This summer marks 5 years since we moved back to Minnesota. When we moved back we were grateful to be closer to family and to be able to spend more time with our grandparents in their later years. At that time both of my grandmothers were experiencing failing health.
In the 5 years since we’ve been back 3 of our grandmas have passed away. I am still so grateful that I got to be with both of my grandmas in their final hours.
One of my Grandmas comes from a much bigger family than the other and was more of an extravert. That means that during the funeral preparations and time with family more stories of her life started coming out. It was fascinating to hear about a different time that reminded me a lot of episodes of Mad Men if it were set on a rural Minnesota farm instead of Manhattan.
I heard about fundraising bake sales, raising kids on the farm, volunteering in the community, dancing the night away only to snowmobile home before sunrise to make it to church in the morning and many more wild antics.
My Grandma knew how to live big, with a big smile and a big heart.
I heard about showing up with a hot-dish and a few prayers when her neighbors or friends were struggling. I learned for the first time how active she was in local organizations and how important it was to her to give back even though she had plenty on her plate raising 4 boys and being a farmer’s wife.
I learned that she cherished family, friends and her community in a way that I can’t quite imagine.
Aside from how unceasingly caring and generous she was something really stood out to me when hearing about her life.
She was busy!
From the sounds of it she woke before the sun to whip up eggs, bacon and toast for her husband, 4 boys and any farm hands that would be eating breakfast with them before chores. She sewed, baked, volunteered, made lunch for everyone then brought it out to the field, helped friends, cleaned, made a big dinner and I’m sure many other tasks that weren’t named before hitting the pillow at night.
Amongst that she squeezed in as much fun as she could find. She never missed a dance, party or invitation to play cards at the neighbor’s house. She also was a champion bowler, hoolahoop competition winner and sharp dresser.
These were only the things I heard about or saw in photos. And I’m sure her level of activity and participation was no different than many women of her generation.
Here’s the thing.
I’ve been reflecting on what I learned over the past 5 years from my grandparents and finally feel ready to share it with you.
This is what my Grandma taught me about busy.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. These are lessons I learned from MY Grandma through stories I’ve heard. Obviously there were people in that time who had a different experience and I don’t mean to lump an entire generation into one small category. Even so, I think we can learn something from the lives lived in the past.
This is what I understand about the busy lives of the women in my rural Minnesotan home town.
Being busy wasn’t out of competition it was out of necessity.
She wasn’t adding unnecessary tasks to her plate, because it felt good when people asked her “how do you do it all? She wasn’t trying to out do Sarah next door. She was doing what needed to get done each day because there was simply A LOT TO GET DONE. If someone had said to her “stop making yourself so busy. What are you trying to prove?” she either would have looked at them with a confused look or laughed in their face.
Her full schedule wasn’t an attempt to prove her worth or be better than her friends. It was her way to do her part in her family, church and community. Which brings me to the next lesson.
She got a lot more fulfillment and happiness out of her busy schedule than we do today.
If you stop any woman during her mad rush to get it all done and ask her if she’s having fun she’d probably give you a confused look or laugh in your face. The amount of stress, overwhelm and sheer tasks we’re attempting to accomplish in a given day would make my Grandma say “dear, that’s too much.”
But I have personally witnessed the joy, giggles and fun my Grandma brought to chores and not-so-fun tasks. I’ve seen women of generations older than me go about their days with a pep in their step and a smile on their face and efficiently tackle the tasks at hand while telling jokes and having the best time.
From talking to my Grandma and the rest of my family here’s what I understand about the difference between then and now.
There was a realistic and attainable to-do list each day and there was also a sense of purpose, community and teamwork in it all.
She didn’t go it alone and she made sure her friends and family weren’t either. No one was busy just for the sake of busy so they had a true purpose behind what they were doing. And all of it was for the greater good of their family, self or community. To me that sounds like a wonderful way to be “busy”.
Her life was joyfully (and sometimes exhaustingly) full, but not painfully busy.
Some of my favorite stories were about the fun my grandparents had together even though they were tired from raising their family and farming. My Grandpa loves to talk about swinging my Grandma around the dance floor so fast that her wig would fly off.
Or piling the 4 boys into the car to go to Anderson’s farm and play cards all night even if they had to wake up at dawn to get back out into the field.
They squeezed everything they could out of a day and squeezed in all the fun they could too.
I know that we humans have a tendency to remember the past with positive lens, but it sounds like there was a lot more laughter, love and fun during a much more grueling level of work than we have today.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that they filled their little amount of free time with life-giving activities which filled them up to face their full tomorrows. I think that this (paired with a Minnesotan farmer’s work ethic) is what allowed her to bring energy and joy to her tasks each day.
She didn’t worry about what anyone else was doing unless that person needed help.
While I’m grateful to be living in this modern age I am jealous of one thing about my Grandmother’s life. She didn’t have the internet to constantly remind her of other people’s achievements.
Today we can open up Instagram and see people from all ages, locations and backgrounds doing cool things while we sit at home in our current reality. Sometimes subconsciously adding to-dos or hypothetical to-dos (be cooler or read more) to our list to keep up.
She lived in a small town where everyone was pretty much the same. There wasn’t much worth in comparing yourself to others because everyone was working hard to get their day’s tasks accomplished in much the same way as she was. From the stories her friend’s told me the only reason she paid attention to what others were doing was so she could keep them in her prayers, lend a hand or bring them a meal.
That kind of attention sounds good to me.
It’s easy to look back on the life she lived with envy and admiration. I’m sure it was harder than anyone is remembering, but it also sounds filled with love and adventure. While I can’t begin to replicate it, because I’m not a rural farmer’s wife raising 4 sons I can take away this lesson.
Being busy for busy’s sake is a waste of the valuable time we have in life.
When we stop playing the busy game we have the chance to actually make progress on our goals, spend quality time with the people that are important to us and live a fulfilling life. We have the option to enjoy our days, be our healthiest selves and pursue the opportunities that come our way.
We have the choice to live a life that causes us to collapse on our pillow in exhausted happiness at night.
And that alone is reason enough to break free from busy.
I’ve been thinking about this post for the last 3 years. Learning about my Grandma’s life before I knew her was one of the original motivations for breaking my own relationship with busy. For learning about how it affects people and studying how to undo the decades of conditioning to always be doing more.
I’m committed now to teaching and living a life unbusy. If you’re ready to live a full life instead of a busy one join me in Break Free From Busy Bootcamp. I’ll teach you the fundamental principles of designing your life to be less busy so you can effortlessly implement them on your own.
And if you take one lesson from this post and use it to change how you interact with your daily life than you’ve taken the most important step of all – the first one.
Don’t let it stop there.
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