Yes to Me, No to Being Busy

Back when I was a new wife, new mother, teacher, community activist and graduate student (all at the same time), I grew so accustomed to juggling multiple demanding roles with ease that I mastered the art of busyness. Having been so driven, while still in my twenties, required me to balance the demands of equally fulfilling roles and made me a literal magnet for an unending number of people and causes in need of nurturing. I used to: teach the children all school year, volunteer to spearhead extra-curricular clubs and student service initiatives, unofficially “adopt” the children most in need of nurturing and contribute to raising them by taking them home, feeding and clothing them, before I even had a child of my own. As if that weren’t enough, I also maintained an active community presence as an educator-activist, church presence as an officer, family presence as an elder child/grandchild and I regularly volunteered to organize and teach in Vacation Bible School (each summer). Then I would exhaustively wash, rinse and repeat this cycle of charitable giving and service each year until I literally had nothing else to offer. I was a self-avowed Superwoman. A loving, nurturing and other-centered “people pleaser” who derived genuine satisfaction from knowing that I had somehow been a blessing to others. In retrospect, it was a meaningful period of selflessness, to be sure, but what a dangerous pattern I adopted for always putting myself last – from a personal and spiritual development perspective. It’s easy now in middle age, to see the many pitfalls of an other-centered vocation and existence, and this is perhaps something that all educators, doctors, nurses, clergy (or other people engaged in professional service work), must privately endure. So, in the spirit of life lessons and transparency, it is my sincere hope that someone else might learn to say yes to themselves and an emphatic NO to being busy.

At the height of my period of busyness, I actually believed that I was fully immersed in the moments and otherwise living my best life. Huh! Oprah would never be so unimpressed than to find one struggling to find themselves through the lens of other people and various social justice causes; and all the while neglecting the arduous self reflection and spiritual, inner growth required to be a fully evolved person who truly contributes to the world. Needless to say, I carried on in the aforementioned, full scale service driven manner for 20 years, but now in my 40s, I have learned my lesson of mandated spirit-soul work, the hard way – via an unforeseen health challenge and (virtually overnight) financial and career uncertainties. However, as a convert to the vast benefits of beginning again as preferable to being forced into introspection and “me time” through trials, I implore all people (especially women-the natural caretakers of the universe), to afford ourselves the time and space needed to grow gracefully.

Even during the current phase of self reflection and care, because old habits die hard, I was still fulfilling benchmarks of maturity and success because I obsessively set and accomplished professional goals and never ceased to be rewarded with symbolic signs of advancement for my tireless work ethic. However, I am convinced that professional advancement is not an indication of readiness for a life well lived and no matter how fulfilling life appears, from the outside looking in, we cannot avoid the tough inner work which prepares us for meeting life’s obstacles with ease. From an entirely honest perspective, I continually, albeit willingly emptied my own cup of plenty and gave to others to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. In this sense, I was unconsciously but foolishly avoiding the calling of my spiritual self to slow down, balance the scales and to take stock of the next best decisions in life. Ultimately, the impact of neglecting self love, self actualization and eschewing important, inner spirit work was apparent in my curiously increasing and unwanted weight gain and manifested in irreparably broken personal relationships – but by the time these negative implications are visible to the outside world, the real damage has already been done within. Though it still baffles me how very easily I embraced “busyness” as a means to serve the world and other people and to accomplish external goals, powerful life lessons have been learned and I truly do understand it better, by and by.

I am now a divorcée, proud mom of an increasingly independent and well adjusted young adult, a college professor and a small business owner who must of necessity, use all of my available free time wisely. Based upon my still very full plate of multiple responsibilities, there are still some infrequent days when I am busy, but admittedly nothing is more valuable than the time I devote to my own fortress of solitude to engage in spiritual work. For me, the painful reminder of past health challenges (while in the throes of busyness), and the ever present urgency to eat right, exercise and prioritize the spirit in order to ensure optimal health and strength; makes my life the literal poster child for the cautionary tale that life lived in a persistent state of “doing”, even when your frenzy is in service to others less fortunate, has an inevitable screeching halt of an ending.

Busyness is NOT living your best life. It’s simply doing too much – especially when pivotal spiritual growth is somehow divorced from our actions.

Maybe it’s during childhood, when we become conditioned to ignoring our own unique inner voices to retreat from the world and adopt conformity to the world’s frenzied expectations. In doing so, we cease loving ourselves unconditionally and honoring that inner voice which compels us to be self actualized persons, fully formed and powerful spirit beings each on our divine paths. This creates an internal imbalance which we mask with external patches and bandages while ignoring the deep wounds and pain underneath. For some people, it’s what drives us to eat to excess, indulge in habit forming drug, alcohol addictions, engage in unhealthy relationships or as in my case become a dangerously obsessive busybody, professional goal chaser and people pleaser faced with my own unforeseen health issue and crisis of conscience, at the same time.

Thankfully, we live and learn and with every passing day, month, year . . . we have each been granted an opportunity to begin again. The truth of it all is that we must learn to balance the entire complexity of our lives with grace because we are required to do so, from an innate calling to be whole. It is an exercise in futility to keep avoiding the importance of self-development and drowning our sorrows in food, alcohol, drugs, OPP (other people’s problems), or the countless other vices from which we suffer. It’s so much more beneficial, though admittedly harder, to spend time alone and be purposeful in our: thoughts, prayers, meditation, positive affirmations, exercise, self-talk and then to seamlessly align our actions with the fruits of our spirit and souls. But I suspect that the reward is worth the mammoth amount of effort on our parts.

So, for as long as possible in 2019, I resolve to begin again . . . No pronouncements (save this therapeutic blog), public declarations or professional goals in mind. For the first time, in my 40+ years – I have simply set my sights on ME and this is admittedly new territory. Sadly, I have already unintentionally disillusioned some family and friends who are used to a lifetime of me giving and never putting myself first. So for the people to whom I am closest, my emphatic no or need to retreat from the world to fully heal that which ails me, feels like a rejection of them or an absence of my love. Still, I must resist falling back into old patterns and people pleasing in order to live up to others’ expectations of me, when I have yet to fulfill my own divine destiny to myself. So, here’s to: self healing, deep reflection, health and wellness and all things positive which are bound to emerge from the requisite task of doing our own self work. Cheers to our conscious attempts to begin again.

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Published by Nefertari Nkenge

Nefertari Nkenge, Ed.D. is a well respected transformative leader in pedagogy. The unique combination of over two decades of classroom instruction, curriculum/professional development innovation, urban school administrative leadership and a lifelong commitment to grassroots activism and social justice - informs the empowering Educate to Liberate model.

5 thoughts on “Yes to Me, No to Being Busy

  1. As women we are given to “people pleasing” I think. It’s a role we sometimes embrace willingly, at others it is foisted on us. At any rate I am glad you are taking time to heal, to grow, and to begin again. I applaud you. You go, girl!

    Liked by 1 person

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