Why are we so occupied with busyness?
Is there not more to life than numbers and quotas and corporate ladders?
When we look back on our lives will we (or anyone) remember how many widgets we sold or what titles we earned? Of course not. Instead, we will remember the people we loved, the places we went, and the passions we pursued. We will not cherish our cubicles (or corner offices), but the world outside those walls: the mountains, deserts, beaches; and the people we enjoyed those places with. We spend far too much time being busy, and not nearly enough time anxiously engaged in meaningful, rewarding work.
Tim Kreider recently wrote in the New York Times that:
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
I often wonder if there isn’t a better way to live our lives than entrenched in the tunnels of freeway commutes, office buildings, and meetings.
We are an innovative species. Our world is cleaner, smaller, and more connected than ever before. And yet, we operate in an outdated paradigm of “office hours” and “work days.” Why haven’t we used the mobility and technology of 2012 to unravel the rigidity and compliance of 1950?
Tradition? Efficiency? Security? Fear? Are we really so afraid to declare independence from the tyranny of longevity?
Kreider wonders if “…all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”
The best moments of our lives are being overshadowed by pursuits that have no lasting benefit or social payoff. The routine tasks of the office are hardly important enough to monopolize our entire day, our entire lives. We timidly acknowledge holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays, only to rush back to the office, to the desk, and to the false security of busyness. Even our vacations are busily spent running from one attraction to the other. Why do we resist stillness?
Surely, there is a better way?
But escaping the labyrinth of tradition and predictability is difficult. Maybe impossible (right now). Life, after all, demands that we eat.
And that’s why I race my bicycle.
I can’t simply walk away from my job. Not yet. Nevertheless, bike racing is a window into a different world. A world of clarity and simple ideals.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.
Bike racing is, to the overworked and the busy, meaningless. It is idle indulgence, especially for the amateur. At least commuting by bike serves a utilitarian function. But racing? Racing is for the delusional and the irresponsible. It is a waste of valuable time and money. “You paid how much for your bike?” But we know differently. We have each experienced the joy of fitness and the acuity of competition. We know that racing requires training, and training requires long, often lonely, hours on the bike.
As we ride, we think. We learn. We daydream, imagine, and puzzle out the large questions that plague our lives. For a few hours we are alone, and free to follow the road or the trail as far as we want to go. Busyness is forgotten, and we are reminded that we are at our best as men, as mankind, when we are chasing ideals. And there is nothing more ideal than racing bikes. We pedal after ideal fitness, ideal results, and fleeting perfection.
Maybe in the near future we will learn how to reconcile work and passion, income and joy. But if we must toil away the better part of our days inside the gray monotony of the office, let us then escape on our bikes for a time. Let us remember that creative breakthroughs require solitude, freedom, and a blank, empty calendar.
Take a spontaneous day off. Spend another hour riding. Extend your vacation. Take your kids hiking. Watch another movie with your wife.
Stop pretending to be so busy. “Life is too short to be busy.”