Busy for What

One of my best friends messaged me this morning to invite me to his birthday In January at The Annex Hotel. It’s his latest venture in a string of ongoing ventures. He’s had several and so have I. My latest is Dopesite. I’m lucky to have a handful of childhood friends, like him, who are still in my life after all these years. They’re the kind of friends you grew up with, experienced every stage of life with, fought with, made up with, shared secrets with, and ultimately, just couldn’t imagine your life without their presence, because they’ve seemingly always been in it.

Like me, he’s an early riser, a condition, or perhaps, a symptom of entrepreneurship. It’s something we have in common, and lately our conversations often take place before sunrise. If not then, it’s almost always sometime after sunset. 

Where do all those hours in the day go? 

He asked how I was doing, and I responded with, “Feeling the burn and needing some downtime.” 

When I asked how he was doing, he responded with, “Same man. Totally spent.”  

It’s sad that one of my best friends has to notify me about his birthday a month in advance, but that’s the nature of the beast. As of right now, I already have things scheduled in my calendar for October of next year.

This kind of busy, so exhausted, no time for anything shit, is something I hear from all of my friends, and I get it, because I also give it. Some of them are entrepreneurs as well, but most are not, so the feeling seems to not be exclusive to entrepreneurship. The one thing we do have in common is city life, which can be draining for sure, everything takes a lot longer, costs a lot more, so forth and so on. 

Still, it seems unreasonable to blame a city on your inability to live life to the fullest. Strip away all of the noise, hassle, inefficiency, expenses, and your left with everything you could ever wish for. Yet, it’s not nonsense, it’s not made up, we’re all busy and exhausted. It’s possible, and I’d argue likely, that causation here is reversed, or put differently, it’s not the city, rather the kind of people it tends to attract.

Us city kids are doing competitive things, in competitive fields, and the competition’s never letting up, so neither can you. Toronto’s one of the most competitive places on earth. I’ve lived in other cities. There was a time when I thought it was hard to make it in Los Angeles. Looking back on it now, those afternoon poolside meetings are like an aberration belonging to some distant world that probably never existed.

Us city kids are doing competitive things, in competitive fields, and the competition’s never letting up, so neither can you.

Admittedly, there’s a special kind of busyness and exhaustion in entrepreneurship. More succinctly, there’s the heightened stress of being responsible for the success of every little thing. At times, it’s an unbearable weight, but you can never put the load down. That being said, the rest of my friends have professional careers, which embody similar levels of busyness and exhaustion. The simple truth of the matter is that, if you want to be at the top of your game, the city is where you come to compete.

So, we’re all competing, but for what?

I often wonder, what it is that we’re competing for. I mean, I get it basically. Especially, the specifics that pertain to me. I set goals. I obtain them, sometimes. So I guess what I’m asking is more on a metaphysical level. If you ever win, what is it exactly that you win? 

My mother tells me that relationships are what matters most in life. I tend to agree with this. I’m rich in relationships, however, apart from my wife, I have very little time for them. The same is true of my friends. So why is it so hard to make time for them? I don’t have the answer to that. I wish I did. I guess that’s why I’m writing this. 

The irony is that one of the supposed perks of working so hard in competitive fields is that you’re rewarded with an abundance of resources. Resources are meant to free up time, give freedom, and they do in a sense, but not in a real sense, because we become completely beholden to them. I swear to God, if any of us took the foot off the accelerator, for even a second, we’d be in a traffic jam we’d never get out of. 

All of this reminds me of a letter that Charles Bukowksi wrote, where he tells his friend:

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work.  

Charles Bukowski

I work for myself, but haven’t had the time to see my brother in months. He lives in Ottawa and the five-hour drive is an unjustifiable loss of time for either one of us right now. What about those resources, couldn’t you fly? Yes, of course I could, and so could he, but even that’s three-hours here, and three-hours there, with a few hours sandwiched between.

I’m sick of forcing things. It’s hard on the brain, the soul, and oh ya, it’s exhausting. It’s just un-fucking-healthy. It’s like that turkey sandwich on white that you picked up at the only truck stop on a long lonely highway. The bread is stale, the meat is questionable, the cheese is moldy, the lettuce is soggy, and three hours later you’re looking for the nearest washroom. What’s the point? You’re better off hungry.

Funnily enough, the last time he was in Toronto, was for a wedding he’d committed to a year in advance. In a bizarre twist, I wasn’t in the city that weekend. In fact, he even stayed at my place. Why wasn’t I in the city? Well, because I was burnt out and exhausted. I needed to escape. I wasn’t escaping the city, I was escaping myself, and I guess that’s the point. Every once in awhile, step off the path you’ve chosen for yourself, reflect on it, and correct the course if needed.

Don’t compete with yourself.

I don’t think we’re hardwired to operate in this manner. As such, it takes a bit of rewiring to get the circuit board working properly. Moreover, there are times when we’ll get the wires crossed, and discover, nothing’s working at all. We’re all different of course, so I can’t tell you how to wire yours, but I can tell you a few things that I’ve done with mine.

I’ve let go of what hurts most.

I spent four years of my life on a company I ended last year. When I began it, I believed I was following my dream. When I ended it, it was because it had taken every other dream from me.

It’s really difficult saying goodbye to the things we’ve invested heavily in. We have cognitive bias that tells us to keep going and make it work. I’m not suggesting you give up immediately when things get hard. Rather, determine when things have taken too much without giving back.  

Life is short. Invest in what gives back and makes you happy.    

I’ve rediscovered my younger self.

Regression is often looked upon negatively. We’re supposed to grow up in life, or at least grow, which is true, but there’s a great deal of growth to be found in the things we’ve left behind. 

“Grow up,” they say. You should, but not in the way they mean. I think the best way to grow into the person you want to be, is to reflect on the person you wanted to be. 

I go to the skatepark in the morning on weekends. I play guitar and paint when I need an outlet. I go see bands from the nineties and sing my heart out. I make my own clothes and dress how I like. I still laugh of a lot at adulthood, because a lot of it’s still funny to me.      

The busyness of the world takes a great deal from us, including our youth, take a little bit back. 

I’ve said yes when the body says no.

Sometimes I feel so physically exhausted it seems impossible or unwise to put further strain on the body. I’ve learned though, that when I’m in this state, I almost never regret saying yes to more physical activity. After hours of writing code, or whatever else I’m working on, the last thing I feel like doing is physical activity, but I do, and it makes me happy. 

Last Friday, another childhood friend of mine, invited me to play outdoor hockey. I teetered. It was late. The week long. Friday evenings are for recovery. Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I dragged my ass out of the house, drove across the city, and had the best start to the weekend I’ve had in a while. 

I’ve said no when the brain says yes.

I have this thing inside of me that’s really hard to control. I like pleasing people. My brother has It too, so maybe it’s genetics? Basically, I feel immense guilt when I let people down. Oftentimes, I feel the guilt is worse than the strain of whatever commitment or ask is in front of me, so I just do it. 

This is unhealthy. I’ve become better at determining what’s actually required of me and when I’m being taken advantage of. Don’t feel guilty when someone’s asking for too much. They should feel guilty for asking. 

Embrace the life you’ve chosen.

As my conversation with my friend ended, he said, “Complexity of life.”

To which, I responded, “At least it moves for us. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I was stuck on the hamster wheel.”

To which, he responded, “Exactly.”

In reading that, I’m reminded that having the ability to choose your own path is not only earned, but also, a privilege. I guess all this struggle in life, this busyness, this exhaustion, is a result of choosing to step off the hamster wheel and walk my own path. I’d prefer it that way, any day of the week. Even if it takes up every hour, of every day. So, in a sense, I feel as though I’m already winning, because what else is there in life, but getting to live it your way?

It’s all sad but it’s not bad,


Author avatar
Stephen Shaw
I've worked with artists like Janet Jackson and Sammy Adams, I've helped with causes like HXOUSE and Fashion Cares, and I've consulted for brands like Adidas and Budweiser. These days I make things like Dopesite, Artful Record® and It’s All Sad™ 🌎🌍🌏


  1. Couldn’t agree more with you, Stephen. I’ve been told that you “make your own climate”—for good or bad. I’m no expert in ‘climatology’, but I’d say from the number of references to friends and family in your writing, you’ve got a great ‘weather system’. All the best! (I hope that I can internalize/apply some of your advice in my own life.)

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