Society often puts pressure on us. Pressure to be pretty. Pressure to be rich. Successful. Married. Happy. The list goes on.
But when it comes to my day-to-day life, I’ve noticed another weight on my shoulders—something more subtle but equally daunting. I feel pressured to be busy. To always have a full schedule—work, school, social life, family time, time for spirituality.
Since high school, I have found that in order to feel like I was being the best version of myself, I had to constantly be doing. I often skipped much-needed down time because I was frantically trying to do all the things I thought would make me seem accomplished. Swimming, softball, jazz band, youth group, work . . . and that’s not even all of them. On paper, I was accomplished. But in real life, I was miserable.
I didn’t have it in me to continue that lifestyle. I needed a change. It was time to choose a college, so I chose a smaller school and didn’t immediately join a bunch of groups or clubs. I didn’t even start working until later in the year. I took a small amount of credits and kept my schedule as open as possible. I decided to reorder my life so that I could have enough time for the activities I needed most, such as sleeping, working out, prayer, and spending time with my family.
At first, breaking the cycle of constant doing in order to sit in silence and reflect was incredibly difficult. But over time those moments of quiet became the most important in my entire day. They set the tone and allowed me to gain perspective. I was finally able to complete a nice workout. I could spend some time reading the news. I had time to do all my homework . . . before 3 a.m.
Despite an obvious improvement in my routine, I found myself overwhelmed with a feeling of utter worthlessness.
I began to notice how envious I was of girls who seemed to be doing and achieving so many things. More things than me. Was I missing out because of my new, more balanced life? Is stretching yourself too thin worth it in order to be seen always doing? Am I cooler if I can go to lunch with my friends and impress them just by saying, “I’m so busy!”
Now that I no longer placed as much emphasis on my busyness, from where was I finding personal fulfillment?
I asked myself some hypothetical questions. Would I still love myself if I were five pounds heavier? Are my thoughts important if no one has liked them on social media? Do I still believe I am valuable if I am not the employee putting in the most hours?
I had to face that the answers were all no. Every day I fight thoughts that tell me I’m not good enough—thoughts that say if I haven’t done all my homework, worked out, seen my friends, been to the store, and put in a shift at work, then I haven’t done enough. The more activities I juggled, the more I felt worthy of love and praise.
I realized I had been deriving my self-worth solely from a checked-off to-do list.
I have reexamined the reasons why I take part in the activities in which I am involved. Besides making money, why do I work? Teaching swimming lessons, I picture the wide eyes of a young child being able to float alone for the first time. I’m making a difference in the lives of these children. When I can’t keep up with homework, or my grades begin to drop, I remind myself that I’m not only in school for a degree. I study because I love to learn, read, and write. Besides wanting to be fit, I work out because I love that exhausted feeling after a hard workout. I learned to keep these motivators for my daily endeavors in the back of my mind. Whether I meet my expectations or not, I still view my time as well-spent and worthwhile.
Contrary to being unproductive, time spent in silent reflection has allowed me to think more deeply about the person I want to be and why. I looked to the lives of the women around me whom I admire. My older sister, for example. She is so passionate about her work and making a difference in her students’ lives. My college girlfriend finds laughter in the smallest instances. She makes everyone around her feel at ease. It turns out that the traits I like most about them hardly involve their accomplishments.
I don’t respect them because they’re perfect friends, students, athletes, or workers. Instead, I cherish their bubbly attitudes, unceasing faith, and joyful love of life. I had to find a way to see myself in the same way.
But how do I balance work, school, play, and other duties so that they don’t again define my beauty and dignity?
I still don’t have the answer. I think working toward this balance is part of our life’s unending work. I am still a full-time college student working two jobs. But I now work because I enjoy serving others this way. I take classes because I love to discover. I no longer do these things to feed my ego. I must often remind myself that my worth does not come from how productive or successful I am. Instead, I’m worthy of love because of who I am as a human being.
As millennial author and speaker Jon Acuff once said, “It will be a great day when you accomplish nothing and still believe you are worth something.”
Our society has a tendency to glorify busyness. I understand busyness has the power to make me productive and accomplished. But it does not have the power to define my self-worth. I know now that I am more valuable than my schedule.