I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point in my life, I became a ‘yes’ (wo)man.
Perhaps an extension of my restless nature, I found myself constantly engaging in new jobs, responsibilities, people, and expectations. Being busy was a subset of my nature — it stroked my inner ego’s need for evolving validation in the realm of work, personal achievements, and relationships.
By the age of 22, I was side hustling at full capacity. From 9-to-5 I was in the office for my full-time bank job, during the evening I was bartending or working a marketing event, and during the hours outside of that I was working as a freelance writer, content marketer, and trying to maintain some semblance a social life. The hours of each week were slipping through my fingers as I tried to keep a grip on the steering wheel, revelling in the idea that I was working my ass off but also reluctantly aware that I was spreading myself pretty thin.
And sure, this looked good on paper — until I started to drown in it. For years, I had associated myself with the idea of being busy, and saying ‘yes’. While my capacity to hustle and sacrifice personal hours for hours dedicated to my professional pursuit has undoubtedly served me well, I was also exhausted. I was spending so much time extending myself outwards into various pursuits that I wasn’t taking the time to pause and ask myself why I wasn’t content to ever just sit still. On some level (and I only just realized this over the last year or so), I had internalized the potentially dangerous belief that I owed something to everyone around me. Saying no didn’t feel good, it made me feel guilty — saying yes seemed easier. It rolled off the tongue, again and again.
But this set an unrealistic precedent and a pace that was surely going to eat me alive and consume my twenties with competing obligations, if I let it.
And it’s not just me. As I spend so much time writing about millennial culture, both the good and the bad, I’ve noticed the way in which we get so caught up in the hustle that we feel defines us. Any associations of generational laziness and participation trophies aside, most of the millennials I know are hungry to experience life on their terms. We take on more schooling, more demanding (and often unpaid) internships, we prioritize the value of travelling the world, we push back on starting serious relationships in order to pursue our own sense of self, first. Our generation is rife with self-starters and entrepreneurs, new-age thinking, non-traditional work regimes (remote work, multiple jobs etc.) and young people who just aren’t willing to settle. We are obsessed with forging our own way, and we seemingly love the side hustle more than any generation before us.
This is great, but it also means we are busy — sometimes to a fault. So many of us say yes to too many things.
What I’ve learned (the hard way) is that being busy is the enemy of productivity. Our culture has developed a dangerous propensity for this idea that being ‘busy’ is a badge of honour. We’ve romanticized the idea that chaos is what makes us relevant and successful, that it’s what keeps propelling us forward.
In Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss explains that in his opinion (and the opinion of many experts he interviews), busy = out of control. Lack of time is lack of priorities, and if you’re “busy”, it is likely because you put yourself in that position and it’s time to reexamine your system and rules.
Trust me, I know how hard it can be to become self-aware of this mindset. After all, social media hits us with a constant barrage of highlight reels and claims to lifestyles that may not be entirely true. But as we watch our peers post about their hustle, the events they’re attending, the exciting weekends, so many of us end up falling into a similar stride trying to keep up. And what if we slow down? What if we don’t have anything cool, impressive or otherwise relevant to post? Are we slacking? Are we not successful?
Having an entrepreneurial drive and working as a freelancer these last few years, has placed my own habits under a pretty critical microscope — and I didn’t always like what I saw. I realized (reluctantly) that much of the relentless stress I found myself battling was of my own creation, and could have been effectively remedied by better prioritization and time management.
I also noticed the way in which I struggled with down-time. I was becoming someone who had a bit of a faulty ‘off-switch’, which caused me to continuously bite off more than I could chew. It was almost as if I felt guilty when I wasn’t working on something, or otherwise internalizing stress about deadlines or projects. I was constantly saying ‘Yes’ to things, even if I knew deep down that I wasn’t overly inspired, because I felt some sort of misplaced obligation to everyone around me. And the more I said ‘Yes’ to things which I didn’t truly want to do, the more self-imposed resentment I felt and the less time I had to dedicate to those things which I truly loved.
If there is one piece of advice that I think every millennial should internalize, right now, it’s this:
If it’s not a “Hell Yes” it should be a “No”.
Simple as that. Once you let this concept rule your decision making process, your world will open up both professionally and personally. You won’t harbour any quiet resentment over obligations you aren’t excited about, because you’re choosing to only take on that which you truly feel compelled to pursue. Don’t get lost in all the noise. Having a fire lit under your ass 24/7 isn’t going to do your mind or body any good, especially if it’s not a fire of your choosing.
Hustling on your own terms has to include the willingness to prioritize, and allocate your time in a way that values quality over quantity. And you have to be unapologetic about it, too. That doesn’t mean selfish — it just means that you don’t constantly owe the world an explanation for why you’re saying ‘no’. It’s up to you to advocate for yourself, and you’ve earned the right to pick and choose the areas in which you invest your time and energy. Because it’s better to give 100% to a few things that truly get you going, than to give 60% to a lot of things you don’t really care about.
And the next time someone asks you how you are? Don’t answer with ‘busy’.