What I really think about... Opting for an unbusy life

What I really think about... Opting for an unbusy life
PHOTO: Pixabay

During a yoga class I attended recently, the teacher gave us this question to reflect on, "Are you busy for the sake of being busy or are you busy doing things that actually matter?"

As I stretched it out in downward facing dog, I thought about what my typical week looked like. I work three days as a communications adviser at a not-for-profit. I teach yoga on Thursdays and Sundays. I also volunteer at Second Bite, an organisation that distributes fresh food to those in need, and I take on freelance writing gigs selectively.

My relaxed schedule allows me to exercise regularly and sleep for eight hours every night. It's given me time for new hobbies like baking as well as old ones like reading for leisure.

Yes, my days are (mostly) filled with stuff that I find meaningful, and it feels awesome.

At this juncture, I think it's apropos to share that I live in Perth.

I know what you're thinking. I'm one of those Singaporeans who moved to the land down under to escape the pressures of city life.

Far from it.

We relocated because of my husband's job. He received an amazing opportunity to further his career, and after careful consideration, we decided to take the plunge. While I'd travelled extensively, I'd never lived anywhere else and wanted to experience life overseas.

So six months ago, I became a trailing spouse. I'd be lying if I said that giving up my position as the editor of Shape Singapore was easy for me. It wasn't. I loved my job and still miss the publishing industry a lot - but that's a story for another time.

The truth is, I adopted an unbusy life long before I became an expat wife. Being unbusy isn't about doing absolutely nothing and staring at the walls. In my opinion, it's about living purposefully. In other words, living life by your own terms.

Now I get that living that kind of life is a luxury. I have no kids, no ageing parents to care for, no major obligations. But I strongly believe that we have more control over our lives than we think.

If you're always feeling overworked, you can choose to take shorter lunchbreaks so that you can leave work on time. If you're constantly sleep-deprived, you can say no to having drinks after work so that you can get into bed earlier. The choice is yours.

I used to struggle with saying no to social events, even if I was dead tired. I was obsessed with keeping fit and had a rigid workout schedule. I'd exercise before going to work regardless of how much shut-eye I had the night before. Work itself was often hectic enough. In publishing, we had to meet regular deadlines, schmoose at events and attend meetings. Call it FOMO, but I was a busy-aholic and proud of it.

A health scare several years ago to forced me to take a hard look at my life. I was having persistent abdominal pain. It got so bad that I was referred to a specialist who suggested that I go for a colonoscopy and gastroscopy. I did both.

Fortunately, the results were negative and the diagnosis was irritable bowel syndrome. Stress is trigger for the condition and it got me thinking about the physical and emotional stresses in my life. Around the same time, I also started developing an alcohol allergy (sad, but true!). That made saying no to late nights out easier.

I realised that being busy was a choice and became more mindful about how I spent my time. I started to prioritise work-life balance. That meant working more efficiently and scaling back on my social life. I made sure that I spent sufficient time on self-care. I started to enjoy being at home more, both in solitude and with my husband. Exercise was still important, but I let go of the need to obsess over it. I'd alternate an intensive cardio workout with a relaxing yoga session so as to not overstress my body. These were just some of the changes I made.

In her book Daring Greatly, researcher Brene Brown postulates why busyness has pervaded our lives. "We are a culture of people who've bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won't catch up with us." I couldn't agree more.

While a "slower" pace of life has made me happier, it's also given me the headspace to reflect on things. Time to think can be scary and confronting because it surfaces what's going right in your life as well as what's going wrong. But I'd recommend it to everyone. I've learnt so much about myself through the process and I now relish the time to just be.

The thing is, you don't have to experience a health scare or move to Perth (or anywhere for that matter) to embrace an unbusy life. It's all about baby steps. Start by leaving work on time, and then take it from there.

This article was first published in Her World Online

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