Hi. My name is Jay Harrington, and I’m addicted to being busy.
But I’m getting better. You should have seen me a few years ago. If I can do it, there’s hope for all of us. Let me explain.
A few years ago I was running a small law firm that I founded, and also leading a marketing agency with my wife. I was “successful.” We had a big house in the suburbs and too much stuff. Most of the stuff I never used, and have no idea why we purchased it. I liked having this stuff, not because I actually got value from it, but because it made me feel important and helped compensate for the gaping hole that resided inside of me.
You know what made me feel most important? My busy badge.
“Hey, Jay, how ya doing?” a friend would ask. “Oh man, I am so busy,” I’d say back. “Want to grab a beer tonight?” he would inquire. “Sorry, can’t do it. Too busy. Maybe next week,” I’d reply.
Despite missing the opportunity to catch up and connect with a friend who wanted to spend time with me, I would walk away from this type of conversation content with having created the perception in my friend’s mind that I must really be crushing it.
The truth is that my life was crushing me. And it all came crashing down when my dad died. My dad was diagnosed with dementia right around the time I started my law firm. Instead of slowing down to soak up all of the time I could have and should have been spending with him, I ramped up my busyness to new levels of absurdity. Three years later, after his mind had left him, his body followed. It was only after he was gone that I finally came to realize that, just as I passed on beers with friends too often, I passed on my obligation to be there for my dad, too.
You could say I hit rock bottom.
For years I had built something that took everything I had to keep from crumbling. I managed to maintain the facade, but at the expense of almost all else that mattered. In the days following his death, I pledged to make some major changes.
It’s funny, though, how the mind of an addict works. Just like an alcoholic thinks he can handle a couple of drinks, I started slipping back into my old ways within a week.
Then I received a gift, which forced change upon me. About three weeks after my dad died, we found out that my wife was pregnant with twin girls. We already had a three-year-old daughter at the time.
Now, I’m pretty good at deluding myself, but my partner is not one to suffer fools. And we’d been together long enough for her to have witnessed my nonsense enough times and call me on it.
It was around that time that she bought me Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly (affiliate link), which is all about getting comfortable with showing vulnerability. She writes about things we do to numb ourselves to avoid confronting hard truths. According to Brown, one of the biggest culprits is an addiction to busy.
“One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. I often say that when they start having 12-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums. We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
Well, that one hit home pretty hard.
Fast forward a few years, and here we are living in a small town in northern Michigan. The law firm, the big house and much of the stuff is gone. I’m living a more balanced life, as is my family. However, I still feel the pull of old patterns of behavior. I’m pretty disciplined in my work but less so in other aspects of my life. So I’m experimenting with some techniques to try to maintain balance.
Whether playing sports or practicing my profession, I’ve always done better with a bit of coaching. I’m self-aware enough to know that if someone else doesn’t hold me accountable, I probably won’t do so myself. Just as alcoholics have their 12-step meetings, recovering busy-aholics need a support system, too.
I can’t remember the host or the episode (I think it may have been Tim Ferriss), but a while back I was listening to a podcast episode that discussed a technique used by a busy executive to make sure he was balancing his personal and professional lives, and investing properly in his family.
At the end of every month, he would sit down with his wife and ask her to “score” him based on how he performed in the past 30 days in terms of being a good husband, father, and provider — one score for each bucket.
These check-in sessions forced him to confront his numbing behaviors and not hide behind a mantle of busyness. Some months he would score well in some categories and poorly in others, but by consistently revisiting his past behaviors he was able to balance things out over time.
This made a lot of sense to me, so my wife and I decided to implement it in our life. We’re still in the early innings of this game, but it’s working to keep me focused on what’s most important to me, which is leading an intentional life and being there for the people that matter most.
As a busy'aholic too, what approach can you take to stay on track?
For far too long I had created a trajectory to my life that was taking me and those around me to a dark, broken place. As sad and pathetic as it seems in retrospect, it took tragedy, and tough love from my wife Heather, to finally lead me to hit pause. Maybe I’m just putting a happy spin on things, but instead of choosing to wallow in sorrow about how I wasn’t there for my dad when he needed me, I’ve come to look at the transformation in my life caused by his passing as one last invaluable gift that he gave me.
I’ll never be free of the seductive and destructive allure of a busy life. But I’ll never again relent to it.
Be sure to check out Life & Whim — Live Big Through Small Moments
Meet Jay Harrington — Life & Whim
Jay Harrington is an author, reformed-lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and along with his wife Heather runs a northern Michigan-inspired lifestyle brand called Life and Whim. He lives with his family in Traverse City and writes weekly about living a purposeful, intentional, and outdoor-oriented life on his blog. Find them online here: Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram