Time. Smart phones and laptops mean there’s no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online. Yes, we run our own businesses and I get it 150%. After all, Harry just went to bed and I’m writing this post!

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know, is that we’re losing the ability to live a truly human life.

I want to ask you how you are and for you to know that I’m talking about your heart. I want to not moan at my family for being ‘idle’, and “I know you have a million things on”, not to be the precursor to anyone asking me something these days!

I’m trying to think more about being part of the ‘slow movement’ everyday and I know change doesn’t happen overnight – it actually takes 90 days to form a new habit! But it’s all going in, and for that, I’m grateful.

So I ask you, “how is the state of your heart today”?

Chasing slow book by Eric Loechner
Mug by Letter and Lined


  1. Sarah Prince

    Just so true - I have recently set up my own business in part to get a better work life balance from the corporate world I inhabited for 20 +yrs and do something that I love BUT getting that balance in so tough as now I am the " everything" in my business I could work 24/7 & still feel guilty not doing enough - Am I the only one that thinks this I so hope not??

  2. Kate Harvey

    This is really lovely Holly. I love running my own business on my own terms, I still struggle a little with feeling guilty that it has actually worked out for me! Which is totally crazy, while others are in the rat race still. I love that question, how is the state of your heart today. We ask how are you though it's often not truly meant as a question - if you're heart is aching or hurt it's hard to say that in our culture, so we settle for 'fine' or 'busy' like you say, to move away from the moment. Right now my heart is tired, sad though hopeful today, and it was refreshing to read this blog! Kate

  3. Anton Smith

    I've just come across this Blog Post. All through my life in the corporate world, I was faced with the ridiculous notion that one had to work, work work. One of my Chairman was clearly addicted to work and would create work just for the sake of it. The mind's effectiveness reduces significantly after 6 hours of work and decisions made at the end of a 10 hour day are likely to be flawed. I do like the "How Are You?" section in your post. Too often the response is as you say - people talk about the quantity of things they're doing rather than the quality of how they're feeling and the state of their heart and soul. In our business training programmes, we really try and encourage both start-ups and existing businesses to pay attention to self-care, not just of themselves but of everyone in the company, as an ingredient of an overall holistic approach. Anton

  4. Kerrie Leather

    I couldn't agree more Holly - in fact I'm in the middle of writing a post about this for my own site right now! Carl Honore is another great author who writes about slow living and making the transition from life in the fast lane to the slow lane. Really interesting. For me a lot of this is about slowing down my mind, and really helping me to focus and stop my mind from flitting from one task to the next. xx

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