Busy bees need crutches

Oh, the sweet taste of irony.

On Sunday I read 'Put your feet up' by Paul Connolly in Sunday Life magazine, and today I found myself, once again, reluctantly putting my feet (okay, foot) up. After spraining my ankle in 'The Skipping Rope Incident' of Monday night, I took a trip-and-turn for the worst last night and wound up on crutches today. I have never had an injury of this kind (though I did always covet the casts and crutches of kids in primary school who were lucky enough to actually break something) – and I'm none to happy about being laid up.

Back to the irony part... the Sunday Life story examined the guilt we feel when we're not working or achieving something or being 'busy', as we all say, and why said guilt is hindering our ability to kick up our feet, enjoy the stillness, relax, smell the roses and find happiness.

"We've fallen victim to a culture of busy-ness, where people feel there's something wrong if they aren't busy. Consequently, many of us find it hard to relax in the first place," Paul Shepanski of Relationships Forum Australia told Connolly. "We're trapped in a cycle of making money and spending it."

Ah-ha, says Connolly: "If our working hours don't cut into our 'free time' significantly enough, consider, too, the long commute; the BlackBerry that beeps on weekends; the mobile phones that are always done; and the chores that need doing around the house."

Connolly goes on to reference Tom Hodgkinson, the British author of How To be Idle and How To Be Free, French economist (we all know the French love their free time) Corinne Maire, who wrote Hello Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay, and Canadian writer Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slow, who all promote idleness as a way of life. Hodgkinson says it's "only conditioning that makes us feel guilty when we sleep in; when we linger over a lunch eaten away from our desks; or when we slip out of the office early (or on time)."

Conditioning coupled with society and employer expectations, I think. Many of us find it hard to wind down from work weeks run on the adrenaline of pressure and expectation. Though employers have been championing 'work/life balance' practises through their HR departments for years, in some companies, and industries, ambition and dedication, as signified by consistently working overtime, are entrenched.

This is rife in the magazine industry, which is dominated by women. One Australian magazine editor is very well known for her past indiscretions relating to employees who were so bold as to leave on time (these young women would chuck their handbags across the floor and crawl past her office lest they be detected). Elsewhere in the industry, young writers, editors and designers slave away at their desks till well after sundown, on relatively pitiful pay packets, to meet tight deadlines and attract the approval of their seniors. Which is not to say all editors are Miranda Priestly-type characters who put the fear of God in their underlings – most of the Aussie editors I know, or have known, are driven and hard working but nice as pie. And many of the women who work in the industry are perfectionists who'd rather stay late, or come in while suffering head colds and gastro, than hand in sub-standard work, thus imposing impossibly high standards, requiring hours of dedicated work, on themselves. Working like a dog can also be highly addictive – if we're not buzzing about, we feel lost. We are loathe to give ourselves a break.

But how do we unwind on weekends? When does the work stop? After hours our diaries are crammed with social engagements (beauty editors are known to spend at least three weeknights at industry functions) and plans to exercise, while our weekends are full of the same, in addition to household chores and family commitments. Even 'mental health days', encouraged by some Aussie employers, are often spent madly running errands. Busy, busy, busy!

Is it not crazy that we've no time to chill out? Do we even know how? I honestly can't remember the last time I spent a day relaxing that didn't involve some kind of activity, like reading, writing or shopping. Is the only option to book a week in Bali to get away from it all? Or to quit work and move to Byron?

I think busyness, and work-guilt, is definitely conditioned, and it's unhealthy. I have always felt hugely guilty whenever sickness or plain old fatigue has prevented me from missing work (I've been known to take a morning off, then dose up with pain killers and trudge into the office to appease said guilt). And though I attend church most Sundays, they're far from the days of rest the Bible prescribes – there are social pages to be read, friends to be met, loads of washing to throw on...

I can't even imagine what being a working woman with a family would be like!

Methinks the whole ankle twisting event (not least 'cause it's happened twice in one week) is a clear sign from God that I should spend less time frittering my life away being 'busy' – 'cause 'busy' isn't necessarily 'good' or productive. In fact, sometimes I find myself cramming my days just to escape some of the big-picture questions looming over my life (i.e. Where to next? What does God want me to do with my life? Am I really happy?).

Now I've been forced into period of relaxation and introspection, I'm finally going to give myself a break. Plenty of time to contemplate life's bigger questions, and think over how I want to spend my days (more time with Husband, etc.) and live my life! As a very wise magazine journo said in an email to me today: "Manifest your ideal working conditions so that the universe can commence its magic." Ahh, busy is in the eye of the beholder.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. It is so typical that there are No New Magazines at my newsagent to read while I'm laid up like a drunken soldier! I am on a mission to hunt down the new Nylon...


pig_93 said...

First, I think this was a really good entry. Well done!

At only 20, I am sad to say that I fall victim to this feeling that I should be busying myself every constantly, both long term and short term.

I am currently on a study exchange in Denmark and my life here is so different to what I am used to at home in Sydney. I wake up here and do nothing productive, I sleep in until hours I would only dream of at home and I spend endless hours doing, well, nothing.

Its the first time I am living like this and at times I do admit, I feel guilty and feel as if I should be doing something productive.

But on the other hand, this trip, after only 2 months of being here has given me the ability to understand that actually it is not a sin to be doing all these things, or rather, doing nothing at all really!

Its so refreshing to be taking out this time for myself. Just from sitting at home doing nothing, not working for once in my life or just sitting for endless hours on the computer (or in bed), I am really getting to understand how to enjoy life and not be so concerned with how best I can utilise my time.

Try it, even for a week.

As seen in said...

Hope you're ankle is better soon babe! : )

Anonymous said...

One Australian magazine editor is very well known for her past indiscretions relating to employees who were so bold as to leave on time (these young women would chuck their handbags across the floor and crawl past her office lest they be detected).

Now Erica - you can't just write something like that and not give us an inkling of who it is. ;)

Most of the publications I worked for have been, fortunately, fairly laid back - it's totally acceptable to take lunch breaks and leave 'on time', and most people do that. I have had the occasion boss who's sent me 10pm text messages and asked me to go way beyond the call of duty, but that's generally been in very understaffed organisations.

In the case of monthly magazines, most of which are very well staffed, I don't see why it would be necessary to keep employees at work late (except, perhaps, on deadline). It makes me wonder how much of this is driven by culture, perception and inefficiency, rather than by actual need.