Career, Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Skills & Workshops

The Art Of Staying Busy – Deborah Tan

While we may bitch and whine about going to work, Deborah Tan believes that a great many of us would agree that too much free time on our hands can work against us. Read to find out why it’s important to stay busy even if you are between jobs or have been made redundant by your employer.

Last week, the Material World team had lunch with a couple of people from an organization, set up to help people find employment after being made redundant by their employers. A point brought up during our conversation got me thinking: we were told that, often, when the job-seekers go for interviews, many of them project a defeated image. The result is that potential employers often feel they are not driven or motivated enough.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it because for the first couple of months of Material World, I did have that feeling of “joblessness”. Sure I was trying to find work in the form of freelance assignments, and trying to get this website up and running, but there were definitely days when I felt helpless and I often wondered if this “aura” showed through whenever I met up with potential clients. It got to the point where I was refusing to leave the house unless I absolutely had to and – to be honest – every meeting I went to, I had to psych myself up so I would show up positive and chirpy.

Why This Feeling?
As much as we bitch about having to go to work, a lot us do get our sense of self-worth through what we do for a living. The moment we are taken away from a career that we have spent years building up, our self-esteem takes a nosedive and we start questioning if we are still of any use to anyone.

There is nothing as crushing to the ego as having no answer to, “What are you doing these days?” Our society views answers like, “I’m between jobs”, “I’m looking for a job” or “I’m taking some time off from work” with disdain. The implication of such answers is that (1) you are not wanted (2) no one is willing to give you money for your work and (3) you are useless to society.

giveitallyougotGetting Out Of Your Personal Rut
We all have our lows but the important thing is how long do you intend to stay in there. For me, I found that learning something new, picking up a new hobby, keeping myself busy is one of the most effective way to tell myself I’m not useless.

While waiting for business at Material World to pick up, I decided that I should make better use of my time by doing something that I never thought I would do: baking.

I decided that I would stop obsessing over when the next phone-call will come in and to do that, I picked a hobby that would keep me away from my phone and laptop whenever I’m at it. Friends teased me about becoming domesticated, my boyfriend thought I had gone crazy … but what I did not tell them (until now) is that I picked up baking as a way of coping with the moments of “uselessness” I had been feeling.

Being able to create something from scratch, learning the science of baking, and having some time to myself to think as I put eggs, butter, flour and sugar together, helped me ride out a challenging time in my life. As someone who had been kept crazy-busy for much of her adult life, learning to what to do with so much free time was challenging.


The Art Of Staying Busy
Why stay busy, you may ask? For me, I need to stay busy because it is the only way I know how to feel useful. And I believe a large number of you agree with me on this. The occasional vacation, the lazy weekend on the couch … these, we look upon as moments to recharge. Long periods of not knowing what to do can be fun at first but as the novelty (and money) wears off, we start to wonder what to do with ourselves.

Staying busy is more than just keeping up with appearances. It is a mindset that tells every cell in your body that you KNOW what to do with yourself, it is the thing that helps your entire being radiates with a sense of purpose. And, potential employers and clients want to see that.

Perhaps it’s a sadistic mentality but we all want someone who isn’t all that readily available to us. In love, in life, at work and at play, we always want the person who isn’t waiting by the phone so he/she can come to us at a moment’s notice. It’s not to say you should play hard to get; it’s just that the absence of purpose is not attractive.

How To Stay Busy
Anything beats sitting on the couch, playing with whatever game you’ve downloaded into your phone. Here are three things to consider:

baking1. Pick up a hobby that is totally out of character
For me, it was baking. I hate to cook, I didn’t want a kitchen, and I once tried to cook an egg (shell on) in a microwave. Overcoming the initial difficulties of understanding how food works was all-consuming. I couldn’t think of anything else except how to sift flour without making the kitchen look as though it had a bad case of dandruff. Then it was trying different recipes, posting it up on Instagram, forcing my friends to eat whatever I made … to finally master something I never thought of doing and enjoying it … that’s empowering!

2. Write
I have spoken many times about how liberating writing can be. Rather than escape your feelings, pen them down. Sometimes, it can be difficult confiding in another person but you can do all that on a blog, on paper, in a diary … whatever suits you. And don’t just write without an aim either. If you think your writing style is amateurish, read books and adopt the style of the writer you like best. If you think grammar is an obstacle, consciously work on improving it by Googling grammar rules and emulating what good periodicals do. This way, you are also working on improving a key communication skill valued in many corporations.

3. Exercise
There is nothing quite as purposeful as training up for an event, be it a marathon or a competition. Rather than stay at home feeling sorry for yourself, why not take the time to work on your body and fitness? We always complain about not having the time to work out and lose weight, well … now you have that time so use it! Join a running club – many of them are free to join, check out If you can afford it, join a muay thai gym or a bootcamp as the sense of camaraderie they encourage can have positive effects on your social skills.

The thing is, don’t shy away from social interactions and from any opportunities to discover yourself and bare your soul. Many of us tend to keep things to ourselves for fear that people would judge us and keep their distances. Of course, there will be people like that, but isn’t better to discover who they are now than later? Openness is something we Asians can definitely try to be more of. If we are open to the idea that self-worth can come in other forms besides a paycheque and a job title, we would feel so much more emboldened to seek out new experiences and adventures.

At the end of the day, what you are trying to become is not a Director or a CEO, you are trying to become YOU – and you are so many more things than just a job title. Remember this.

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