This book is getting lots of positive press. I heard Schulte, a Washington Post reporter, interviewed on National Public Radio (her husband is Tom Bowman, NPR’s Pentagon reporter). She’s likable and insightful, but most people will say they don’t have time to read Overwhelmed because they’re so. . . overwhelmed.
I’m not overwhelmed. Haven’t been for a few months. I hesitate to admit that because our culture values being busy, overextended, overwhelmed, pick your synonym. In fact, the busier one is, the more status they enjoy. For anyone under age 65, being busy is the only socially acceptable choice. If you intentionally step off the treadmill of long work hours and hectic family life, you threaten not just the status quo, but many of your neighbors’ and friends’ lifestyles.
Busyness provides more subtle benefits too. One friend of mine routinely rips me for working half-time, meaning full time some parts of the year and none at others. He doesn’t have to worry about me asking him for any type of meaningful help because he makes it clear he doesn’t have the time. Busyness provides a buffer. His life is more predictable and less messy as a result.
When was the last time someone asked you for more than some sugar or a few eggs? For genuine help? That’s a litmus test of sorts on where you fall on the “perceived busyness” continuum.
Social scientific research repeatedly points to close personal friendships and a strong sense of community as key ingredients to fulfilling lives. Extreme work habits often conspire against those things. But let’s dig a little deeper into why my lack of busyness upsets my friend so much.
With a nice suburban house to maintain; three cars; two teenagers with college on the horizon; and insufficient retirement savings; he’d say he can’t afford to slow down. In fact, he needs to work a little bit harder each year since his company keeps raising his team’s sales targets. Except when he complains incessantly about his job, I don’t begrudge him his choices or his lifestyle, I know they’re deeply personal, but what I resent is his unwillingness to show me the same respect. His choice is the only choice. Something is wrong with anyone who chooses differently.
Slowing down has taught me that time is the greatest luxury of all. Working part-time gives me ample opportunity to think about these types of things. One insight I’ve come to is that when I was newly married at 26 years old; living in a small, one bedroom apartment; riding my mountain bike to work; I was just as happy as I am now with our much larger home and garage filled with cars. Why? We were healthy, the apartment was clean, it had lots of natural light, and we had friends—who weren’t overwhelmed yet—in neighboring apartments who we depended upon and socialized with on occasion.
My friend is like many people today who think their lives will be better if they just buy a larger house, a fancier car, a lighter road bike*. So they work longer, borrow more, willfully take on more and more stress and look askance at anyone who deviates from those norms.
* that was just to see if you were paying attention, a lighter road bike will make your life better, especially if you find yourself pedaling uphill