SENIOR COLUMN: Get busy getting less busy


Whiteney Cravens, Photo submitted

I am a “Three” on the Enneagram. If you talk to me for some time, I’ll probably bring up personality tests during our conversation (or I’m secretly ‘typing’ you in my head), because I unabashedly love them. 

The Enneagram can be explained as a description for how different people view the world rather than a personality typology. As a Three, the Enneagram would say that I believed the wounding message at a young age that “I am what I do”, equating my identity with my accomplishments. I did proclaim boldly at the age of twelve that I would go to Harvard and had a meltdown when I lost my 4.0 in high school – to an A-. Depending on which version of the Enneagram you use, Threes are called “the Achiever” or “the Performer”: we thrive on success and avoid failure at all costs.

As Ian Morgan Cron explains in his book on the Enneagram The Road Back to You, “Being a Three and living in America is like being an alcoholic above a saloon” – we live in a success and image-obsessed culture. For me, attending the University of Alabama has especially challenged my identity as a Three. UA’s campus culture prizes achievement and accomplishment through prestige allocated based on titles, awards, exclusive or extensive campus involvement, leadership, honor societies, and so forth. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but when you equate your sense of self with your own success or achievement, or you buy into a culture that does, you set yourself up for disappointment at the first sign of failure or rejection, and subsequently put a lot of pressure on yourself to succeed. 

This pressure has translated into me pretending to “thrive” on constantly being stressed out or being busy. Have you ever said, “I thrive on stress”, “I like being busy”, or, “there’s literally nothing I could give up right now”? I have been saying these things my entire life, but I have also heard my fair share of fellow UA students say them as well. 

The undisciplined pursuit of more by way of pursuing busyness – filling my calendar to its limit in an attempt to study more, lead more, network more – by hesitating to ever say “no” – and the preponderance of stress these habits have ultimately caused – has taken a constant negative toll on my life via my relationships and my health when left unmanaged. 

Prior to spring break this year, after a week of irritably snapping at my friends and seemingly drowning in assignments and extracurricular obligations, one friend told me that she thought, since I already knew what I was doing after graduation, that I was “looking for things to be stressed out about.” Afterwards, I entered my car for a ten-hour road trip home to Missouri, and listened to business leader and fellow Three Michael Hyatt explain the concept of margin in his This is Your Life podcast series. He described margin as the “space between our loath and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.”

Initially offended with my friend’s comment, the idea of seeking out stress remained with me throughout spring break as I made a round of doctor’s visits to complete paperwork to receive my medical clearance for the Peace Corps – my post-grad plan. Stress showed up again and again as a trigger for many issues affecting my health. As a senior nearing graduation, I finally woke up to the realization that I was indeed trading off my relationships and health in my wayward pursuit of being busy in the hopes of achieving more. As a result, I felt like I was simply suffocating, and desperately fought to get more margin in my life. 

Why didn’t I figure out this concept of margin sooner? Ultimately, I had bought into the lie “I am what I do” for far too long – creating a toxic cycle of overachieving and overstressing until I eventually reached my limits, failing or burning out, and starting all over again in hopes I could do better next time. But we are loved for who we are, and more importantly, for who God is – and not for what we do. It takes being reminded of this day in and day out until one day, we look in the mirror and believe it in the depth of our being, to break the cycle of equating our identity with success and achievement – this is when we can authentically love our true self. We must forcefully remind our friends and loved ones of this as well. During Honors Week, when both my friend and I were feeling disappointed – we leaned on each other, affirming the power of having a friend that will remind you how loved you are regardless of your achievements. 

Nor do not have to be the victim of our own circumstances either, even if it feels that way in the short run. There will ultimately be a way out – we have agency in our own lives to say yes and to say no, and to make choices that will ultimately impact how we live our lives. And how you live and the relationships you live for are far more important for the legacy you leave behind at UA than anything else you will achieve in your time at the Capstone. My friends gave me a journal full of letters for when I move to Ukraine after graduation, and inside was not praise for my accomplishments but rather numerous accounts of small moments of kindness that I never knew would continue to have an impact years later – bringing donuts to a first discipleship meeting to make freshmen feel welcome or a chair to a friend during recruitment to help her back pain. 

Had I had more margin in my undergraduate career, I would have spent more time on the quad reading; spent more time writing and advocating for the issues I am passionate about; spent more time with my laptop closed during mealtimes, listening to my friends or getting to know strangers; spent more time taking spontaneous road trips and drives to the tops of parking garages to watch the sunset; spent more time at the Riverwalk and on the hill at the Amphitheater and probably playing Mario Kart at Loosa as well. 

There is more to gain in the pursuit of less. Margin is important. Get busy – getting less busy.  

Whitney Cravens is a senior majoring in political science and economics.