I love reading. If you know me, you know that I am one of those people who believes that one of the cornerstones of every home – my interior design strategy, if you’d like to get fancy about it all – ought to involve bookshelves and of course, books. In fact, the bookshelves are negotiable, because you can get creative about using other “stuff” to function as “holders and presenters” of books.

I am not one of those people who believe in buying books for decoration alone, however. Books are meant to be read, discussed, given away after several glasses of wine and a passionate discussion about the theme covered in a beloved text, re-read and referred to when the main memory fails and only a waft of recollection remains, along with a clear visual of the design of the book cover, if not the title of the book itself.

I tell you this as a precursor to how I stumble across quotes. In books. And the quote that quite literally stopped me in my tracks on Saturday and that may change my life if it keeps weaseling its way into my brain is this:

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” ― Socrates

One minute I was thoroughly enjoying Michael Finkel’s tale of Christopher Knight’s 20+ years living alone in the woods in his book, “The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit “, and then I was pondering the barrenness of a busy life.

Barrenness. Busy, Life.

Powerful words. And ones that I instantly knew to be true. I can say this as someone who seems to have created an extraordinarily busy life.

I am constantly coming up with new ideas and instead of letting them be, I turn them into projects, push them into the world, force them to live and breathe, and sometimes they survive long enough to continue without me when I abandon them for the next interesting idea. I run four very different “businesses” (all under my name, but all carefully branded with vastly different audiences and offerings) in Austria alone, another in the UK, and a dormant company in South Africa. I organize several events every week to bring people together or to market new projects. I volunteer. I have a couple of retained projects that take up time. I write a few blogs, am learning (endlessly learning) three instruments, speak to my sister every day, deal with family dramas in South Africa and Austria, and have a variety of other hobbies like gardening and sauce-making and sewing that get whatever attention I have at the time.

Oh. And I’m married. To the most amazing and infinitely tolerant man. Who ought to have been at the top of the list with the tag “spending time with my husband”, but who instead seems to appear at the end of this long list of busy “things to do” that I have created for myself. Priorities, right?

The question is: is the busy-ness fulfilling?

Well, that was the question I asked myself.

Sometimes it’s nice to be busy. It’s a bit of a status symbol in today’s busy world. It gives me options –if I don’t like A, not to worry because I can fall back on B or C, and if it all goes to hell in a handcart, that’s okay because I can find ways to be busy again.

In reality, though, as soon as I saw the word “barren” in the same sentence as “busy life”, my tired brain did a little leap.

Because in reality, being busy doesn’t make me happy, although it’s stimulating and exciting and energizing.

Given the choice of being busy or…

…sitting beside the river with a book, my sun hat and a cup of tea, watching the people go by, either alone or with my husband, sharing a bit of eye contact and dipping into my book or exchanging a sentence or two…

Well. I’d choose the latter. Every single time.

Given the choice of trying to market and manage 5-6 businesses, multiple projects and life or…

…choosing only one business, one side project, one hobby and giving them each attention but not so much attention that I spend my waking hours making lists of things to do…

Well, I’d choose the latter, if only I was brave enough to whittle things down.

Becoming aware of the barrenness of a busy life

Perhaps this quote is the much-needed kick-up-the-backside that I’ve needed.

For years I’ve talked about focus, and when my dad died, I decided that I would streamline my life, my work, my plans. This lasted for about two months where I evaluated all my interests in a semi-crisis state! And even more recently, I was thinking about this in terms of social media accounts – what right-minded individual needs 20+ social media accounts that they seldom use?!

Coming across the wise words of Socrates has certainly made me think, but this time, I have decided to act. I’m working on a plan. I hope to update you soon.

In the meanwhile

How’s your life looking? Barren and busy? Just full enough to be fulfilled?

I hope it’s the latter. And if not, I hope that this quote gets you thinking, too.