Does busyness equal success?

I used to wear my busyness like a boy scout wears his badges.

I wanted other people to consider me a hard worker, versatile, and an all around good guy. And one merit badge wasn’t enough. I wanted an entire sash filled with buttons so I’d win the ultimate prize: success. 

So the logical approach seemed to be making myself busy. 

But then I ended up in the hospital three times in four years, each visit lasting about three weeks. Needless to say, I’ve since changed my approach.

When you have a chronic health disease like mine, you’re forced to slow down. And when you’re forced to slow down, you’re forced to reflect. Well, at least that’s what I did laying in hospital beds with tubes in my arms and IV machines dripping and clicking next to me. I was too wonky from the morphine doses to read a book or play Cut the Rope on my phone.

Pain is a powerful influencer and interrogator. You can only ignore it for so long before it wrestles you to the ground and forces you to deliver an account of yourself.

And so, during my lucid moments I had to reassess my life: how did I end up here? Is there anything I could have done to prevent this health crash? How can I avoid another one? What is important to me now that I’m completely convinced I’m not immortal? What do I want to spend my time doing once I’m healthy enough to check out of this place? 

I realized I had to change the way I lived. I had to move slower and do less in order to have my health restored. 

At the time, this understanding was not only depressing, it was incredibly demoralizing. But now I can say it was one the most important learning experiences I’ve ever received. By being forced to slow down and reflect on how I was living, I have discovered a different definition of success, and how it is achieved.

I recently read Matt Perman’s What’s Best Next, a book that blows up common conceptions of things like productivity, efficiency, prioritization, and success (among other business jargon that success-driven people tend to use). Perman says this: “Productivity is not first about getting more things done faster. It’s about getting the right things done.”

When I read that, it hit me right between the eyes.

If I define success as the praise and attention of others, I will continue to run myself ragged.

But if I define success as focusing on and pouring myself into what I am made to do in life — without allowing myself to be distracted — then I will become healthier, easier to be around, more content, and filled with a deep and lasting joy. Which interestingly enough, leads to a greater kind of success: impacting the world with my gifts and not wasting time on other, less important things.

Now I make a daily point of focusing on the right things, and avoiding everything else. Because when I do this well, I find I’m the most successful at what I am created to do and be in the world.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo.