Don’t Go Back to Busy: A Letter From Spain

We’ve been rocked by Covid-19. Work from home has been proven possible in verticals that never considered it a viable option, celebrations were amended, social lives gone, consumerism cancelled, school is at the kitchen table, and now we all know how to Zoom. Actually no one knows how to f*ckin Zoom. “You’re on mute Karen!”

But before we all create our post-Covid lives – let’s survey the scene. Do you spend too much money on stuff that doesn’t bring you joy? Did time with family teach you that you don’t spend enough quality time at home? Did you rediscover your kid? What did you miss? What DIDN’T you miss? Do you under-appreciate your health and your kids teacher?!!

Corona gifted us all a big pause button and, albeit terrifying, we have had precious time to reflect and reassess. We’ve been forced to do lots of looking in the mirror, beyond our bad roots and Kahlo eyebrows to answer: “What brings me joy?” and “What do I want in my life?” or “What’s gotta go?”

I’d like to add a layer to those questions from the perspective of someone abroad. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned living in Spain:

Slow Down. Work to Live.

The Spanish culture reveres rest and time with friends and family – not work. The American family values being busy.

Americans: “I’m so busy! I’ve got to go get Kensley’s balloons and go drop off at baseball, and grab a gift for my sister, and find shoes for Jack-Jack, and ya know. Stressed and blessed!”

Translation: I’m important. Productivity is important.

As a recovering busy bee, Europe has taught me that there’s beauty in simplicity. Parties don’t need special balloons from a specialty store. Work can wait. Slow down tiger.

Here’s Spain…at 11am:

“Want to have a beer in the sun for 3 hours? Ok.”

That’s it. No squeezing into a calendar or “after I do this thing”. Doing nothing is a given here.

Relaxing, talking, sauntering, napping, drinking, laughing, and eating are what rules their days.

As a self proclaimed “go-getter” this annoyed me for a solid 9 months. Stores are closed because the shop owner is just taking a nap?! I NEED to copy this key though!? uhhhh

How wrong I was. It’s not that they don’t work – they just aren’t ruled by it.

The Spanish have taught our family to slow down quite forcefully. In other words, I had to succumb to this idle speed because everything here is at a turtle pace: service, pedestrians, and systems. At first, everything seems to be painfully sedated…like being underwater.

But after drinking the kool-aid (or sangria), I’ve seen the beauty in this laid back approach to work. Life is not about being busy nor the illusion of things that “need” to get done. I used to have to-do lists that I could almost feel physically controlling me. I’d do it all and then I’d still feel like it wasn’t enough.

Now, I’m still underwater, but I’m wearing a snorkel and goggles, waving at people contentedly with an understanding that sitting in a cafe with a book is a perfectly acceptable way to spend my time without feeling guilty or lazy.

Status and fulfillment in Spain is based on the chill-o-meter. Spaniards work to relax.

Why don’t they have anything to do though?? Easy, they don’t plan anything. Before living here that would have been my version of hell but now I love it. I don’t find myself overcommitting or filling up my precious weekends running all over town. Married to an introvert – I didn’t realize that this full calendar lifestyle was even encroaching on my relationship with my husband, until I really slowed down.

They even vacation slow – the entire month of August to be exact. Holidays are truly time off – everything is shut down. No Starbucks, grocery stores, nothing. Everyone is home with their loved ones. Sundays are a ghost town.

As an American, I hope to embrace this Spanish mindset for the rest of my life.

We’ve all been applauding healthcare and service workers for the last 3 months. Your real applause will be in your actions. Vow not to use holidays to run errands, stay at home. Don’t patronize businesses during holidays so that service workers can go home to their families and the consumer world can stop spinning for everyone’s sake.

After months of being stripped of the possibility of doing all of the things you had to get done, did you notice that you didn’t NEED the special balloon from Party City across town after all?

I hope your to-do list has been rendered invalid. I mean, you’ve had almost 3 months at home now to clean out the spice drawer and you didn’t even do it. So take it off the list and don’t feel any way about it. You need to set this example for your kids too. This generation is too stressed out. They’re having panic attacks over Algebra tests and taking drugs to stay awake and “get it all done”. Show them that you can occasionally skip things and survive.

What you really need is rest. Take a glorious guilt-free nap and instead of calling yourself lazy – think of it as Euro chic and a much better investment in your future than any dumbass Paw Patrol balloon.

Covid has reminded us that we can live with less but I suggest that you have an action plan for how this will play out best for you and your family. “New normal” will only be new if you break old habits.

Your time is your most precious commodity. Being busy is a distraction, a badge of honor, a habit, and a death sentence.

Let’s embrace the Corona curveball and dare to do more of…nothing. Drop the “I’m so busy!!” and the laundry – unwind with a friend that makes you laugh and bury the need to be anywhere else.

There’s a reason the Spanish live longer and happier lives: They work to live.