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9 July 2021

A New Kind of Re-entry: Waking Up from Busyness as We Return to the Office

Written by
Kathrin O'Sullivan

When Covid-19 hit in early 2020, the threat of a deadly pandemic spread with lightning speed. The world as we knew it came to an eerie halt. And yet, despite the fear of the unknown, it offered an almost welcome respite for those of us who had the privilege of working from home. Many of us in the corporate world were granted an unexpected pause from our grueling commutes, hectic business trips, and half-hearted social engagements. We relished extended family time, enjoyed long walks outdoors, and reignited old friendships via video chat. Finally, we were able to slow down, invite in more self-care, and reflect on what’s really important to us. We were full of great intentions. We would get through this together, and the global suffering would make us more compassionate. Life would become a lot less frenzied, with time to enjoy what really mattered.

Until fear started to take over. What would these unforeseen circumstances mean for our job security, and global economy?  Rather than sitting in the discomfort of these big questions, it felt better to take charge. So we quickly recreated the familiar pattern of constant doing and letting busyness suck the life out of us. We frantically moved between virtual business meetings and checking on our kids in Zoom school. Former commute times got filled with even more meetings, and before we knew it, the intensity of our pre Covid lives was not only back, but even more amplified.

How did this happen so fast, and why didn’t we notice? Busyness is very sneaky – it expands and fills every last bit of space we grant it. It is like a hungry ghost. It won’t let up. It’s up to us to negotiate boundaries.

This is something I had to learn the hard way. When I entered the workforce, I quickly climbed the corporate ladder. It was exciting to make things happen and build my career in Silicon Valley, where things move fast, and people are “always on”. With every achievement, there were more perks, and promotions meant higher compensation and more recognition. I was so caught up in the constant drive to achieve that I almost forgot that life was more than a to do list. It got so bad that my marriage blew up before I even had a chance to notice there was anything wrong with it.

Busyness is a badge of honor in our culture. We believe we get rewarded for it. It’s the promise of success, wealth, and happiness. It’s the engine that runs Corporate America. But does it grant us the impact we strive for, or the lives we want to live?

That’s the tricky thing about busyness – we don’t notice it because it keeps us in a trance that makes us power through so we can do what is expected of us, and more. It keeps us from looking at the hard things and helps us avoid what we don’t want to feel. This may look different to different people.  For some it’s the fear of not being good enough, or disappointing people. In my case, I couldn’t face living a life that felt empty and somewhat meaningless to me. Rather than coming clean about that, it was a lot easier to distract myself with the familiar: doubling down on my to do list in order to numb the pain.

The most important lesson busyness taught me is that when we wake up from it, the payoff is huge. Because when we pay attention to what’s really going on inside us and around us, we make much healthier choices that lead to more impact and fulfillment.  Some of the emotions we least want to feel hold the potential for our greatest transformation. Slowing down and becoming more present has helped me grow into the leader I’ve always wanted to be. It enabled me to make clearer decisions and connect more deeply with those around me. It made me realize that we are all in this together and that who we are and how we take care of each other is more important than what we achieve on a daily basis. As a result, I am now able to inspire others with the possibility that you can have both – balance AND impact.

Based on my experience, here are a few things you could try to free yourself from the tight grip of mindless doing:

  1. Don’t perpetuate the myth that busyness equals success. We need to change the narrative if we want to get to a collective place of sustainable impact. Long, exhausting workdays and overwhelming weekend schedules are nothing to boast about. Instead, sense into how good it feels to take a break and encourage others to do so, too. Start embracing reflection when you feel pulled into action. Experiment with saying no more. You will quickly notice positive changes in yourself, which will also translate into more meaningful and sustainable results.
  2. Check in with yourself a few times a day to sense into how you really feel. When you find yourself in a joyful or peaceful state, take it in and let it nourish you. Notice how your energy changes. And on other days, when you feel off, try to stay with that if you can. What is going on in your body? What thoughts do you find yourself pulled into? Resist going back to your to do list. Instead, stay with your moment to moment experience, even if it’s not totally pleasant. It’s going to be worth it and has something important and wise to signal to you.
  3. Become more discerning when it comes to taking action. We always have choices, but in the trance of busyness we tend to run on autopilot. Take a few minutes to reflect daily about the choices you have made recently and why. Were they the things you really wanted to do? Or were you driven by too many “shoulds”? When we get clearer on our underlying beliefs and assumptions, we become more discerning and take actions that are more conducive to our well-being and long-term success and happiness.

I believe it’s only when we resist the pull of busyness that we can become the leaders we are here to be. So, as you are reentering the physical office environment, what choices are you going to make that will allow you to lead with more joy, ease, and impact? 

Photo by Kristin Hardwick on StockSnap

One thought on “A New Kind of Re-entry: Waking Up from Busyness as We Return to the Office”

  1. Beautifully put Using busyness as a proxy for worthiness. Thanks for the honesty.

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