The Lie of Busyness

Over the weekend, our school hosted our 2nd annual 5Sigma Educonference (a reflection post to come later). Because we roll over learning excursions for the conference into Sunday, Kelly schedules a “no school” day on the Monday after the conference for a much-needed day off.

I do not do “days off” well. One of two things generally happens when i don’t have a work day: 1) I schedule it chock full of appointments and errand running, or 2) I’m so exhausted, I sleep through the entire day and practice my bump on a log impressions. If the latter occurs, I spend the rest of the week feeling so guilty about wasting a precious day, and any restful benefits from doing nothing wear off immediately.

cc licensed photo by Jeffrey Putnam

cc licensed photo by Jeffrey Putnam

What is about American culture that makes us feel guilty about doing nothing? (I’m sure it’s not entirely exclusive to Americans, but…) We’re constantly describing people as productive or as lazy. The cultural disapproval of one who is seen as lazy or unproductive is everywhere. We even do it to kids as young as five. If they’re not “on task” or taking their academic progress seriously, we start looking at disorders and how we can FIX them*. The message we send children, by example and by directive, is that we must always be ON and working.

What we have created is a culture of highly anxious, stressed out, and wellness-deprived people.

For some, being “busy” all of the time is worn like a badge of honor. My friend, Dean Shareski, wrote about that in “Let’s Stamp Out ‘Busyness.’” Dean also talks in this post about how being busy is used to feel superior to “less busy” people. I witnessed examples of this on a trip to Maui once. Maui Time is a thing. If a business says it opens at 9am, don’t expect anyone to be there at 9am. They’ll get there when they roll in. I knew this before I arrived, but it was interesting to hear the tourists complain… lots of people talking about laziness: “how can they possibly be expected to make a profit if they’re so unproductive,” and “I do not have time to wait around for someone who doesn’t care about my business,” etc. What I noticed was happy owners and employees who didn’t really care what anyone else thought.

On the day-after our educonference, I scheduled a few hours at a local spa. My class and their families had graciously given me a gift card for Christmas and my birthday, and that paid for my entire time at the spa. As I sat and relaxed, it got me thinking about how needed this day was due to the road runner-like pace of the last few months. (I’d started noticing that my heart rate was elevated, even when I sat down. My anxiety about checking off things on my to-do list and planning the minutiae of each day was causing my heart a little stress, too.)

While I was on my way to the relaxation room, I was tempted to bring my phone with me, but decided against it. My husband knew where I would be and knew how to reach me in an emergency. There was nothing else that needed my attention on that phone.

Instead, I brought my journal and a book. I started with a short meditation, and then began reading Paulo Coelho’s Like The Flowing River. In this book, Coelho shares thoughts and reflections in his usual style. This man can craft a metaphor and such incredible imagery… it often leaves me breathless as I read his writing. In one of the first sections, he talks about seasons of our lives and how they mimic seasons of our planet. Even Nature knows when to go dormant and rejuvenate.

While I was reading, I was reminded of a time when I heard a very insightful, yet simple comment. Dr. Martha Bruckner, currently superintendent of Council Bluffs Community Schools in Iowa,  said something once that has since stuck with me (and I’ll paraphrase here):

Sometimes, you just need to go sit under a tree.

cc licensed photo by Laura Gilchrist

cc licensed photo by Laura Gilchrist

Schools (and school districts) can often operate like speeding trains… go, go, go. Move, move, move. Don’t sit still; we don’t have time to be unproductive. We must remain busy, busy, busy.

What I’ve found is that you miss so much of the scenery every day when you’re on that train. The speed of the train blurs out really important things… things that matter. Often, we’re on that train for so long, we’ve forgotten everything else around us.

Busyness does that to a person. It lies about how important it is… and even how important we are. It lies to us about the people who do know how important it is to just be still.

Sometimes, sitting under a tree is exactly what we need. A person can see so much from that perspective and view, and it’s not at all blurry. Everything seems to be light and clear.

Our bodies, minds, and souls need rest. They need days when we do nothing. They need days when we just take the time to recuperate.

As always, I think about the lessons I’m learning, and how I can do better for the children I serve. My little students love learning, and we’re always excited to do more! But then I remember that they also need rest. They need time to play and just be little kids. They need time to sit under actual trees. I know I’m responsible for these children for many hours a day… and while their learning is a part of that responsibility, so is their wellness as human beings.

Tomorrow, the weather forecast is sunny and 52º F. We’re going to make time to just go sit under a tree.




Note; As I edit my writing in this post, I acknowledge the HUGE amount of privilege I have in occasionally seeing a day off and being able to make time to rest and relax.  There are many who do not share in such a luxury. I want to help make that a possibility for all of us, not just a few. If you have ideas about this, leave suggestions in the comments section. 


*We’ve started getting phone calls at Anastasis from parents who are interested in our school because family physicians recommend our school in place of anxiety medications. This says a LOT about the culture of busyness in most schools… and what it says truly breaks my heart. We have to do so much better for kids.

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