Are you “busy”?

I got an email from author Laura Vanderkam* (or her people) that talked about how we need to stop saying we’re “busy” when people ask how we’re doing. This isn’t new, I’ve read this message plenty of times over the years.

But this is the first time it really stuck with me. Because when people ask me how I’m doing, my go-to response is “Busy.” And that’s how I feel. And that’s the least uncomfortable way to respond to the question. Alternatives that accurately describe how I feel, yet I don’t feel like saying, especially when a coworker asks me “How are you doing?”, include:

  • Sad
  • Stressed
  • Confused
  • Tired
  • Scared
  • Angry

But responding with any of those is inviting a conversation, and maybe you don’t want a conversation.

  • Does the checker at the grocery store need to know that I’m SAD because I just don’t like how my life is playing out each day?
  • Does my 3-year-old kid need to know that I’m stressed out because my workload is increasing at a rate each day that is unsustainable? Literally… I cannot keep up.
  • Do my Twitter followers need to know that I’m confused because I feel like shit but doctors say, “You’re fine.”
  • Saying I’m tired, is a given. Everyone is tired. Our messed up society praises fatigue. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “No rest for the dedicated” and other lame pinnable “motivational” quotes that are extolling the virtue of going against biological needs shout at us online.
  • I’m scared because I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff and I don’t know where to find the path to follow again. Do I need to tell the exterminator that?
  • Hello phone solicitor, I’m angry because I can’t do everything I want.

Maybe we need to stop asking everyone “How are you?” as a default question because I’m willing to bet that 90% of the time when people ask that, they really do not want to know the answer.

Maybe when people ask “How are you?”, I will start to respond with “I ran today.” or “I didn’t run today.” If the person is a runner, they’ll get it. If not, they’ll just think I’m crazy. (Which I am!)

"How are you?" "I ran today."

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*I signed up for her email list, apparently. I do remember being interested in her book “I Know How She Does It All” and perhaps I signed up for the list then. Whatever, it hasn’t been annoying and it sure made me think.


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