One time I was asking a guest speaker to visit the school where I worked and I began by saying, “I know you are a busy person and…” They stopped me and said, “You don’t know that.”
I was caught off guard and fumbled my way through the rest of my invitation. The tremendous gift given to me that day was the realization that everyone is busy, but that does not have to be an assumed or accepted excuse.
Before this, I thought in order to get someone’s time, I must fit myself in somewhere, but shouldn’t get my hopes up, because I’m just one of many competing forces. This was a damaging way of proceeding.
A few summers ago my friend invited me to a get together about six hours away from Baltimore. Now you might think the answer to this is a no-brainer, “Sorry man, I can’t.” This was my response before an old friend reminded me, “If you keep saying no, they’ll stop inviting you.”
I grew up in New York and many of my friends are still there, so in order for us to stay in touch, it requires some effort. Often times this looks like taking the train or making the drive up I-95 on a Friday evening, and then right back on a Sunday, in order to be back in time for work on Monday. It’s not convenient, it’s not easy, but it’s important. These are people I hope to be friends with for the rest of my life, and if I am too busy for them, then what does that tell them about our relationship?
For what I care about, I will never be too busy.
This has to be a truth I embrace because there are people in this world that have three and four jobs, but still make time for their families, still make it to christenings, and still read bedtime stories, even if it’s before going to work.
Working can be a synonym for busy. I like it a lot better because if the reason I can’t see someone is because I’m working, then I’ve learned the appropriate response is, “I would love to see, you, unfortunately I work Wednesdays but I’m free Thursday night, can we get together then?”
Yes, the inevitable back and forth until common ground is reached ensues, and it can be painstaking, but the alternative is apathy which sends a clear message – it’s not that important.
Now I have learned there is no need to cower and diminish myself by leading with “I know you’re busy.”
If I want to see someone, I need to make the time and then leave it to them to decide.
A sobering reality is that I have spent and occasionally spend, a large about of my time on things that do not add value to my life while ignoring the opportunity in front of me.
Now, when I notice this has happened, I make sure to apologize for my absence or poor prioritization.
At my best, I pick up the phone and say something like, “Hey I know you’re busy…um I mean, hey, I miss hanging out with you. I really want to see you. If that’s cool with you, what day is good for you this week or next?”
When I do this, I find out where I stand with people.
For some, I’m standing on the outside of their lives and that’s exactly where they’d like me to be. Some are legitimately working and just don’t have a lot of flexibility, for others, they are grateful I took the first step.
Now, do not get me wrong, there are many calls that I need to make, a lot of “Let’s get together!” statements that need follow-up, but I’m working on it, or at least trying to be more honest about why it isn’t happening and not just saying, “I’m busy.”