Jordana del Feld
5 min readMay 9, 2024

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The Case of the Busy Monster

What’s being so busy protecting you from?

“Luna” was looking for a quick fix.

A busy freelancer, she was looking for scheduling tricks that would help her feel less exhausted while still accomplishing everything on her calendar. She wanted to feel less overwhelmed. Less burnt out. Able to do the things she wanted to do. Live the life she wanted to live. Instead of collapsing onto her couch whenever she wasn’t working, so depleted that she could only stare at a blank wall.

This pattern had been going on for decades.

I doubted that a quick fix would address the root of her challenge. I knew that Luna had already spent lots of time and money on business coaches. She was at the top of her career. Financially secure. She understood her business. She didn’t need anyone asking if she had considered creating a passive source of scalable income. She didn’t need anyone asking if she had considered offering luxe experiences. And she really didn’t need anyone asking if she’d considered raising her prices.

Because Luna already knew about these concepts. If she had wanted to do them, she would be doing them. She didn’t suffer from a lack of information about how to create a more sustainable work-life balance. Rather, she was using “being busy” as a shield to protect herself.

From…what?

What was the monster that was so dangerous, it was safer for Luna to destroy her capacity to enjoy life, rather than to look her monster in the eye?

Until we looked her monster in the eye, together, all the business-coachy Band-Aids in the world would never staunch her haemorrhaging life-force.

But once we could see her monster, name her monster, and hold her monster, then we could tame her monster.

I invited Luna to get curious about her relationship with her schedule. What about being very busy was working well for her? Something was definitely working — otherwise she wouldn’t have stuck with it for decades. And…just maybe…was directing all that energy toward her very busy schedule helping her direct it away from somewhere else?

The question was too much. Even asking it was too scary. She wasn’t ready. I left the subject alone. For a long time.

One day, she brought it up by herself.

Working a lot made her feel wanted, and if people wanted her, then she must be worth something, she said. And if she was helping people, then she must be a good person. And if she was throwing all her energy into working, she didn’t have time to face her many doubts and fears.

“Busy” was virtue-signalling, in our Puritanical capitalist society. “Busy” was proof, to herself and to others, that she deserved to be here on Earth.

As she spoke, her voice got slower and deeper. More connected to her breath. It turned out that looking at her monster wasn’t quite as terrifying as she’d feared.

After Luna faced her first layer of monsters, the monsters underneath rose up too, clamouring for attention. They wanted to be seen! They wanted to be heard!

They wanted to be loved.

Eventually Luna was ready to look them in the eye too.

“Busy,” she recognised, meant being in control.

Work was a safe, boundaried world where she was in charge of what happened to herself. Play was not safe, because she did not control it. Anything could happen. And play didn’t give her the ego boost of knowing she was doing something “good.”

But even though building a lifetime of busy-with-work had helped Luna manage her anxiety, she realised that she longed for play. And had been longing for a long time.

Already debilitatingly exhausted, Luna was getting more and more exhausted as the years went by. She knew that if she continued operating her business exactly as she was currently doing, she would continue to get more and more exhausted.

Luna contemplated her chronic exhaustion. She realised that it, and the cave-dwelling that it brought about, was another form of control for her. Alone at home, she could protect her lifetime of disordered eating from public scrutiny. If she went out and saw other people socially, they might try to make her eat, or ask her why she wasn’t eating. Besides, since she wasn’t eating, she didn’t have the energy to go out anyway.

Alone at home, no energy vampires could drain her already depleted energy stores. And after exhausting herself by attending to the needs of her clients, if she was alone at home, nobody would expect her to fulfil their social needs.

And she might be lonely at home without the partner she craved, but at least she wasn’t exposing herself to possible emotional pain.

Luna spent weeks contemplating her relationship with her busy schedule and her staying at home. She realised that the issue she thought she wanted to change was not the issue she truly wanted to change. Instead of seeking pre-packaged productivity hacks that would help her continue doing what she was already doing, she realised that she didn’t want to continue as she was. She understood that she needed a different kind of change. And she didn’t yet know what that change would look like.

So she asked her monsters what they needed.

Could she have time for them? Could she build up some tolerance for relaxing?

And could she love them just as they were?

When Luna listened to her monsters, they stopped seeming so scary. The more she talked to her monsters, the more they talked to her. Over time, she saw them not as “scary,” but as “needy.” They were needs that were not being met. It was her job to attend to those needs as best she could.

She realised that she wanted what her monsters wanted. She was an expert at denying their needs, so she knew that addressing those needs would be a work in progress. But she began.

She practised seeing friends.

She practised eating food.

She practised separating her sense of self-worth from the number of hours she worked.

She practised toying with the idea that she was inherently lovable.

These would be the practices of a lifetime…but even starting them brought about noticeable positive changes.

Over time, Luna felt calmer. More relaxed. More emotionally fortified. More able to engage in non-work activities that she enjoyed. And she had more energy to engage with other people. Pleasure became more possible.

Which led to her having more energy.

The last time I saw Luna, she was feeling curious about the myriad possibilities of play. What would feel good for her? What would she enjoy? For the first time, she didn’t say one word about work. She was seeing her life as a whole. Giving importance to all of its parts. And seeing herself as worthy of her own time and care and love, regardless of services she provided for others. Work was part of her life now, not her whole life. The most important part of the picture was Luna herself.

“Work just doesn’t seem to be so important any more,” she sighed, peacefully.

And I knew that she had achieved her true goal.

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