Becoming Less Busy

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants.
The question is: what are we busy about?
      -Henry David Thoreau

I am a social animal. I miss being part of a team. While it can be a relief to hop off a call as a consultant and think, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” I feel almost wistful watching a client celebrate. I’ve had to learn how to say, “I’m so happy for you! Congratulations!” instead of “Woo-hoo! We did it!” I miss being able to poke my head into an office or send a quick “Got a min?” instant message. I genuinely like my clients, but the relationship between yours truly and coworkers versus yours truly and clients is fundamentally different.

It’s transactional.

Which is funny: being an employee is, at its core, also transactional. But I suspect that individuals who love working as much as I do (no sarcasm, although I shun the term “workaholic”) surrender far more than 40 hours/week to their employers. I know I did. Necessity was only one driver: I am my family’s breadwinner. But I love working; I always have. I marched myself down to the town hall when I was 14, pediatrician’s and parents’ signatures in hand, to get my working permit. Work gives me purpose, challenges my thinking, and expands my community. And frankly, during some dark periods in my personal life, work was the one place I could shed the outer world like a heavy coat at the door. Grief, anger, and organ failure have fueled some of the most professionally successful transitions in my life.

And then I became a Mum three months before I turned 44. I could write pages about motherhood’s impact on my career. I won’t in this article, but I will say this: being a mother has only opened doors for me. I know this statement runs contrary to the media depiction of working moms. But this is my experience: I feel like I joined a secret mommy professionals club. I was in the workforce a loooooong time before I had our son, and I can say without reservation that both my work and my time get more respect now than they did in the pre-Mama era. The scrutiny, distrust, and competition imposed on single career women who don’t have children– by other women!– is real, and it’s patently unfair. I came to value my own time differently because others did. For example, business travel became very intentional: face-to-face meetings had to drive outcomes and not be only an exercise in relationship management.

After over a decade of leading teams, big and small, I chose not to manage people. I firmly believe that if you take on a people-manager role, you have to put in the hours to do right by your people. You are managing people’s livelihoods. Coaching performance, hi-lighting career opportunities, building their brand within an organization, occasionally becoming body armor against upper management or teams with competing priorities… it takes time and energy that, in my opinion, is rarely rewarded or compensated relative to the effort. I knew that I did not want to be anyone’s boss while I had a bouncing baby boy waiting for me at daycare. Even now, with my own company and a child who is fully potty-trained and eager to start school, I wrestle with how to build Galway Group. 

My motivation today? Create more time. Become less busy. 

People are a plus, not a minus, in my time wallet now. Still, the responsibility terrifies me, not for lack of confidence in Galway Group’s potential but rather my fear I won’t clear the high bar I hold for myself as a leader. But to quote Art Garfunkle:

Everything worth doing starts with being scared.