Have you ever met someone who didn’t think they were busy? Go ahead, try to find someone who’s not “busy”; it’s damn near impossible. From the college students having to study for the first time to the twenty-somethings in their first jobs, from the 40-year-olds with their multiple kids to the retirees trying out a second career, babysitting grandchildren, or traveling – everyone thinks they’re busy. And while this may be more perception than reality, it’s the perception that matters when it comes to building relationships and a creating good life experiences.
But it’s not all mere perception. Not only has technology made us more isolated than ever before, it’s also made us busier than ever before. Economist John Maynard Keynes famously predicted in 1930 that his grandchildren would likely work no more than three hours per week. Yeah, it hasn’t exactly worked out like that. Instead, we’ve pushed new technologies to the limit to allow us to produce more than ever before. Although this created has more wealth for many (most), it has also transformed our economy to the point where almost all jobs require the increased production in order to survive economically, as the cost of living has risen dramatically as well. In other words, the system is now such that we cannot slow down. As a result, we’re busier than ever at work because, while we produce more than ever before, that enhanced level of production is required in order to maintain profitability. Conclusion: technological advancements have made us more productive, yet busier.
However, the numbers show that, on average, we actually work less hours than we did in the 1960’s, which means we have more discretionary time. What’s more, technology allows more people to work remotely, which means less time in the office or commuting. But, the existence of smartphones and tablets has also resulted in people being “on call” more than ever, thus checking e-mail and taking calls for work long after their “workday” has officially ended. The line between when the workday ends and discretionary time begins has become blurred. Instead, we just kind of do it all, all the time. As a result, we do feel busy all the time, whether we are or not.
Because salaries are higher than ever before, we feel the need to work more, as our time feels much more valuable. We become less content taking a walk or hanging out with friends because that time could be spent earning more money. Tim Ferriss tells an illustrative story of setting up a conference for the world’s richest men. Every attendee was a billionaire. The problem was that almost none of them could find a weekend in which they were available for a conference; they were simply too busy. The irony, Ferriss points out, was striking: what’s the point in being a billionaire if you can’t get away for a weekend?
Not only are we busier at work, we’re busier than ever outside of work. As I noted in this post, the “sports industrial complex” is out of control. While the boom of extracurricular events for kids has enabled more kids to participate in an activity that suits their interests and talents, it has also resulted in parents who have no free nights and no free weekends. The running joke among travel sports parents is that there is no more Herculean task than coordinating a birthday party for a travel ball player. It’s basically impossible to find a date that is not covered with activities for either the birthday child or his teammates.
Finally, “busy” has become a bit of a status symbol, a badge of honor, in our culture. While the tide may be changing on that issue in the last few years, it’s still largely true. Historically, it was leisure time that indicated status, as being free to pursue leisurely pursuits meant that you weren’t stuck in a clock-punching job, but rather were wealthy enough not to work. Today it’s “busyness” that indicates status. If you’re busy, it means you’re valued and needed by others. Thus, you’re deemed to be of a higher status than someone who isn’t needed, and therefore has time to spare. As a result, people tend to busy themselves, present themselves as being busy, and think of themselves as busy.
So, here were are. We are busier at work, busier outside of work, we feel busier, and are encouraged to present ourselves as busy. How in the hell are we supposed to build relationships with other men who are facing the same conundrum? I need to make money, build my body, build my skills, raise my children, love my wife, and maintain relationships with other busy men, while getting enough sleep to do it all again the next day. Sounds like a losing proposition.
Except that we’re men. We don’t make excuses. We don’t dwell on problems and whine about how we wish life were easier, we find solutions. Here’s the beginning of the solution: building friendships with other men must be a priority to you. Parts I and II of this series have been an attempt to convince you of the extreme need for men to connect with each other. Because societal forces, technology, and our own fears and preferences push us towards isolation, the only way we’re going to establish connections with other men by is being intentional. It’s not going to happen accidentally or serendipitously. We have to make it happen. That starts with a new mindset; a mindset that values (prioritizes) relationships with other men.
As I noted in this post, our true priorities get scheduled. If we say we value relationships but consistently fail to invest our time into them, we’re kidding ourselves. If you want to know what you value, look at how your calendar and your bank statement, because time and money are our two primary resources, and how we spend them reflects what we actually value, as opposed to what we say we value. So, building friendships with other men starts with valuing such friendships.
The second part of the solution is this: slow the hell down and schedule your priorities. While we’re all in a time crunch (partly of our own creation), we still have the same 24 hours in a day. We cannot do everything. We must identify the things that we need to do, starting with the most important, and put them into our schedules. This means we must learn to love the word “No”. Saying “Yes” to priorities means saying “No” to everything else. Now, to be clear, this is generally speaking. You should by all means use vacations and unexpected free time to pursue lesser priorities or non-priorities. But, as a rule, protect your priorities by saying “No” to everything else that competes for time on your schedule and would squeeze out more important matters.
What’s more, it means giving balance to our competing priorities. Men need to prioritize (1) being strong and protecting our families, (2) making money and providing for our families, (3) raising our children, (4) loving our wives, and (5) connecting with other men. If we spend too much time in any one area, the other areas suffer. We must be balanced in these areas, as all are important to the success and satisfaction of both us and our families. If we’re spending too much time at work, we may well excel at providing for our families, but we will likely suffer in our health and relationships. If we spend too much time working out or hanging out with friends, our marriages and children will not thrive. If we spend too much time at our kids’ events, we will struggle to have strong bodies and strong friendships.
Balance is the key. To be clear, balance does not mean “equal time”. Balance means giving each area the appropriate amount of time. What constitutes the “appropriate” amount of time is contextual, depending on how you and your family are doing in each area. If you’ve been working too much, you need to scale back at the office and spend more time in the gym, on a date with your wife, coaching your kid’s team, or on an outing with your friends. If you’ve been at a ball game or practice every free moment for the last month, you need to take your wife on a date and schedule a night out with your friends. If you’ve been living it up with friends and family, you need to get back in the gym and the office. Balance. Give each area the time needed to thrive.
But, right now, we’re talking about your friendships. I started with this area because, as the statistics show, it’s an area that men most frequently neglect, especially once they have kids. As one article on this topic noted, good parents don’t shortchange their children, they shortchange their friendships. In so doing, they get out of balance. Bad parents get out of balance by shortchanging their kids to party with their friends. If you’re reading this blog, my guess is that you don’t fit that description. Instead, you’re more likely to be out of balance the other way: devoting so much time to your children that you don’t make time for friendships with other men.
So let’s evaluate: do you have friends and are you giving sufficient time to building those friendships? If the answer is “no”, and statistics show that the answer for most of us is “no”, it’s time to re-prioritize. Because the man’s life is a life that is lived in connection with other men. It’s how we thrive, and it’s how our families thrive. Make a change. Today. Being “busy” is no badge of honor, and it’s no excuse to neglect a vital aspect of manhood. If we’re too busy for friends, we have created a problem. Don’t whine about it. Don’t wish life were easier. Get better. Make time. Build a tribe. That’s the man’s life.
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