I’m sitting in a crowded Chick Fil A right now, sipping on iced coffee and mowing down a cold bowl of oatmeal I packed for breakfast. This particular Chick Fil A franchise offers free small iced coffees (truly free – no purchase necessary) every Thursday, and God bless them for it, because that weekly tradition is a huge blessing to poor, sleep-deprived grad students like myself. And as I sit here sucking down that sweet, sweet caffeine, I should be basking in the relief of having just slaughtered a midterm exam in the best way possible.
I should be excitedly making arrangements for my weeklong trip home that starts this weekend.
I should be enjoying the fact that today is my last day of class before spring break.
I should be taking advantage of the huge chunk of free time I have between my midterm and my next class.
I should be texting friends and family and planning adventures for when I’m home.
I should be cracking open textbooks and catching up on the reading that I so often neglect in favor of sleep.
I should be blogging, since I haven’t updated this little corner of the internet in ages.
I should be, I should be, I should be, I should be…
But what am I actually doing?
I’m flipping back and forth between my laptop – where I’m switching between news websites and two separate email accounts –
…and my phone – where I’m going from my text messages to instagram to facebook to snapchat and back –
…and one of three notebooks, where I’m writing out to-do lists and packing lists and reminders for emails to send and appointments to update.
Needless to say, this is anything but what I should be doing. But this is what I almost always do. As I’ve told a couple friends recently, I can’t remember the last time I did just one thing at a time. Unless sleeping counts, but even then, half the time I end up taking clothes off or rearranging my pillows or doing something besides letting my REM cycle do its thing.
So why is it so hard to stop? I don’t think I’m alone in this. Most of us living in the 21st century, and especially my millenial generation, have a hard time slowing down. I love being busy, I love working, I love having a full schedule, and I love going full throttle 24/7. But this isn’t busy, this is chaos. Not the good chaos, either.
Good chaos is a family reunion where conversations overlap until you can’t make out anything but laughter and hugs.
Good chaos is Christmas morning in your parents’ living room.
Good chaos is your first day at college.
Good chaos is graduation day.
Good chaos is the starting line of a marathon.
Good chaos is that first whiskey-flavored kiss.
Good chaos is a full of excitement and joy and laughter and butterflies in your belly and your heart in your throat and light in your eyes.
This is shoulders hunched up by my ears and feet tapping incessantly and having to straighten my posture and stretch every few minutes. Already twice since I got here an hour ago, I’ve had to literally remind myself to breathe, because I catch myself unintentionally holding my breath. This is not productive, and it’s not the kind of work I crave. It’s not what “full throttle” should feel like. It’s not a full life, it’s a life full of busyness.
Isn’t that the plague of our generation? We’re too busy, doing too many things, to actually accomplish anything of meaning.
We can cultivate multiple social media accounts and build significant followings on those platforms without cultivating any significant relationships with individuals we know in real life. We can acquire multiple degrees and certifications and extensive resumes without actually building any kind of real career or doing significant work. We can spend our days doing so many things without actually doing much of anything.
And I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I want. Because as much as I love working hard, I love it because I want that work to count for something. When I’m busting my ass, I want it to propel me somewhere. There are miles to go and goals to be met, but all too often – like this morning – I find myself spinning my wheels without ever leaving the parking lot. And why the hell is that?
Why can’t I focus?
Why can’t I let go of the nonessentials?
Why can’t I monotask?
Why can’t I slow down?
Why can’t I dive into something and be fully present in the work?
Why can’t I do as the psalmist said and “Be still and know…” (Psalm 46:10)?
And I realize this is getting kind of existential for a post that started out about free coffee. This is something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, though, and I’d venture it might have crossed your mind a time or two as well. I know that I am as type-A as they come, neurotic as hell, and I struggle with OCD and anxiety, so my experience with this soul-sucking busyness might be different than others’. But that hollow “busyness” that does and does and does and does without actually doing anything of meaning is something that I reckon most of us have known a time or two. I want to explore that in a series of posts, and you’re invited to join in. In fact, I hope you will join in. I don’t want this to be a lineup of posts about being too busy or how we need to do less in order to do more – I want an ongoing discussion of what it means to work deeply and do things well and be both goal-oriented and present in the moment. It’s a lot to tackle, and I’ve got a lot of questions I want to crack open, and it’s probably going to get messy.
But I have a feeling that will be the good kind of chaos.
I hope yall are ready to wade through the messiness with me.
If any of this resonates with you or piques your interest, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.