My friends at work and I have a saying: I’m just so busy and important. It started off, I think, just after I joined the company and, as often happens with a new job, I often needed to ask someone for help. However, I am not a person who likes to admit she doesn’t know something (shocking, I’m sure you’ll agree) so I would complain to my friend Beth, “I need to ask Dan how to get something off the system, but I don’t want to bug him as he’s so busy and important.” Of course, I would ask and Dan would help and all would be fine, job done, but “busy and important” lived on.
Because as my job continued, and I had more and more responsibility, I would talk about how much I had to do and say, mostly ironically, “Yes, I’m very busy and important now.” It became a running joke: “Nicole can’t come for tea, she’s too busy and important.” “Alice has to go up to the Oxford office because she’s so busy and important.” “Sorry I can’t come for lunch I’ve got back-to-back meetings – I can’t help that I’m so busy and important.” It’s always a little bit tongue-in-cheek, it’s always said as an excuse or as a way to complain about our hectic workloads, but I wonder if, maybe, we mean it. I wonder if, under all that complaining, we secretly like being so busy and important.
I actually got the “busy and important” thing from Love Actually. Hugh Grant has just done his big Prime Minister speech, telling the US President he’s a bully and Britain won’t take it anymore (if only life imitated art, eh?) His sister Emma Thompson rings him, and he answers the phone: “Yes, I’m very busy and important, how can I help you?” Again, it’s said facetiously, but when he hangs up the phone, Emma Thompson turns to her husband and says, “The trouble with being the Prime Minister’s sister is, it does put your life into rather harsh perspective. What did my brother do today? He stood up and fought for his country. And what did I do? I made a papier maché lobster head.”
If you’re busy and important, it seems, people are jealous of you. If you’re busy and important, maybe you’re more important than someone else. We’ve all seen that reaction when we talk about how busy and important we are. It’s the wide-eyed appreciation, the other person nodding in sympathy while we complain about work, but you can tell they’re also thinking, “Wow, she had to stay in the office until 8? She must be pretty significant in that company.” Because, beneath the “busy and important” humble brag, there’s a very subtle underlying meaning: you’re not busy and important; you’re busy and that makes you important.
How often do we get a buzz from our busyness? For all our complaining “I’ve got so much to do”, how much do we secretly love the fact we’ve got so much to do? We bustle from the train into the office, we skip lunch breaks to get some more work done, or, outside of office life, we volunteer away all our evenings to church or fill every moment with seeing friends and we’re tired, we’re running on fumes – but we love it. Because we’re the only woman for the job; busyness makes us feel significant.
I want to suggest that, probably, that’s a load of rubbish. You can’t earn significance. You may look for your value in how busy and important you are, but that never ends up being enough. You just get more busy, in a bid to be more important, and so it goes and goes until you burn out and realise you’ve wasted too much time busying around and have nothing left for self-care, for your relationship with God, for time as a human being and not a human doing.
So maybe we need to evaluate our “busy-and-important” lives. Maybe we need to ask ourselves: Is this really important to do right now, or does it just make me feel important? Do I have to stay late, go to that meeting, skip that time for myself or friends or family, or should I have other priorities? Being busy and important might give you a quick fix of temporary joy, but life is all about moments -not minutes – and you can’t live in the moment if you’re too busy rushing from one minute to the next.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti Magazine