Because: I was tempted to blog this as a quote, but I would have been entering the entire column into that section, this whole column gets it so right. I talk about this concept often with people in Buenos Aires, as it arises in conversations comparing the two cultures and countries. Up in the Estados Unidos there is this cultural obsession with being “busy” (as accurately described in this article) that is all personally created and self-imposed even though, and here’s the kicker, it seems we resent all of it. The summer before I moved to Buenos Aires I remember listening to a radio program on NPR discussing this concept of busyness. The man speaking described how an acquaintance of his, a recent immigrant to the U.S. who was learning English, came to respond to the greeting of “How are you?” by saying “Busy!” with a smile. What she had witnessed and picked up on in the U.S. from the majority of cordial interactions was that saying “busy” was synonymous with “I’m doing well,” or, “Things are good!” What a telling anecdote. I remember thinking to myself, “No one in Argentina is going to answer a question of, ‘How are you?’ with ‘Busy!’ as the knee-jerk response. I was idealizing and generalizing, but I was right.
In Buenos Aires, people spend hours lazing in parks and a “productive” weekend involves lots of sleep and a lengthy lunch with friends. From travels and stints elsewhere, I have come to learn that is how it is many places. I know that being situated in this framework is what I needed and still do need. Naturally, I tend toward the “busy” expounded on in this article. I would load myself up with things I both do and don’t want to be doing, feel like I wasn’t doing enough and whine about it all. It’s funny, though. Now, if I were to objectively look at how I spend my time and what I do, I think I would see myself as “busier” and more productive than I ever have been, even based on my prior set of ‘busy/productive evaluation standards. But I am calmer, more relaxed and feel less rushed or pressured than ever. I think it’s because I have changed my perspective on it all, or put myself in a place that forced me to do so. Seeing a certain movie, writing an essay or trying a new restaurant aren’t things I cross off lists any more; I do them when I want to and because I feel like in that moment, that is the most fulfilling way for me to spend my time. Certain obligations are inevitable, but even from what I see in most all full-time corporate jobs here, for example, everyone takes a full lunch break. I have never seen anyone eat at a desk. One day early on in my job I almost took my lunch at my desk, and my coworkers had no qualms about telling me I was crazy and just could not do that. I now take my lunch on a park bench and spend the remaining 30-40 minutes wandering the neighborhood.