Busy, not Happy

Today was a wonderful day.


Don’t bother checking your calendar, it’s still Monday.

Today for the first time in a long time, I’m home being mom to a kid. I’m not trying to focus anyone’s attention on Math.


I’m not trying to keep an eye on a couple hundred students on  a playground. I’m not planning tomorrow’s game, running errands for teachers, or struggling over how to word that end of year email I don’t want to send about the lunchroom.

I did dishes this morning. I cleaned a bathroom. I fixed lunch for two. I did some quiet reading. I daydreamed. I wrote some naughty stuff.

Today, I’m not busy.

I’m happy.

I think a lot of people are confused about that bit, obsessed with busy, not happy.


The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word busy is my parents. I’ve never known busier people. They moved at a dead run from 5 am until they hit the showers at 945pm, lights out at 1030 pm right after the local news.

I hate being busy, certainly because my childhood was filled to the brim with it. Mom and dad made it very clear that everyone worked. If you sat down in the middle of the day during summer break, you better be sick or picking raspberries off the bottom branches. They were so proud of how busy they were. Still, it persists. My dad, who will be 77 this fall, made a four hour drive to come support my sister when her daughter died. The next day he drove back home, four hours, because he had a gardening class to teach. He has to keep busy. There’s always something else to be doing. And his maddening obsession seems to have infected the rest of the world.


People are so proud of the breakneck speed with which they attack a weekend. It seems that for many, the five o’clock whistle on Friday is now the starting gun for weekend marathons of sports, music, play dates, competitions, church, and yard work. Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday mornings speed by in a blur of busyness. At some point on Sunday afternoon they realize their weekend is over, and it’s time to report how wonderful it was on Facebook, then there’s the stacks of homework, the last of the laundry, milk for breakfast tomorrow…how are we already out of milk?

I bet every single Monday you hear about how busy the weekend was. When was the last time you heard, “I didn’t do a damn thing. It was fucking awesome.” Hearing it from me doesn’t count.

I face every Saturday morning with the same challenge in mind, can I make it through the next two days without feeling obligated to put on my bra. If the answer is yes, all the way till Monday morning, I’ve won.

A couple of months ago there were some changes made at work, and at the following Instructional Aide meeting the principal addressed what must have been heavy on his mind. He showed us a Ted talk. After we watched the video, he spoke briefly about changes coming in education. He said things like more work with less oversight, larger classes with less help, and more flexibility required in jobs. Then he said something I haven’t stopped thinking about. “If you are not passionate about your work here, come to me, ask me, I’ll help you get into that place, that position that you are passionate about. As our end of year interviews loom closer, be thinking about your job here and how you feel about it, because I’m going to ask you, and then I’m going to tell you what I think your answer should be.”

I sat there in the semi-darkness, in the silence, looking around the conference table, and thought to myself, “Is there really someone here for more than a paycheck?”

I understand that people think they have callings in life, and in work. I get that. But, still….hm. It got me thinking. What am I going to tell him at the end of the year? I love parts of my job. I love some of the people at my job. Am I passionate about this job? Do I get up every morning, chomping at the bit, to go do my job?


This job was me satisfying myself that my girls were in a safe environment, a good school. This job was a salve for my homeschooling hackles. This job reminded me how fun it was to have a regular paycheck. And for weeks and weeks I’ve been weighing that regular paycheck against, well, against days like today. My passion comes with a promise, an idea, an expectation, but not a regular paycheck, not yet.

Yesterday, I was reading, (another perk of passion) and came across this bit. “You are amazingly good at something you don’t even like. Imagine how good you’d be at something you love.”


And then there was today, and that yearning, that undeniable desire to finally be passionate, satisfied, engaged, writing, and happy, not busy.


0 thoughts on “Busy, not Happy”

  1. I’m not sure that many are passionate about their jobs. But I know all about busy. I never seem to rest. And if I do I feel guilty because my wife isn’t resting. Still when your principal asks you the question, I would focus on the parts of the job you really like and use that emotion to colour your entire answer.

  2. The way I’m reading what your principal said is that if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing at the school, then you’re not ready for the demands the next year will be putting on you. It’s laying on the guilt and that’s just the wrong way to go about it given that you’ll be expected to do more work with less help, etc.

    I don’t do much during the weekends. I’m not one of those people who have to do something just to be busy. I’m glad I don’t have any overriding need to post something online that I just did. Part of it is probably seeing that my mother never worked when I was growing up; she didn’t have to so she read a lot and gambled (but that’s a whole ‘nother story!). She did work when she moved to the US after my stepdad died and she’s just recently retired. But she’s still happiest just staying at home reading her newsletters about the upcoming recession and the world ending and so we all have to invest in gold bars.

    So glad you got to do nothing today. It does feel good but that’s us writers – even though we’re not doing anything, we’re actually working. Only this time, we’re doing something we love.

    1. It was really wonderful. My girl just snoozed on the couch and I wandered around in my head and did odd jobs. I forget how absolutely decadent if feels after a few years of work.

  3. OMG — I think about this issue SO much. My father is constantly telling me that he “needs to get motivated, needs to get stuff done.” I never say anything, but my kneejerk is always “why? You’re 75.” But I think business is a hedge against actually thinking about the purpose of what we’re doing, or worse, the purposelessness of our lives.

    I really hate administrators who push the “passion” button on people who work in schools. Yes, many people go into education because they are passionate about it, but when push comes to shove they do it for the paycheck. They sure wouldn’t be there teaching for free! I also think it sets a bad example for students. Yes, we want our educational staff to be more cheerful or energetic than not, and we don’t want people who are only phoning it in and don’t bother to put up a front — but way too many students these days have the idea that they can only do something (take a test, turn in an assignment, even attend class) if they are in the “right” mood. Passion makes some things easier, but it also makes some things harder.

    1. I completely agree, re busyness as a distraction. My parents certainly saw/see it as some kind of safety net to keep one from the devils playground. I, on the other hand, see it as quite a tool in the devils hoof. Easily preventing families from truly connecting, burying your potential under an avalanche of must do’s, skewing your vision of what is valuable and what is not, and I’m certainly against anything that prevents my exploration of any playground!
      As for work, I know this isn’t the time of year to make any decisions but I’m more drained this year than ever before and the rumblings I’m hearing about next fall are eroding my desire to try and make any kind of difference.

      1. I think that’s what my brother does; he uses work to avoid his family and alcohol to avoid dealing with his unhappiness about work. But he learned it from his father, so…

        fwiw: exhortations like the one you heard at work the other day usually go awry. The people who are actually doing well feel anxious (because they do really care about their job, and thus worry if they’re doing it effectively), whereas the people it’s intended to jolt weren’t listening anyway. That said, maybe it’s time for a change for you.

        1. It’s so disconcerting to approach the forties and not be completely happy where you are. I know so many who do that exact thing, as well.
          As for work, it does have me ending the year on a very anxious, burnt out note. Perhaps a change is in store.

          1. it’s really hard to know how to motivate — and in my experience, most people get it wrong because it has to be done individually and no one has time for that.

            I think part of it is the feeling of being trapped. I personally don’t have that feeling at the moment, but I used to, and it seems like you’re always bargaining over this issue. I can understand that the prospect of 20-30 more years of “this” is simply paralyzing.

          2. Yes, I think the greater percentage of people self-medicate and wait for the feeling to pass. Maybe it does? I think my problems arose from wanting something ‘something’ (thanks Mr. A) and then making the mistake of getting a taste of it. Now there’s no going back. Forward is straight up at a crawl, but still, no going back.

  4. I, unfortunately, am unrelentingly busy. I don’t think it’s because I enjoy it (or maybe a bit), but I can’t seem to figure out how not to be that busy. I have a hugely demanding job and I have a 15-year-old that requires (for reasons) a lot of time spent trying to help him get through the school year, be involved in sports, and maintain a social life. Does this all make me happy? I’d be much happier not having to do the work part, but needs must. So, what did I decide to do to make myself feel happier and creative and expressing myself? I decided to get busier and write a blog twice a week. Go figure. Yes I’m happier, but I’m also busier. Don’t know the solution.

    1. For some, being busy really ticks the boxes, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfied customers, the payday, the happy children. I only know that it isn’t for me. That being said, am I going to find myself running around in a busy school next fall–probably

      1. If I could win a lottery, though, I would quit work in a minute. I would prefer to focus the busy-ness on home and family.

  5. I love when your writing makes me stop and think. I was in a job that I let get to the point that I hated. But I was also afraid to leave. Thankfully, a huge layoff took the decision out of my hands.

    I currently love my job because my boss truly gets the work life balance (yes that is a buzz word but it’s true). When I am not traveling, working from home, my boss doesn’t bother me. He knows the hectic pace at which we run when on the road. He knows family issues. He knows busy!

    Your principal doesn’t seem to get it? He reminds me of an old boss at my last company who told me during an annual review: “You don’t understand how to make sacrifices” because I didn’t work 16 hours a day during the week and 8 hours on Saturday. I had to inform him that until he puts his newborn son and wife of just 18 months on a plane to the U.S. on a Tuesday then climbed on to a military transport plane headed to a combat zone on Thursday he didn’t understand my concept of sacrifice. I decided when I got back from Desert Storm that my family ALWAYS comes first. Yes, I need to work to provide for my family and yes there are some days with long hours. However, being happy has to come before busy!

    Thanks for your passion for writing!

    1. I think many people think that busy is the only choice. I think we easily get caught up in what everyone else is doing, just today I felt a twinge as I talked to yet another friend who will spend her summer as a taxi service for her kids. I often wonder what my kids will think of their childhood of enforced lazy summers. I wonder if I’m just being selfish, giving myself what I never had. Am I stunting their growth, ruining their college experience while they still frolic in elementary school?
      In my heart I believe I’m not. My kids are everything to me and as they grow I become more and more serious about showing them, modeling for them a balanced life, a joyful life, a way for them to look around and say, I like that, let’s try that, and allow them the flexibility to move and bend and change. Especially vital to me in a world that that demands unreasonably, them taking the time to look around and forsake the popular bit for something they have a bit of passion for.

  6. Amen to this! I believe that many people fear silence and being a lone with themselves and their thoughts. Our inner worlds and spirituality are suffering and being replaced by a superficial existence of more, more, more. This is the death of Dionysus.

    1. Interesting. I’d think that many feel they are honoring Dionysus with their weekend bar bouncing and frantic selfies depicting how wonderful their weekend was.

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