When walking away makes sense

An Cailín Rua

BUSY MYTH Being busy is not a badge of honour, it can signal an imbalance in your life.

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

“How are you?”
“Great thanks. Busy.”
If I had a fiver for every time over the past five years I have responded in this manner, I would be able to retire instantly (and not be busy, which would be no bad thing). But everyone you meet these days is busy. And some of us are not wearing it well.
Life post-pandemic feels a bit frantic. Like everything that was put on hold during the first lockdown has re-emerged, and is now marked urgent. Whether it be work or voluntary activities, it feels like there are never enough hours in the day, nor days in the week, to get everything we’d like to or need to get done finished, and still have time to do the nice stuff.
And why is that? Because some of us are perhaps, simply martyrs to being busy. Some of us can’t say no. Some of us are afraid to walk away from things that are no longer serving us well. And in being this way, we are probably doing ourselves and the people around ourselves a disservice.
We Irish are people-pleasers, for the most part. Many of us seek approval, or to be liked. We also don’t like letting people down, or ourselves for that matter, if we have committed to something. Frequently, when people come seeking our time and effort, either for work or leisure, we tend to agree, without evaluating our own situations first, or without prioritising ourselves. And in failing to say no, or by saying ‘yes’ too quickly, we set ourselves up for actual failure.
Being ‘busy’ has become some sort of badge of honour, a means to feeling needed, or self-important. When really, it probably comes down to the fact that we are not working smartly enough, not saying ‘no’ enough, or simply spending too much time working on things that don’t inspire us or bring us joy.
All of this comes down to prioritisation, and prioritisation of our own wellbeing. When you become so busy that you don’t have time to do the important stuff, like spend time with loved ones, or get a good night’s sleep, or simply enjoy any downtime, it’s time to re-evaluate.
As I have found out recently, there does come a point where it all becomes too much, and something has to give. For me, it was spending successive nights after a long day of work and other commitments staring at a screen long into the night, trying to research and write a dissertation, and getting nowhere. More often than not, I could barely keep my eyes open, but felt I had to stay awake and keep trying.
I had no headspace to think, and less interest in thinking. Days turned into weeks of feeling wracked with guilt if I was doing something other than reading or writing. Any downtime – like going to a game – resulted in days of self-flagellation afterwards and frantic juggling of all the other stuff to catch up. But I still wasn’t catching up.
So I made a decision. Having signed up for the MA when things were a hell of a lot quieter, it was starting to become apparent that I simply didn’t have the capacity to see it through. After a lot of torturous soul-searching, I dropped out. And being honest, it feels great. I took the option of a deferral, because I don’t see myself as a quitter (and hope springs eternal). I will eventually return and get those two letters.
The reaction from loved ones was mixed. I could see in some of their eyes that they felt I had taken the easy way out, walking away while the going got tough. And they are absolutely correct – that is exactly what I did. I prioritised. Yes, some might say I’ve failed. My own pride is definitely dented. But at the same time, I’m fine with failure, as long as it’s my decision. In fact, it is from failures that we learn.
Reluctantly walking away for the right reasons and for the sake of more important things feels infinitely better than sticking with something that’s not working for the sake of it. For now, I’m just grateful to be a bit less busy.