On Being Compulsively Busy For All the Wrong Reasons

I cannot say no to people. I mean, obviously I know that I physically can, but I often don’t professionally. When I say it to someone who I’m working for, or when I tell a colleague or a friend no, I get this horrible neurotic feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m going to barf.  These barftastic feelings come with thoughts such as, “I just fucked everything up in the whole world, because I said no—and as a result no one will ever love me and I’ll never be successful and I’ll definitely die alone in a cardboard box.” Rational, right? 

I’m one of those people who overloads their plate to the point of ridiculousness. Ever since I can remember, I have lived in a state of over-commitment to things. There’s a sort of hyperdrive I go into, where my brain rationalizes being overly busy and committed with the same thing as being successful. I’m an actor and a writer, and sometimes I have a bunch of free time. This is optimal when you’re someone who gets off on being busy, but when you don’t have a 9-5 boss, and you’re a total freelancer, it can also be dangerous. It makes me feel like I have time to do everything when I’m not “working-working,” and it makes it hard to define what “working-working” even really is.

Sometimes it feels like I need to get off my ass and say yes to whatever comes my way. Whether it’s a show that I’m working on, or a restaurant gig I have, a collaboration with other writers, or just coffee with a friend that I know I don’t have time to really have—I’ll say yes, and try to do it all.

Lately I’ve been exploring my addiction to what I’ve been calling the “busy girl” high. “Yes, Yes, Y-oops I can’t, but I can’t tell you I can’t, so–yes!” And then I’m double, triple, even quadruple booked and my planner is no longer functional. This compulsion has gotten me into some sticky situations. I’ve said yes to things that make no sense. It’s as if I’m addicted to screwing my body over, and I have a need to work on 700 projects all at one time just to prove that I can. When I finally do screw myself over, which I usually do, I end up hiding underneath a table because “Oh fuck, I did it again—I tried to get the “busy” high and it backfired on me.” Most of the time, I don’t even take the time to ask myself if any of the things I’m doing are things that I want to be doing. I just keep overbooking, because if I keep myself busy, then I am a valid part of the human race.   

This kind of logic, is totally bat shit crazy. Being “busy” doesn’t mean that I’m valid. In fact, a lot of the time, filling up my time with everything, is really just an excuse to not work at what is really important to me. That’s right—I’ve discovered through being a busy junkie, that chronic busyness is just another form of procrastination. My unfocused business, fueled by the inability to say no, is just as bad as people who sit around their houses and do nothing. Because 90 percent of the time, I’m just trying to get one more check mark on my giant To-Do list that I like to whine about that is 100 percent my own fault. Check! One step closer to “success.” Whatever that means.

My lists are filled with things that couldn’t possibly get done in all of the hours I have in a day. And a lot of the time, these lists are to get out of doing my own freelance work. I might have an idea for a play I want to write, or a series pitch for a contest, but too often I don’t do them because I’m “busy.” Busy doing what exactly? Part of me wonders if this compulsion to say yes to everything comes out of a need to prove that I’m some kind of a super hero who knows how to do everything and anything. Everyone who’s ever employed me will tell you I’m a good employee, because I get the job done, regardless of whether or not I originally knew how to do the thing you asked me to do. (This is really stupid, and I don’t recommend taking this approach. I’ve spent a lot of hours looking up how to Photoshop things on the internet because I’m too afraid to tell people I don’t know how to do something). While I always get the job done, it often comes at a personal expense. I won’t take care of my body or my mental health. I piss off my friends, and ruin relationships because I’m “that busy chick” who keeps cancelling. When this happens, I often think to myself, “OK, so I got x, y, z, a, b, c, rhombus, parallelogram, and purple done, but am I even really working? Or am I just trying to fulfill some hole so I don’t have to think about what I’m doing or what I’m actually feeling?”

Over booking myself is a cycle. I have a few weeks or months of super productivity. I’ll have three jobs, a writing project, and then I’ll think, “Hey! You know what would be a good idea right now? If I took on a babysitting gig, signed up for a class that has a weekly commitment, and also run a marathon four months from now.” Then I crash, and cry underneath a table for awhile. I’ll vow to never do this again, have a couple of normal months, and then all of a sudden decide to take on a whole slew of new things because I feel stagnant, and end up in the exact same place-overbooked, tired, and crying underneath my living room table.  

Maybe I’m just greedy with opportunities. I’ve been blessed because I’ve had so many things come my way at times that I’ve needed it, so I want to take advantage of it all. I want to prove that I deserve all of the opportunities coming my way by busting my butt and showing that I am worthy of it. I think some of it has to do with wanting it all now, even though I’m only 24, and associating “having it all” with “having lots of stuff to do whether or not I actually want to do it.” In any case, the “yes girl” cycle definitely needs to stop. I’ve decided to devote the next few months to not just filling up some to-do list I don’t even care about. I’m making a vow to really stay on top of what’s important for me, and not just be obsessed with filling every hour of every waking day with something because, well, it’s something.  

I’m going to have to say no to some things. And I may barf. But I think overall, I’ll probably be okay. If you’re a chronic yes-girl too, just remember to breathe and figure out if you’re saying yes for the right reasons. Stop trying to figure out how to use that obscure computer program your boss asked if you know how to use, and admit you don’t know how to use it. It’s okay to not be able to do or know everything in the whole entire world. Let’s say no together!


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