Something I’ve always loved— first as a befuddled medical student, now as a (even more dazed) new mom— is spying on people. Specifically: people who are doing things beautifully, yet make it look easy.
So, Ben from immunology section, you with the 20-pack of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens— I officially stole your concept, and began color-coding my notes in 0.3mm pens. Shannon, with your HappyBaby Organic Spinach Puffs at our country club dinner table: why yes, my son also eats those (now), imagine the coincidence…
As part of my longitudinal creepin’ strategy, I’ve noticed this time of year ushers in widespread activity and lengthening to-do lists, all with a certain, frantic, cortisol-aroma undertone.
It’s the most Busy-ful time of the year— but wait, aren’t we supposed to “ban busy”?
We’re supposed to be comfortable saying NO, supposed to put ME first, supposed to focus IN. We’re supposed to turn off our phones, and walk away.
Isn’t it intriguing that, simultaneously, we’re intended to reach out more, ask for help more? We’re exhorted to Develop our Community, a Tribe that will Pick Up The Phone At 3am.
My question for the season is: if we’re turning down commitments, if we’re turning away from our availability— who is supposed to be “there for you” when you need help? Controversially: can you even ask for the help, if you deny giving it to others?
Would my grades have improved if Ben from immunology hadn’t taken an afternoon to show me the secret handshake of intense organization, distilling essentials from a Pulitzer Prize-winner’s (heavy-handed) presentation? Would my son have made a little friend, and would I have learned the panacea of American snacks, had Shannon not inconvenienced herself to join our table (in spite of the ongoing hunger tantrum)?
Admittedly, I am an early investor in Banning Busy. I need an almost startling amount of quiet time: time flipping a page, time clicking a keyboard, time watching YouTube reviews of luxury bags I will never (ever) buy. I’ve learned to Say No; to prove it, during this nap time, my phone has not gone off once.
Wait. My phone has not gone off once.
No one needs me.
Therein lies the ugly underbelly of banning busy: isolation. Has this movement come to the point of banning… life? Isn’t that what life is: being connected, being needed, being helpful? If you are perfecting the art of saying no: are you also perfecting the art of loneliness? How many NOs does it take until there are no more requests— until you have created a perfectly relaxed community… of one.
So to those of you who are “so busy” this season: thank you. Thank you for giving your love to those around you: giving your love in the form of your time, your caring, your interest. Thank you for checking in on the old friend you haven’t heard from recently, for bringing that casserole to a new mom, for covering the suddenly empty spot at choir, for wrapping those beautifully-chosen gifts with such precision. Thank you for driving your aunt two hours to her appointment.
You are the community we should celebrate, you are the antidote to isolation. Call it whatever you want: busy, engaged, participating. But please don’t feel guilt over being busy. Please feel the supportive love of gratitude, and the fullness of life you built around you. Please enjoy the hustle and bustle, and be absorbed in the moments you have created. Without you, where would any of us be?
And please remember: you deserve the support of the community, just as much as anyone else.
Just ask Ben and Shannon: how delicious were those brownies? (It took me three days to perfect the recipes during finals and teething— boy, was I busy then.)
Giannina Muncey, M.D., is an intensivist, writer, and mom. She trained at Hopkins and Harvard, lives in south Florida, and secretly thinks she would be a great CMO for Stars Hollow Hospital.