Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Balance and the Two Kinds of Busy

This week, all of the Everyone Serves bloggers are writing about maintaining balance during deployment. But honestly, I'm not totally convinced that I'm qualified to provide an opinion on this particular subject.

I'm that girl. The one everyone is constantly asking "how do you do all of the things you do?" Army wife; mom to a toddler; partner in a law firm; serving on the boards of (and volunteering for) MSJDN and Leadership Houston. The short answer is: I just GSD! (get stuff done, although certain of my fellow MSJDN Coms Team members use a stronger "S" word...). But I really do. I'm that super busy girl, but I'm the one you can count on to keep my commitments. All of them. Even when there really are too many (it does happen occasionally).

That I GSD doesn't prevent me from being criticized for being too busy, though. In fairness, that puts me in really good company. What ambitious woman hasn't been made to feel like she'd be better served by just staying at home with the kids? Those kinds of remarks make me angry because (1) they are belittling of women who do stay at home with the kids, which is actually a tough job and a lot of work (not to mention, it's ignorant; those moms tend to have other commitments too!); and (2) oh really? Clearly you've underestimated how awesome women are!

Family is always my top priority, but I think that being well-rounded makes me a better mom. I think showing Howie that caring about our community is important, and I hope it instills in him a desire to give back; to give more, even.

"Busy" is a word that is thrown around so much that it has gotten kind of flat and devoid of meaning. Like what can happen to the word "love," which people tend to apply to everything from their favorite caffeinated beverage to their dearest friend. Even though (we hope) in context, the word does not mean remotely the same thing.

Here's my assessment: if we're talking about it as a state of being, there are really two kinds of "busy." There's busy for busy's sake, and then there's busy with a purpose.

You know "Busy's Sake" types. They're everywhere. Someone who piles on obligations to have their name on things, to feel important, to pad a resume, or just to be able to say "oh, I'm so busy!" These are the people who over-commit in the truest sense--they put a dozen things on their plate, then either phone in all of them, or else flake entirely. "Busy's Sake" is ubiquitous, but is not a value added. Not to the person spinning the plates in the air, or to the plates being spun.

I think that even the most well-intentioned of us sometimes have "Busy's Sake" moments in our lives. Usually it's because we just can't say "no." But in the life of the "Busy's Sake," everything suffers. If not in the short term, then certainly in the long term because nothing ever gets full attention. 

That's why for me, it is important to regularly take stock of the things keeping me busy. If I decide that I don't have a good reason for having something on my plate, I fulfill my commitment, but then I don't renew it. It took a long time to learn that lesson. Actually, I'm still learning...

There is another kind of busy: "Busy With Purpose." On the surface, it can look a lot like "Busy's Sake." Up close, they couldn't be more different.

My Uncle Clayton is an elder for a church in West Texas (read: he ministers to people's spiritual needs). I have heard him say on more than one occasion over the years that the way a person reacts to tragedy bears directly on how he/she will come out of it. He said that the people who focus outside themselves, who concentrate on helping others, find their way out of tragedy because they find much-needed perspective in the world around them. The people who focus inward, however, have a much harder time overcoming because all they see is their own pain.

In those conversations, my uncle was talking about loss. But I think the same thing could be said for a lot of other very stressful situations, with deployment ranking at the top of the list. Left to our own devices, we can really fixate on deployment. We can worry so much around the "what if's" and "it's not fairs" that we can drive ourselves insane just stewing.

For me, the stewing has been a long time in the making. Even before deployment, we were a remote family. I could bring myself low in a hurry thinking about all the things Jake misses of our lives by being away, all the things we could be doing if we were together, all the things that might happen while we are far apart. And those thoughts have only been amplified with Jake in Afghanistan.  

So here's the truth: I stay busy so that I don't have time to think the thoughts that threaten to shatter my precariously cobbled veneer of "okayness" into a million pieces. 

Melodramatic? Yes. But it's also probably the most honest thing I've written about the flood of emotion held back by the discipline required to maintain my schedule and commitments. I do it to myself on purpose, and I am well-practiced in staying busy, and focusing on other things (and other people). I do it to keep it together, and I do it to keep myself from wallowing. 

It didn't occur to me, until I started thinking about this post, that this self-regimenting actually amounts to putting my uncle's words into practice. In taking stock of the things with which I fill my time, I realized that I consistently focus my attention outward (but without thinking of it that way in the moment). I do MSJDN because I don't want future military families to have to live the way we live. I do Leadership Houston because I believe that it makes the Houston community better. I'm there for my friends because it lets me focus on what they need instead of what I feel like I lack. And, during my closely guarded weekends and (most) week nights, I focus on my son. Because I want to shower him with love and watch him grow into a better person than me.

And, okay, I also fill my time to hide from my emotions a little. But I can recognize when I need a time-out to just have a good cry, or some mindless fun, with some friends. Actually, I think that Busy With Purpose demands care for self; otherwise, how can you help others? Especially right now, with the added stress of deployment, I'm trying to be intentional about giving myself what I need

What I don't need, though, is to get stuck in the place where all I see is my own pain. 

I don't ever want to be a Busy's Sake. When I've reached the point where a commitment no longer helps people, no longer adds value for me or for my family, I hope I have the good sense to walk away from it. 

But I'm okay being Busy With Purpose. I need things in life that push me outside of myself. They make the world around me better. I hope they teach my son the importance of giving. And, like blogging, they keep me sane and steady as I go.

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