Friday, March 27, 2015

The Culture of Busyness and Perfection

Photo Credit: Celalteber
Today I had lunch with a dear friend. I work in natural health, and she works in human resources and career coaching. Our conversation drifted to living a good life, as it often does, and we both came to the same conclusion: people are killing themselves trying to live up to a culture of busyness and perfection.

Everyone is busy, everyone has too much to do, and it's the excuse for rudeness, for missing family time, and for any let-down. The trouble is, it's a real excuse. When you cram every second of your day with more obligations than you can manage, you will let stuff go. But no one seems to do much about it. Why don't we pare down activities? Why don't we refuse a dinner date with the co-worker who gets on our nerves? And why, when we do let things go, it's things we love--friends and loved ones and leisure--instead of the things we hate, like long hours at a job that takes too much from us, or social outings that are more obligations than fun?

Enter the culture of perfection. You can do it all, and be a perfect weight, perfect physique, have five time consuming hobbies and everyone loves you. If you can't keep up, don't tell anyone, because then you are not part of the group. Do your Pilates (or Tough Mudder marathon), show up at the right restaurants, go to your book club, or fundraiser, or cocktail party. Check your watch if you must, because you're killing your soul, and go to sleep at 2am (but get up at 5am because early risers are the most productive). But be perfect. If you aren't then you're a loser.

"People won't even poop at work," I said, sharing an article on "workplace bathroom anxiety" I found recently. (While looking for the article online, I found pages of articles with strategies to "do a big job" in the office discreetly.) 

"Of course not," my friend said. "The boss might come in." 

What has life become when basic biological functions that are common to everyone cannot be done in the space dedicated to them? When you can't admit to you co-workers, who you see for more hours than your family, that you are not perfect? Where is the safe place everyone needs to be themselves? 

For many, it's not with their family. Too many people use busyness to cover up an unhappy marriage, or to fill their belief that if they aren't perfect their mate or children or parents won't love them. So they work, and they work, and try to find all their fulfillment in activities and jobs. 

My husband and I have downtime. More than most people. We watch movies together, we sit around and read books in the same room, sometimes sharing an interesting passage, and, mostly, we let each other be fallible. I cannot imagine the lives I hear about from some patients, where their every moment is scheduled and judged by someone who expects them to give everything to that moment. Living under that burden changes how you interact--you won't tell people you're tired, so those around you don't realize you need space, or you tell everyone you're overburdened, and suck the joy and life from any room you enter.

How about we try something else? I invite you to join me. Let's dump the Culture of Busyness, and the Culture of Perfection. Let's join the Culture of Authenticity. Our group is made up of imperfect people who want to grow. We know time in contemplation, in sitting with others for friendship and fun, and in dealing with problems instead of distracting ourselves with another activity, are valuable for our productivity, mental and emotional health. We take time off when we're sick. We limit multi-tasking. We go to the bathroom. This culture does may not know who the "it" designer is this season, and we may spend more time at home than off networking, but when we give ourselves to a task, we can give ourselves completely. We give what we have, and then we recharge. We spend less time at doctors and more time getting massages and talking to our kids and spouses and friends. Join us--we have room for you.