One of the things I’ve noticed now that I’m retired is how often people humble-brag about how busy they are.
Some people love the feeling of constant movement. For them, I totally get it. If you actually love that go-go-go lifestyle, then keep on keeping on. This is not meant to be an indictment of what makes you happy.
I think most of us, however, are emulating the behavior we see in others. We want to be respected, and busyness has become a signal of value. The high comes from believing we are now more respected for our busyness, because everyone wants a piece of us. We are doing it for social recognition. For these folks, I want to tell you that it’s mostly a load of crap, and the sooner you drop that shtick, the happier you’ll be.
Inherent in “Busy-ness as Status Symbol” is the belief that one’s time is extremely valuable. I am completely on board with this premise. But here is where things diverge.
Jam packed schedules suggest to me that someone has an inability to prioritize. If everything is important, nothing is important.
If you truly believe your time is so valuable, how have you allowed it to get sucked into surface-level engagements with the world? When you’re on your deathbed, will you be glad you scheduled a one hour coffee with your work acquaintance from your last job just so you could gossip about your old coworkers? Are you truly glad you went to that cocktail mixer your accountant invited you to?
What does it say about your priority management that you add up the number of hours you’ve spent with close friends vs acquaintances you only sort of like and the latter outweighs the former?
Retirement and The Power of No
People get really excited about the opportunity retirement affords you to say yes to new things. You can try a new hobby, learn a new skill, anything you want. But the freedom you earn will only give you the happiness you seek if you have developed a strong ability to say no. Otherwise, you’ll just find your newfound time filled with equally meaningless stuff as it was during your working days, just more of it. I think of it like that adage about big houses – if you have space, it will somehow magically get filled.
I’ve said no to over half a dozen coffee invitations from people I don’t really have a relationship with who just want to ‘catch up’ and see how my ‘new life chapter’ is treating me. I’ve said no to wearing professional looking clothes and waking up at a certain hour when my body would rather faceplant into a pillow. I think this is perhaps like a pendulum, where you swing a little too far into the opposite zone before settling at a happy medium, so perhaps I’m a little No-happy right now. Regardless, the boost in my happiness post-retirement came not only from adding exciting things to my life, but shedding the negative, mediocre, and unrewarding.
You can benefit from this right now. Because here is the best part: you don’t have to be retired to start. I let inertia carry me into agreeing to socially accepted engagements I had no personal interest in attending while I was working. Start saying no right now, even while working. All it takes is the courage to try it.
In retiring early, you are trying to buy freedom of time. You can walk the walk right now and stop using busy-ness as a status symbol.
Readers, what do your schedules look like? Have you had to deal with cutting the Busy out of your life and are there any techniques you’d recommend?