October 11, 2021 Carole Levy

The Existential Frantic Busyness Crisis

It has been a long, dry period with no water in California and no wandering in my mind. 

Since the advent of the Covid era, it’s been a time of frantic busyness for many people in organizations, including us at The Trust Factory.

Frantic busyness due to managing profound change in our work habits and work content – in an anxiogenic social and environmental context – while responding to external demands and wanting to provide our best work despite the frazzled state of our brains.

Frantic busyness with important opportunities and purpose, doing exciting and meaningful work, but still frantically, a mode in which the calendar is always jammed with too much work. 

One of my clients in a large non-profit organization told me that during the first 18 months of Covid, the only thing that kept her anxiety at bay was working. It struck a chord with me.

Although I complain about this mode and have claimed that I want to slow down, I admit that it might be more comfortable to be overwhelmed and stressed, rather than underwhelmed and useless.

I’m not greedy. I don’t have extravagant consumerist desires, and I don’t like waste. In other words, I’m not interested in having more. I’m interested in building something. In a shaky and uncertain world, frantic busyness has kept me solid, focused, and useful – at bay from the abyss of powerlessness and meaninglessness where there is no light at the end of the tunnel of dark thoughts.

Frantic busyness is also the perfect numbing device for existential fears, pain, and hopelessness. The perfect addiction as it produces ego-candies that fuel the machinery of self-worth.

What’s complex about this addiction is that it also produces good results – ones that I wouldn’t change. In the last two years, I crafted valuable material that I might not have crafted if I hadn’t been squeezed and compressed by the quantity of requests and the lack of time. I grew and matured in my practice, and honed my purpose, despite the stress.

Yet I also lost sight of two important aspects of who I am: creativity and playfulness. Playfulness was lost way before Covid, buried under the burden of responsibility, and the fear of not having what it takes to achieve what I want. Old patterns. 

Creativity has dried up in the last seven months. I had no time, energy, or space to let my mind wander, explore silly ideas for writing or cartooning, and invest in activities that wouldn’t be immediately connected to a work delivery.

If it’s true that action absorbs anxiety, the sponge needs to be wrung out (preferably with clean water) – every day. At least every other day. When the sponge is full of toxic angst, dried, and almost fossilized, it becomes useless. 

At the end of August, Jean-Pierre, my partner (in life and at work) spontaneously decided to bring me a cup of coffee in bed at 6:15 am, when I wake up. This created a significant breach in my habit of immediately jumping out of bed to actively start my day – a method that gives no rise to laziness.

After one month of dissonance sipping my cup of coffee in bed and reading books, I discovered that I could also relax and indulge in my creativity for a good 40’ –allowing myself to have my computer in bed, an absolute break in my no-device-in-bed rule.

There is no real change without sacrificing immutable norms. 

Fatigue and fed- upness also help to drop unnecessary rigid boundaries.

There is a growing reflection in the culture to rethink the way we work in our society. It’s concerning as well as exciting for many leaders. You might have heard about the great resignation, the 4-day workweek experimentation, or the 15 hours a week of the hunter-gatherer – those who once worked for what they needed and nothing more.  All worthy of consideration.

So, the conversation will continue, but here is how I want to frame it for myself:

Like a lot of people, I don’t necessarily want to work less, but what I want for sure is to work better and to play more.

Comments (2)

  1. William Moon

    I am feeling the busyness stress acutely since returning to work 3x a week. What resonated with me while reading this is the tension between being practical and exploring potential. The short term accomplishments are super addictive. Thanks for this perspective.

  2. You acutely pinpoint the new reality, and spark hope for seeking a better balance between work and play. We were clearly way out of balance before the pandemic and that is why so many are reevaluating their longterm habits and goals.Thanks again, Carole for your intertwined wisdom and humor.

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