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THE CRAZY CULT OF BUSY-NESS

I had my appendix out last week. It wasn’t expected (clearly) and I was a little stunned by the speed with which everything happened.

One minute I’m at my osteopath complaining of what I thought was a pulled groin muscle, a few hours later I’m waking up from an operation. Coming out of the anaesthetic, the first coherent thought I had should have been, “What a miracle is modern medicine. My life was just saved by what is considered minor surgery.”

That’s not what I thought however. What passed through my mind was, “Who is expecting what from me this week? How angry are people going to be that I can’t fulfill my promises? What am I going to be able to do anyway?”

In my industry, you’re not afforded the luxury of sick days or compassionate leave. I’ve performed with food poisoning, dislocated ribs, whiplash from a car accident and I’ve been denied time off to go to a family funeral—it’s all part and parcel of my job and has been for nearly two decades.

I am left speechless by friends who tell me that they took three days off for a head cold. “Where do they work?” I wonder. “Where is this magical land where you can take time off when you’re sick?”

I’m sure there are some of you reading this thinking that the demands put on me are completely unreasonable. But I’ll bet there are many more of you thinking, “So what? That’s my life as well. This is what ‘working’ means.”

Many of us have jobs where we are expected to be available at all times. And if you work for yourself, or you’re the owner of the business, there’s no-one to replace you and earn the money in your absence.

It’s the brutal reality of the world we live in: there is no downtime. Ever.

I was given one day’s grace after my appendix operation and I was then expected to reply to emails, take phone calls and answer people who wanted to know when I would be ready to work for them again.

I wasn’t out of the hospital, much less off heavy pain medication. I had to reply to some people keeping my operation a secret, just in case they dropped me from the job. For the people expecting an answer on when I would be ready to work again, I had to guess.

And when I say guess, I don’t mean guess how long it would take me to be well enough to work, but guess how long the people hiring me would tolerate me putting the job on hold, irrespective of my health. There were even people who were slightly annoyed that I was cancelling or postponing on them. A large part of me wanted to respond to these people by telling them to shove it up their arses, but the realist in me knew that I couldn’t.

If I didn’t do the work, or didn’t apologise profusely for causing other people inconvenience, I’d be labelled unprofessional or worse, a drama queen.

How did we get to this point? Is it because we are contactable all of the time? Is it because the world now moves too fast?

Or is it because our society has become so fragmented that we are incapable of behaving like a community any more?

Not only do we see our own demands as being the most important but paradoxically, we see fulfilling the demands of those we deem more important than ourselves as equally important. The idea of helping each other has been discarded. We don’t have the time for that any more. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

The truth is that it isn’t time that’s the issue, it’s what we’re prioritising. We’ve screwed everything up.

You see, this all the time with the ridiculous adulation of the so-called ‘Super Mum’. Super Mums are not only always there for their children, spouse and extended family, they’re also always there for their boss, their business partners and their employees.

Super Mums never get sick, never get tired, never have a bad hair day and never, ever let anyone down. What an utter fantasy. I’d wager that behind every Super Mum is either a heart attack or a mental breakdown waiting to happen.

Leaving work to pick up a sick child shouldn’t involve running the gauntlet of disapproving stares. Going to a family funeral shouldn’t be seen as skiving off. Wanting to take a day off once a week shouldn’t be seen as weak.

Popular culture doesn’t help. We idolise the over-worker. Almost every television show has the dedicated lawyer/detective/manager/checkout operator who leaves their phone on all night and is on call all of the time. They rush off from their child’s birthday party or the sickbed of their dying father to do their boss’ bidding. The entertainment industry romanticises work stress.

Saying “I’m so busy” isn’t a brag any more, it’s a necessity. Anything less than being run off your feet at all times makes you a loser. And what are we running around doing? The bidding of demanding people who care nothing for our own wellbeing. It’s insane.

We don’t have tribes any more. My sister is lucky—she has an amazing elderly couple who live next door and are like a third set of grandparents to her little boy. My sister can call on them to watch her baby if she is sick herself or must all of a sudden run out the door for an emergency. But many of my girlfriends have nothing of the sort. Many of us look at the harried or sick friend and vaguely think to ourselves “God, I’m glad that’s not me…at least not this week.”

We should stop downplaying and sacrificing our own needs. We should learn to stand up to the pushy bosses, family members and friends who make unreasonable demands of us and just say ‘no’. Or better yet, ‘piss off’.

Who’s going first?

 

 

MORE STORIES BY CORINNE GRANT

Corinne Grant’s Rage Index: Rising

MI·SOG·Y·NY. Hijacked by pedants

The Vagina Dialogues

What do Women Want? Hmmm…

Dear Trolls, Ask Yourself This.

 

*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre. Corinne’s first book, Lessons In Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (Allen and Unwin) was released in September 2010 and went into reprint just months after its release.

 

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Rhi

    I hope you feel better soon Miss Corinne!
    We’re going on holidays to the States tomorrow and my poor self-employed husband has been tearing his hair out – not only trying to figure out what his two apprentices will be doing for two weeks, but also trying to get all the work people are demanding he finish done before we go. It’s beyond crazy! He’s so stressed out, I don’t think it’s going to feel much like a holiday… :(

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Bridgey

    I’ll go first. I refuse to bow to the “I’m so busy” rubbish. When someone tells me they are “so busy” my usual response is “I’m sorry”. When someone asks me if I’m busy – the defacto greeting these days seems to be “how are you – busy?” Which by the way is a totally bullshit greeting – I usually respond with either “adequate or enough”. I’m busy enough because in the end it’s a choice and I generally don’t work with and for people (yes I’m self employed) for whom the only acceptable state is “too busy.” I am more effective and generally nicer to be around when I get some time to just be (not busy).

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Steve

    100% right Bridgey. Who is beating that drum and cracking that whip… the voices i your head. Sing after me “The cats in the cradle and the silver spoon..”

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Heather

    For me it’s a matter of choice. I’m not prepared to work for any organisation that expects 24/ 7 of you. Work damned hard during the day. Get a lot done. Then go home and switch off is how I’ve always operated. (And I mean literally switch off – no text messages, etc). You are entitled to a home life, you know. Frankly, I think it’s about being assertive and living by your own standards, not anyone else’s.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Nomes

    Corinne It must be the season for appendicitis, my son had his out at 27 two weeks ago. Many people don’t understand what it is like for the self employed like yourself. There is no downtime, no sicktime, no holiday period even when carefully planned.

    I once had a client call me demanding I work on New Years Day on his legal matter. I don’t have an answer but I do know that somewhere, somehow we have to take time for ourselves, to care for ourselves or our body will go into rebellion, just as yours has done.

    How to “balance” without either giving in or dropping our? Impossible question…life is just what happens when we are busy making other plans…Bless you

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Jan Dobson

    I’m not disagreeing, I can speak from personal experience that there is some truth in your premise whether self employed, working for a large corporation or small business. I agree unreservably that the Superwoman/Superman myth is cruel and destructive.
    I wonder though if there might be a two part solution that may ameliorate the problem. I take nothing away from your immediate problem or presume that this will assist, I do not use the word resolve, every situation or be for everyone. Before you dismiss the idea that it won’t work for you, consider though, I’ve seen this in practice in some unusual circumstances.
    There are two parts to this system, they do work best together but sometimes that’s not an option. Time or lack thereof can be a killer. The trickiest part of this system requires considerable analysis and review. It is of no damn use reading about this if you’ve been dropped in it this morning but if, like so many of us you feel as if you live on the edge of a cliff, try contingency planning. Basically it comes down to thinking, if this happens… I could do this… If nothing else, it relieves some of the stress. Yet it is either misunderstood – no one else could do this task or ignored – it’s just more work and I work hard enough now. Yes, as I said it is tricky, it’s hard to overcome the replace X with X mindset and what if maps can be overwhelming at first. But take it slowly and you’ll not be sorry.
    Three tips if contingency planning is new to you, get help – books, Internet, courses. Don’t reject the method because it doesn’t make sense immediately, it will. It gets easier, so start again if it falls over.
    The second part of this system is the hardest, possibly one of the hardest things to do. ASK FOR HELP. Sometimes known as networking and therefore full of scary nuance, it comes down to one simple truth. Most people are pretty great and really like to be able to do you a good turn, they just need to know how.
    My husband works for a mid sized company. One of his coworkers had a child with a terminal disease. Someone suggested it would be great if he could spend more time with his son, and made some suggestions. They were inundated with offers. Leave days entitlements were transferred, others took over shifts, outside commitments were covered. Yes that is an extreme case but it proves the point. And don’t forget, if I can help you I’ll be so much more comfortable asking you when I need help.
    Okay, that’s my pompous rant for the day. It’s not my intention to lecture or downplay the text of this article, just the voice of my experience. Get well soon, Ms Grant

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Reservoir Dad

    As a stay-at-home-dad to four young boys I know exactly what you’re talking about. No time off here (would love my appendix to burst so I could have a day off? How did you make that happen?)

    And at least now I know why you weren’t returning my emails. hehe

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Aeron Winters

    I was on that treadmill many years ago. My daughter was one of the first ones dropped off to day care and always the last one to be picked up, usually with about 1 or 2 minutes to spare before the $10 a minute fine was imposed. Interestingly, I too ended up in hospital having my appendix out. Between the morphine induced stupor, I had a lot of time to think. Who was I trying to impress with all the hard work and paying someone else to raise my child. After discussion with my husband, I called work to let them know that I would be taking six weeks off (as recommended by my GP) to recover from my surgery. I used that six weeks to formulate a plan. After the six weeks, I quit my job, we moved away from Sydney to the Central Coast and I started a home based internet business. Now I could be the one who was there raising my daughter. That was a little over 10 years ago and I have never regretted my decision. Yes, we have struggled a bit financially, but we have lots of family time and we are all happier. My husband likes to say “happy wife, happy life” because, for the most part, that has been our experience.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    MazT

    Hmm, so many threads of response. First, and most importantly: Corinne, get well please and with all the time that entails! I’d rather not read your wisdom/intellect for a week or three than never at all again. Your body has given you a message, please don’t ignore it. :-)
    To the gist of your questions: I have noticed over recent years this trend of slavery and wonder how all those who fought and sacrificed so much in unions etc. to ensure we had an enshrined balance would be feeling now. Sadly, while this situation has definitely worsened, it isn’t new. Many years ago in my healing classes I would raise the prospect of (usually women but not exclusively) taking time once a week when no one was allowed to bother them, even for a whole couple of hours, while they took a bubbled candle lit bath, or meditated or … whatever it was for them to feel nurtured and restored. (The exception was if the house caught fire … and even then, it better be a good one. lol) I was serious and still am. I burned myself out working the 14-16 hour days, seven days a week, especially when I became self-employed. (OK, ok, yes, those who can’t do, teach. lol) The “learning”: if we don’t take care of ourselves, who can? If we don’t acknowledge we are good enough with what we offer to securely claim our “restore time”, then how can we expect employers, family, customers etc., etc. to do so? I’ve learned those in our world measure us on how they see we measure ourselves. We don’t expect our cars to go continuously without stopping to “cool down” or refuel every so often. Are our cars more valuable than us? With all the demands on us, it comes down to prioritising and a fundamental question: do you live to work, or do you work to live?

    My suggestion: Turn off the mobile. If asked: the battery went flat. Better your mobile’s than yours.

    Thanks Corinne for the reminder. Time for a cup of tea …

  • [...] Just after pushing “publish”, I stumbled upon an article by Corinne Grant about our crazy, busy lives.  It rang bells for me, it might do the same for [...]

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Robyn

    Love MazT’s comment re the battery. So true! I started work again two weeks after my hysterectomy, admittedly from home, but work it was. I understand totally where you are coming from.

    I stumbled on this article of yours just after writing one of my own about being sick and the guilt we feel. Very timely, I have to say – you made me feel not nearly so alone!

    Get well Corinne. You don’t want to end up like me, still trying to recover well after the event. Trust me, that is NO fun at all. And I’m not talking about the hysterectomy, that was fine! Life takes a toll, look after yourself. We all need to look after ourselves.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    Nat

    I had two and a half year off after my son. I loved it. I adored being a mum. We were busy doing playgroup and other things. When my husband was retrenched I sought work, part time, an now work two days a week. I refuse to give out my own mobile number, I don’t check my work emails and I don’t come in on my day off. I enjoy my work and perform it reasonably well, but home is my time. I don’t get paid enough to care and if they fired me tomorrow that’s ok too. My husband works lots and is always on call- to make our family and our relationship work, one of us needs to be able to back off. I have just found out I’m pregnant again. I will get a year off, in theory. When my co worker was on maternity leave she was getting emails and work phone calls, despite not getting paid and returned three days a week at six months. That won’t be me. I hope for twelve months off then one day in the office.

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    ro.watson

    Firstly~ “being(too) busy” is a bullshit refusal for contact with friends. Secondly~ suggest prioritising what is significant/important to you and yours.I was struck by how soon after my psychotherapist was back at work after having her appendix removed~ I do not think this is a sign of mental/social health!!

  • Reply November 8, 2012

    RobynMarie

    Corrine, I sooo get what you are saying. I have been dead keen to get a job where you can take time off for being sick without being near death or actually in hospital. Now self employed there is just no option. As for all of you saying ‘just don’t do it, don’t take calls at home etc’ you have those jobs obviously so shut up whinging!

  • Reply November 10, 2012

    Sue Bell

    I came out of hospital this afternoon. I no longer work but I still had to make numerous phone calls for the organisations I volunteer for. I used to be a comedian, it is so hard to take time off when it’s your show. If you don’t do the show, not only you but the lighting/sound/front office/booking people lose money and the audience gets peeved. Did a season at La Mama with bronchitis, bumping in, bumping out and being very energetic to keep the vibe going, no show, no reviews, no new bookings.
    Take care, i love your writing.

  • Reply November 14, 2012

    gardnerm

    Dear Corinne take care of yourself and learn how to say NO!!! It has taken me most of my 56 years to learn this, at a huge cost to my mental and physical wellbeing and wealth, it’s ok to say no if it’s detrimental To your health.

  • Reply November 17, 2012

    Sharlene

    Corrine, you are so on the money! I have 3 teenage daughters and worked fulltime in finance where the hours and expectations are long since each was 3 mths old.

    Between co-ordinating constantly sick children’s appointments, managing a home, teenage mood swings and working my brain just stopped functioning. I like to describe it as “running out of cope” and I completly lost my ability to plan, multitask and process information. I was congnitively unable to do a weeks worth of shopping for 6 months – it just took too much planning.

    Work have finally agreed to let me do 3 days a week (after declining my requests for part time before meltdown) . Now after 6 months of rocking in a corner and doing sane hours EVERYONE at home is much, much happier.

    We seem to either be underemployed in lower paid jobs or have jobs that pay well but expect 50 hours pw out of you. I can’t speak for the freelancers or self employed but for us PAYG peops I think this is as much an industrial issue as a cultural one.

    As the pain in the arse union rep at work I have gone first and now I get to read a book occasionally just for pleasure and I don’t yell at my kids so much.

    Hope you have recovered well. X

  • Reply November 29, 2012

    I'VE GOT ALL THE ANSWERS

    [...] The Crazy Cult of Busy-ness [...]

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