Category Archives: Success

The Acceptable State of Busy

The other day I went into the staff room of the small college where I teach, and after I punched in the door code that lets faculty and staff in and keeps students out, I encountered a young staffer seated at one of the round lunch tables munching energetically on chips.

“How’s it going?” he asked loudly.

“Pretty good I guess,” I replied. I was lying. I was tired. I had a mountain of portfolios to grade in the upcoming week; each of them would take an hour. My checking account was overdrawn. I was currently working with my TMJ doctor to find the right mouth splint adjustment to relax my jaw joints enough while sleeping to keep me from biting my tongue off in the night.

“Me too!” he said, with seeming enthusiasm. “Pretty busy, which is good I guess.” He crunched another bunch of chips. “Makes the day go by fast,” he said, as I hustled into the bathroom to check my eye makeup and comb my hair. I was late to my learning center mentor shift.

“Agreed,” I called back from the bathroom door.

Inside the bathroom, I looked in the mirror and grimaced. Fluorescent lights always create a ghastly effect, making me look ten years older than I really am. A thought pounced on my mind.

“No you don’t,” the thought said.


“You don’t agree. At all.”

My inner self was right. I didn’t prefer to be busy, or for my day to go by fast.

But, in my “congenial colleague persona,” I had just demonstrated how mindlessly our culture views busyness as a good thing. When did “busy” become the acceptable good? The desired state of being? The best and most successful modus operandi of our species? Sayings of busyness abound:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” Walt Disney

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

“Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” Jimmy Spithill

Productivity: produce, product, production, gross domestic national product (note the first word is “gross”)

Bottom line. ROI – return on investment

Get a move on. Daylight’s burning. For chrissake, hurry up. Get out of my way.

The early bird catches the worm.

The noise of busyness is ever present.

When I was a kid one of my favorite books was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. Ferdinand does not headbutt, kick, and run about and try to get in good with the other bulls. Nor does he share their aspirations to be selected to go and fight in the bullfights. He just wants to sit under his cork tree and smell the flowers. For this he is viewed as extremely odd. Speaking volumes about this little book, Hitler and Franco banned it, while Gandhi embraced it.

How could I explain to this guy at the lunch table that what I really wanted was to sit in an open field all day long like Ferdinand the bull and simply smell the flowers? My vision of a good day, of success, was slow and quiet. Just being.

I am not advocating a life devoid of purpose, contribution, and meaning. But I wonder how modern society’s current trajectory, which most days seems bent on mass destruction, might change if we just slowed down—the way we talk, walk, breathe, drive, think, and do. What if we sat and listened? What would we see if we just looked at what is really going on all around us? How would it change what we DO?

What are we really accomplishing with all of this busyness? Is it what is best for ourselves, our family and friends, for society, for the planet?

I try to carve out time for slowing down and observing. Interesting words we use – to carve … cutting and slicing as if time were meat on a plate, or a tree to be fashioned into a wood carving statue. Rather violent, this idea of carving time.

When I do slow down and observe, I am often appalled and astounded at some of the awful things we do and say to each other, what we do to fish, birds, plants, oceans, forests. It takes guts to listen and look.

But I am also inspired and hopeful, enlightened. Always I see the most beautiful moments of the natural world. Sometimes I see the tiniest acts of joy and kindness between fellow humans.

I take a long, deep breath. And the fresh air is a delight.





Two Queens: Ruminations on Success

Now that I have my own business and am in a band for the first time in twenty years playing bluegrass music, I’ve been thinking a lot about success—what is it exactly? What does it mean to me? What are my barriers to achieving it?

I’ve also been rereading Sue Monk Kidd’s book the Dance of the Dissident Daughter, her memoir about questioning her spirituality and her role as a woman in a culture with deep patriarchal roots. This has led me to further questions, such as how has being a woman who subconsciously absorbed the patriarchal hierarchy (in this order—a male god, men, women, children and the elderly, animals, plants, minerals…) kept me from achieving “success”? How have I been carrying out and limited by feminine roles that I didn’t even choose?

Kidd illustrates how women have internalized various roles, without necessarily even being aware of them. A woman is expected to be all nurturing, at the expense of her own needs, to be “silent” or subvert her real views to conform to convention, and to strive to gain attention from and to please males. One can easily see how taking care of the needs of everyone else—pets, husbands, children, bosses—before she focuses on her own goals, coupled with trying to do this nurturing very well to get external approval and validation, while also submerging her true self and views so as not to make waves, would get in the way of success, whatever success looks like to any one woman.

Right now you may be saying, “Oh, hogwash. Another feminist crying about her spilled milk.” Or, you may be nodding in agreement. Either way, think about this: What kinds of associations come immediately to mind simply at the word “feminist?” Many women hesitate to even adopt that title, because it’s so negative. Go on admit it. Birkenstock-wearing, hairy-legged women, who dance naked in their gardens, who hate men, who pontificate constantly about what a raw deal they’ve gotten. While I personally see nothing wrong with a woman who fits that description if that’s who she wants to be, what I am wondering is, how is it possible that we go from being subservient “beautiful” daughters to that image in one word?

And how do we view women who don’t spend all their time caring for their partner, children, animals, community, and everyone else in the world, god forbid while also trying to be successful? Well, I’ve heard the word “selfish” more than once. She is self-centered and not good partner or mother material. She is “unique” (not in a good way) or, “wild and crazy.” Or what about women who speak up? Cosmopolitan published an article this winter about the language we use for strong successful women, as compared to men. Words like “bitch,” “shrew,” “harsh,” “pushy,” “outspoken.” While men garner these terms: “intelligent,” “a leader,” “decisive,” “strong.”

All that is the landscape for my road to “success.” Like it or not. I’m not crying in my beer. I’m deciding how to play the hand that I have been dealt. As I’ve been pondering all this, something has truly shocked me. I realized that it has never occurred to me, until now at 50, that I could actually aim for mastery at something, that I could excel completely, that I could be really good. Even now I have trouble writing “the best.” I have, sadly, never, until now, created a goal saying I will master this; I will rock this!

Instead I always thought, I will do a decent job. I can be good enough. And that’s what I’ve aimed for: good enough. “I will do pretty well, but I’m a girl, so don’t expect too much.” My parents demanded good grades; they supported my horse riding, skiing, music. But there has always been an undercurrent…not theirs exactly…but as if this message is in the air and the water—you can only do so well, but that’s it.

This sounds ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m admitting it! But by admitting it, I’m finally taking the chain off of the door. Because I can finally respond, “Nonsense!” In the past few years on different occasions, two different male flatpicking guitarists, both masters at their craft, (See? Males, in and of themselves, are not evil, of course…fie on you feminist stereotyping), said to me, “You can be a great flatpicking guitarist. There is nothing stopping you. You learn quick; you work hard.” This rocked my world. Really? But I’m a woman. I’m just beginning. And that was the first time I thought, “I can rock this.”

Still…now I have to be careful I don’t replace the old shackle with a new chain: I’m 50 years old. Our culture is as ageist, as it is sexist, as it is racist. Now I am not only a woman, but a middle-aged woman. Gasp! It took awhile before I could even say I’m 50. I took my birthday off of Facebook. For men or women, I’d argue the pervading belief is, “Why even bother pursuing success once you get out of your 30s?” Older people aren’t hip, they don’t have their fingers on the pulse of the new and the cool, and they’ve pretty much done all the growing and achieving they are going to do. Really, they should just don a sweatshirt with a lobster on it, put on some white sneakers and putter about in their garden, or take a guided tour with a bunch of other silver-hairs to some European country where they can do the hokey pokey over mashed potatoes and light beer.

I bought into this. When I was a teen, I declared I didn’t want to live past 40 because it would be no fun whatsoever. Out of necessity, I did change my tune.

But an older woman? “Hag,” “crone,” “dried up,” “wrinkled and grey,” in a word, “unsexy.” Or as declared by my 9th grade students, “Eew!”

Once, when I was still in my 30s (!) I was planting flowers in a window box when a group of boys from the apartment nearby strolled down the street, swearing up a whole crop of colorful words. I’ve been known to throw around the F word myself, but this was loud and excessive, and they were only about 11 or 12. It takes a village. So I said, “Hey guys, watch your language please.” And a blond, stocky kid said to me, “Shut up, you old bag!!” My face flushed red and I was prepared to march out there and ream them out good, but my ex-husband cautioned through the open window, “Kyle…just stay here.”

Do we say those things about older men? No. They get “salt and pepper,” as if they are a fine old spice, and “distinguished.” Authoritative, strong. And even handsome.

So now I’ve got two cards stacked against my psyche about success. I’m a woman. I’m 50. But those cards will be played on my terms. I’ve turned both cards over on the table. This is MY game. Instead of two’s and three’s, I see two queens—the queen of hearts who now listens carefully to the song in her heart, instead of limiting messages, who will take her writing and music passions as far as she possibly can; and the queen of spades who knows that success is tied ONLY to dedication, hard work, and a belief in yourself. And I’m doing it…no matter what careless names and terms are tossed my way. I will never be an old bag, and I will rock this.

Stay tuned for more musings about defining and achieving success for oneself…woman or man…The question will be, “are you good enough for YOU?”