I used to be so busy I didn't have time to pee. My email inbox was so overloaded that NBC's IT department gave me special dispensation for more storage. I had two phones and a pager, and sometimes they beeped all night.
It was exhausting. And it was exhilarating.
I told myself I was getting a lot of important things done. Plenty of people wanted to see me. There were big problems to solve and important questions people wanted me to answer. For years, I never turned down a work request. I was always "on."
It took a bike crash and months of recovery for me to question the pace of my life and wonder: what was I running away from? The answer to that question changed my marriage and my life.
What's Your Real Commitment?
Busyness is a common complaint in the professional circles Meg and I lived in. Many smart, driven executive types we knew claimed to have everything they wanted and yet constantly complained about never having enough time to enjoy it.
And then I learned that the best way to see what someone is really committed to is to look not at words, but at results. Sort of a corollary to the rule that "actions speak louder than words."
So judging by the results, everyone I knew -- including myself -- was committed to being busy. Why?
Busyness: the Socially Acceptable Addiction
Busyness is one of the few socially acceptable addictions in our society. Like all addictions it has some powerfully attractive features -- like adrenaline, one of the most addictive brain chemicals -- and some useful downsides.
The adrenaline jolt I got from overstuffed agendas and looming deadlines was a reliable source of excitement. There was hardly a greater high to validate my existence than racing through 30 Rock with videotape for the network satellite player.
But if that was the junkie high that got me hooked, other benefits kept me in the grip of busyness. One of the best things about being busy is that I had a great excuse for not doing things I didn't want to do, like racing around on Saturday mornings for the kids' sporting events when really what I wanted was time to myself and with my family.
What Are You Not Facing?
Yes, I learned that busy people are seen as heroic figures just trying to do their best to meet high expectations. Even if they are missing out on large swaths of family and social life, busy people get a huge pass from almost everyone.
I had a growing awareness that my reality was different: I was staying busy to run away from the things I most feared.
Instead of wondering whether I was in over my head at work, I could point to my packed calendar as proof that I was a valuable member of the team. Instead of facing that I didn't know how to connect with my young daughter, I could busy myself with responding to email or a ringing phone. It was all very convenient.
That pretty much ended after my bicycle collided with an SUV. Not only did eight days in the hospital (and months on mind-bending pain killers) give me a forced break with busyness, the near-death experience gave me some perspective. I was happy to be alive and suddenly felt the impetus to actually make some changes instead of just talk about them.
The True Cost of Busy
On one of the many hazy post-crash days, I actually sat down and listed the things I was avoiding. I clearly saw the cost of my busyness, on my own health and enjoyment and on all of my close relationships.
That's when I saw I had a choice: stay busy and glide along the surface of my relationships or slow down and make time to face my fears, inadequacies and unknowns. So even though I didn't have a big answer to creating rich relationships, I found lots of little ways to begin letting go of the cult of busyness and open the way to deeper connection.
Tim Peek is a certified executive coach who advises leaders and their teams on using disruption, consciousness, and strategy to create their desired future. www.peekdisruption.com and www.conscious.is/who-we-are
Meg Dennison is a certified conscious leadership coach who has reinvented herself many times. She coaches busy women midpoint in their life or career to consciously create their next step based on genius and life goals. www.megdennison.com
Together, Meg and Tim write about how they turned around what had become a stale and uninspiring 28-year marriage to return to the passion and purpose to their lives. Motivated executives come to Meg and Tim for help reinvigorating their careers, companies and intimate relationships.