Reflections on Life: Busyness vs. Meaning

by jimowensjr

“Life comes at you fast.”  It’s a simple yet profound statement.  (It’s also as great slogan for a large insurance company.)   Life is filled with opportunity to “do” an unlimited number of things.  And for some strange reason, we often seem to mistake “busyness” for “meaning.”  Far to many of us unwittingly equate having too many things “to do” with success and significance, yet we find little satisfaction in life.  We don’t intend to let it happen, but somehow it does.  Like proverbial “frogs in a pot.,” we don’t realize the water is boiling until it is too late to do anything about it.

While Thoreau said most mean lead live lives of quiet desperation, it seems like many of us are living lives of “excited misery.”  It starts before we are even aware of it.  When parents, in an earnest desire to see their children succeed, struggle to get them into the “best” and most demanding schools, enroll them in dance class, sign them up for little league and schedule them for SAT prep courses they may inadvertently set their children on this path.   There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those well-intentioned efforts.  Except that it can create a subtle message for children that “busyness is good” and the source of meaning in life.  Achievement and recognition become tools for measuring one’s life and its significance.  Those children may then grow in to achievement oriented young adults that take on more and more only to find themselves racing from school to work, to the ballpark, dance recitals and music lessons, all the while both living vicariously through there children yet dreading the lack of “margin” in their lives.  Yet we would likely admit we have far too much stress in our lives and worry about the impact it has on our health.  How then, do we escape.

Perhaps it is time to measure our lives in terms of “meaning” rather than achievement.  Perhaps it is time to measure satisfaction in terms of the quality of our relationships rather than by more temporal measures of our significance. Perhaps it is time to “do” less.  This isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t give back to our communities through the Chamber of Commerce, our places of worship, or in the variety of places we can invest our lives.  It is to suggest that no man or woman ever laid on his death bed and wanted to have his awards, plaques, trophies, or other symbols of his achievements gathered around him when he passes from this life. In our last moments, most of us would prefer to be surrounded by friends and family who would gather around us to share the memories of a life invested in others.  Living today with our last days in mind is sometimes unsettling because deep inside us we know we aren’t living today the way we really want.  Life keeps getting in the way of the things we really want to do.

Ambition and achievement build many good things in this world.  And they do require sacrifice. The call here is simply to “count the costs” to make a conscience and deliberate decision about how much sacrifice is enough.  We must count the cost to our health and families with each opportunity we face “to do” something.  When we do we will find ourselves invigorated by the commitments we make and confident the legacy leave will be the one we chose, rather than one chosen for us.

Keep the faith.

One last personal note.  Like most everything else you’ll find in this place….”Physician, heal thyself!” applies here.