What does ‘Busy’ Mean to You?

What does ‘busy’ mean to you?

Growing up, my mother has always commented on what little people did at the bank (whenever we sat and waited for a representative or manager to speak to us, she’d look around and say that no one was really doing anything and that they were better off staying at home), at the shops and in restaurants. She’d often talk about the old days when she used to work extra hard in the fields with her mother with sweat dripping down her face. She said that she was certainly busy. On a regular basis, she pointed out that no one else was. She has always mentioned that she never experienced the comfort of socializing with people in an office; she never had the chance to just stand around until there are customers to serve; basically, she’s never been at work and just idly waited around until there was something to do (This is speaking through her eyes. My mother never used to take a break from bringing up working non-stop). My mother often questioned what ‘busy’ meant when she was told by some people as the years passed that they were busy.

To my mother, being busy meant to work constantly with only short breaks in between. She said that going out with friends didn’t mean ‘busy’. She perceived doing social activities or going on holiday as not busy at all. She claimed that being busy meant to do something that added great importance in the world (this could mean ringing up items for a never-ending line of customers at the cash register, or progressively working on a new invention, or doing any kind of manual labor, or researching nearly 24/7, or giving lecture after lecture and preparing for them, or running meeting after meeting. My mother is the type of person who believes that setting a consistent pace matters).

My mother is strict about what is done in one’s time. She has always been harsh about being productive; and ‘productive’ to her means that one should always work toward a goal and that another goal must always be behind the goal one is presently working toward and that big gaps in time aren’t allowed. My mother is a firm believer of about half an hour as the limit to how long one is entitled to a break after hours of work at a time. She used to get at me for not finishing my meals within ten minutes, or fifteen minutes maximum, because she said that life should either be spent on studying or working (It’s no wonder that I’ve never managed to learn my mother’s native language [a dialect of Cantonese; a language spoken widely in Guangdong province and Hong Kong] well because she never slowed herself down from work enough to talk to me and my brother. There was no way for me to learn her dialect well when she immersed herself in silently working and keeping herself in her room for much-needed sleep to recharge for the next day’s work.

My mother’s definition of ‘busy’ is intense but I like that she’s influenced me to think about what ‘busy’ means. Because my mother is the kind of person who repeats herself about a hundred or more times a day, her points about work and time have stuck with me; I feel that they are a part of my skin. I’m more lenient about how people spend their time than she is but I do question how busy a lot of people I’m surrounded by really are. Every weekend, my roommate claims that she’s busy and she means that she’s visiting her friends who either need her encouragement or whose encouragement she needs and not ‘busy’ in the sense that the apartment needs to be rid of the recyclable materials that she has collected and has left in her room for nearly a month and the fact that the apartment hasn’t been cleaned (apart from my weekday vacuum cleaning and trash removals. [the apartment still looks great because everything in the apartment has been maintained in their positions]). I’ve heard the same excuse from some students that they couldn’t attend a lesson or that they were late because they were with their friends and, based on how they were dressed, it looked like their meetings were for the most part social. I’ve gotten acquainted with many individuals who are employed but who somehow still have the time to text and text and text and text and look through their social media posts far more than me and I’m not at work for as many hours as they are; when I go on my Facebook page, I only spend about a minute there each time these days a few times a day because I feel less able to work if I were to remain on the site for more than two minutes in one time (I only let myself back on it when there’s a lull in my schedule and after maybe ten minutes to an hour passes and I just won’t use it again until the next day). Having gotten to know such people has me wondering how much production has actually taken place in their workplaces. I look around too and I notice that a lot of school cleaning staff do their work and then take long tea breaks chatting together before starting their cleaning again. I’ve walked by and sat in small fast food shops and have noticed, like my mother did when I was growing up, that the sole employee in some of these places spend adequate time using their phones or smoking their cigarettes or reading the paper.

Perhaps, I’ve simply become my mother. Regardless of my having become a clone of my mother or not, I’ve come to have a high standard of what being busy is. Being busy is not just having one plan after another one day repeating the same thing the next day, but it’s about working toward always leveling up in any small or big way perhaps in the form of learning a language little by little or tasting something new, etc. Don’t be busy on yourself; work hard to be busy.

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Thank you for reading. Peace.



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Deborah Kristina

Deborah Kristina

Author of ‘A Girl All Alone Somewhere in the World’, ‘Confessions and Thoughts of a Girl in Turkey’, ‘From Just a Girl Grown Up in America’. (Amazon.com)