We are told through advertisements, through family, through friends, “Don’t worry!” Be stress free. Give up self-doubt and stress. Live life successfully free. Now, if it’s an ad, then it will tell you to accomplish this through the product they are trying to sell. A shampoo commercial flashes a gorgeous model with luxurious hair telling, “You don’t have to do anything to worry about how your hair looks except buy our product! All will be taken care of!”
Friends and family tell us to relax through many activities. Hanging out with friends could mean grabbing a pizza, going hiking, watching a movie, going to dinner, kayak, fly fish, etc. The list goes on and on. Family has become about game nights, basketball games, cooking a meal together, or cleaning the house. We live in a world of “doing.” Even our activities that are supposed to help us relax are activities that we fill our lives with. Our schedules are busy and filled with activities that will improve us and help us to escape the anxieties of life.
Why do we need to escape?
What is so horrible about life that we need a movie or a game to detract from what’s happening? What is so stressful that we procrastinate on over and over again? Fear drives us to be busy and to fill our lives. Fear also drives us to be good at the things that stress us out. When I was in school, I felt this strongly. I was an overachiever. Getting an “A” meant “Alright,” a “B” meant “Bad,” a “C” was “Critical.” Anything below a “C” in any subject would’ve been the equivalent of a mental breakdown, even if I disliked the subject or wasn’t particularly good at it. In high school, the overachievers were the top fifty students and they were cutthroat. GPA’s measured class standing, and it would get down to .0001 between students. This could determine your place of 21st or 22nd in the class. It might end in tears, or worse not being accepted to your top college.
Overachieving is a symptom of being busy. As an overachiever, I know that I worry so much. I try to make my life look as easy as possible. I have had several people tell me how “effortless” my life looks and how successful I seem. I won’t lie, I’m often flattered by these “compliments.” They’re not really compliments. Why do I want my life to look like I’m not trying, like I’m not living it? So then when I’m compared to people who seem like they are, I win some sort of prize in the game of life? A measure of success has become an overwhelmingly busy yet stress free and effortless life. It seems like an oxymoron.
But why do we worry so much?
The more I see, the more I worry. When I fill my life with things, with ideas, and with desires, I worry more. Often, I can’t prioritize what’s important because it’s all important to me. This lack of prioritization keeps me spinning in all kinds of directions. The more we fill our lives with busyness, the more we have to think about, the more we try to be successful at busyness by balancing it. But it’s sort of like having a plate spinning on a stick for every activity we do. We worry for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is that if we don’t do all these activities, we’re suddenly not enough. These activities become all important and consume our life. They define who we are. We feel that by dropping these actions, these “doing’s”, means dropping ourselves.
So, what happens when we stop spinning the plates?
They come crashing down, and we have to clean up the mess? What does it matter? Is that it? We stop doing these activities? Does the world end? Are millions of lives at risk? Do children become orphans? Is our lifetime achievement award given to someone else? Are we no longer the person whose name is on our birth certificate? No. We’re still the same person, maybe even more so now without all our distractions. Our over achievement and need to fill our lives is pointless. It doesn’t cement our love for people. Our actions of spending time with people are merely a simple expression of love. But like saying something over and over, it begins to lose its meaning if we do it so often, if we’re stressed when we say it. Often the more we say something, the less significance it seems to hold as people stop listening to something being repeated.
The truth is: We are not better than anyone else and filling our lives with things that make us feel that we are is false. Defining ourselves in a role is often a way to make ourselves feel secure, because when we strip that, what are we left with? I suppose you have to drop the plates to really find out.