Who is the Busiest?


First full disclosure: Normally, when people write about societal issues, they have, to some degree, internalized these issues and proceeded to reflect them back at their society. I am no exception. Second full disclosure: This was partially inspired by a previous Forum article of a similar nature by the title of “Screw Perfection: A Message to Teenagers Going Through High School” by Nicole Smith-Vaniz. Third full disclosure: I am fully aware that many people at LS have never experienced the phenomenon I am about to address, but that does not make it any less of a reality. Now that I’m almost four sentences into my first paragraph, you’re probably wondering what phenomenon I am alluding to. Well, I am about to tell you – actually, wait just a minute, or maybe a couple of hours, or maybe a week. I just gotta do a few minor things… 

Ok, I’m back. Sorry, I just had to go win my varsity busyball game and then I hopped on a plane and flew to Busalia for the day to feed the homeless children in Busytown, and by the time I was done with that I had an AP How-to-be-Busy exam, but yeah I think I forgot to mention that I was busy. Sorry, what were you saying again? Oh, nothing? I just told you how busy I was to cover up my insecurities about not being busy enough? I don’t have time for that…

If you can’t already tell, the phenomenon I am attempting to address is the seemingly innocuous cultural standard that the busier you are, the better you are. As a senior, I will happily say that I have noticed a sharp decline in the emphasis placed on the “busy hierarchy” over my years at LS. In fact, I have found that most people have (seemingly) come to have a somewhat healthy relationship with the idea of busyness.

Still, the busy hierarchy exists, inside and outside of LS. What, you may ask, is the busy hierarchy? The busy hierarchy is just another way to oversimplify someone’s value as a person based on a superficial aspect of their life. The busier you are, the higher up on the hierarchy you reside. As with every social hierarchy, people on the bottom internalize a feeling of inferiority while those on the top internalize a feeling of superiority. It is generally accepted that being busy is synonymous with excellence while having free time is a quaint yet archaic idea that should be scrutinized, evaluated, and ultimately, determined to be a waste of time. If one were to look closely at the issue, they would of course notice that equating “free” with “waste” goes against all common sense. And yet, to be a workaholic is apparently the ideal. If you are constantly in action, you are deemed extraordinary. If you are not, you are deemed simply ordinary. 

One crucial part of the issue at hand is the definition of the term “busy.” Are you busy if you spend your afternoons knitting mediocre sweaters because it’s your hobby? Or does that only “count” if you start up a company to sell your sweaters? Are you busy if you go on runs with your dog everyday? Or does that only “count” if you are also a track star who is training for a big competition? The idea that the only truly valuable uses of our time must be a part of some larger goal and fit into some great narrative about our life is a made-up, dangerous piece of propaganda that people unwittingly accept to be the truth just because everyone else does.

Who, you may or may not be asking, would dare to dole out this propaganda to high schoolers at every twist and turn? Look no farther than the almighty elite colleges. Going Ivy tells us that “You will need to get top grades in the most difficult courses at your high school and obtain very high scores on your standardized tests. You will also want to participate in activities that allow you to develop your talents and interests to show the school that you are extraordinary.” And since we all know that whatever Ivy League schools say is basically synonymous with the Gospel, it is no wonder that the term “extraordinary” has been warped into a term that means “extremely, compulsively, sleep-deprived-ly busy to the point that you have surpassed all other mere mortals, died, and have been reincarnated by an acceptance letter to our school that now forever deems you as an elite, a god, and, most importantly, a very busy person.” 

A couple of years ago, I came across an impactful article in Vice Magazine, by Zachary Schwartz, that I still remember to this day. The author wrote that, at Columbia University, “There’s a culture of quantitative comparison of how few hours of sleep you got, of how many assignments you have to do that night. And in reality, none of it matters, but people sacrifice their mental health to be king of that pile of bones.” The extent to which this line resonated with me was, quite frankly, scary. Why, I wondered, and still wonder, does LS set itself up to be a miniature version of this twisted hell? Why, I wondered, and still wonder, did I and so many others believe that it is noble to attempt to be the ruler of that pile of bones? Why, I wondered, and still wonder, do so many people package up their lives into a commodity to sell to the most prestigious, richest buyer, (hello, elite colleges) spending thousands of dollars to make sure it has the shiniest wrapping paper (hello, private college counselors) and think that once their buyers have approved of them, (hello, college acceptance letters) that they’ll be granted passage into some secret club that will prove their superior worth as a human being? It still confounds me. 

Yet after this whole barrage against busyness, you might ask me: isn’t there some merit to being busy? I mean, society needs hard working people to function and progress. There are many busy people out there busy doing incredibly important things to better the world. Curing cancer, for example. Surely, there must be objective standards for activities that constitute as worthy of the title “busy.” Getting into drunken bar fights, for instance, is not one of them. To this I would have to agree. Yet it is an oversimplification to say that the only things worthy of being “busy” with are those that college or job applications value, or that directly benefit society. Busyness, like beauty, is subjective. The Buddhist monk that spends their life in meditation, a task that has no direct impact on society and can be seen, in a certain light, as self indulgent, may actually be using their time in the wisest manner. Then again, maybe that honor does go to the lawyer who spends their life in the courtroom fighting for justice, a certainly selfless pursuit, (unless, of course, that justice is for a corrupt company who is providing them with a fat check) but who has no time for themselves. Who am I to say which is, in fact, the better use of time? All I’m saying is, that while there is merit to being “busy,” there is also merit to not being “busy.” The busy hierarchy, therefore, is annoying at best and dangerous at worst. After all, if everyone spends their entire life being busy in the name of bettering the lives of others, what lives will actually be bettered? 

I will conclude with the words of three humans much wiser than me. The first wise human said, “I don’t want to struggle before I can make it big, I don’t want to aim higher all the freaking time, I don’t want every aspect of my life to be optimized, I don’t want to compare and question myself constantly. I want to relax, have fun, enjoy the moment. I want peace of mind. I want to be proud of myself. I want to feel good about who I am, what I do.” The second wise human said, “Most of the things that “adults” strive for are meaningless and largely an act of showboating social “status” because they have been brainwashed into thinking that it is important to be close to or at the top of some [dumb] pecking order that doesn’t exist and gives nothing but false security.” And the third wise human, my personal favorite, said, “As long as you and your family are happy, safe, and secure, then just smile and wave boys, smile and wave.”