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How about you take a break from your busy schedule and join us for some brewing? And no, it was not just an accident that we knew how much you have on your plate. After all, what is the number one word event professionals like to use when it comes to their lives? Right up there with stressed is – you guessed it – busy. Few industries are as mentally demanding as the event industry. And we hear you, things do have a way to pile up one after another.

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But have you considered that maybe it’s time to remove the word busy from your vocabulary? Have you thought about how it can change both your perceptions and those of the people around you? Well, that’s exactly what today’s episode of Event Brew is all about. Join our incredible hosts Will Curran, Nick Borelli, Thuy Diep, and Dustin Westling for a very interesting conversation. Who knows, maybe once you’re done listening, you’ll change your opinion about the word busy. Grab your favorite coffee mug, it’s time to get brewing!

Click here for the full audio transcription.

busyAre You Busy?

Dustin wishes there was a way we could avoid the word. “What I find happens a lot is that people ask you are you busy? That comes up so much, and it seems to be a qualifier for people. It’s the first thing that comes out of somebody’s mouth. When I talk to somebody I want to know about your family, anything other than busy”, he says.

Thuy actually seems to be onto something. According to her, “I never say busy anymore. I say productive because you can be busy and not productive. But you can be productive and busy. So I actually eliminate that word altogether from my vocabulary list. When someone asked how I’m doing, and it’s work-related, I’ll say it’s been a really productive day”.

Connecting With Better Conversation Starters

The problem with the “are you busy” question is that it’s plain, and often used as a conversation starter. For Will, the key here is to “figure out a way to start destroying this mentality and create a culture of don’t ask if I’m busy, ask a better question. Ask them, what’s something new that you’ve learned in the last month? Get deeper with it too. I mean, Sandbox, we’re known for having really deep conversation with people we met five minutes ago. What are you scared of? What are your goals in life? I feel that’s such a better way to dive into a great relationship.”

In terms of business, Dustin believes it’s all about the way you approach people. “When I want to know something about their business or what’s going on, I share first. So, if I want to know what’s going on next quarter for them, then I got to open up my books and say this has been really interesting. This is the trend that I’m seeing and be really open and transparent. And then ask them something specific about it instead of just this general, are you busy, are you not busy? That is a really good starting point that I know I’ve tried to incorporate into my conversations”.

The Pride Equation

The word has connotations that are easily associated with having a lot going on in terms of work. Which, invariably, does bring a certain smug connotation. “Pride in being overwhelmed is definitely an event industry thing”, says Nick. “But what we are probably getting rid of some really smart talent that would come into our industry. But then they’re exposed to people in our industry who are just constantly talking about the worst parts of it all the time. Kiss your weekends, goodbye”.

“This sort of pride in being busy, and I do feel about myself, and I wish I could be the one on this”, adds Dustin. “That is so against all of this, but I do. And I’m still trapped in a little bit of a trap where being busy and having this overflowing plate and having this appearance that I’m always on the go, that I’ve always got a million things going, it still is important to me”.

The Qualifier

For Thuy, saying that you’re busy “It’s like saying we’re the fifth most stressful career. That’s not anything to brag about. That makes me sad. When people say they’re so busy, and they don’t have time to do this, and that. It makes me so sad for them”. Why do people do it, then? Well, Dustin thinks it’s because “you want to be perceived as being busy. Because busy equals successful. When somebody talks about you, you want people to say, they’re really busy because they’re great at what they do”.

Knowing Your Capacity

The way Nick goes about conducting his business life is quite interesting. “For me it’s just where am I capacity wise? How many clients could I take on?”, he explains. “I’m probably at 75% capacity at all times, just because I leave myself open to be 25% if I really wanted to dive into something that was super cool. It’s a completely different way of looking at things, I think. Because I don’t think most people would say that. Like is my 50% capacity covered for what I need. The other 25 is stuff that I’m doing a little bit more than that. And then I still probably have another 25 that I could use if I wanted to”.

Dustin agrees on the importance of maintaining some flexibility, no matter how much you have on your plate. “In our business, the faster you can react to things that are coming in and the faster you can jump on them. Oftentimes, it makes a difference to whether you’re going to win a job or not”, he explains.

The Importance Of “You” Time

“I think a lot of times, we aren’t busy enough making time for our own self-care, our own family time. The reasons why we are so intertwined with this being our whole life, this career of ours that we forget that there’s a lot more past that”, says Thuy. And that leads to self-fulfilling prophecies, one that it’s up to you to change. “What’s that saying, tell a different story, and you’ll end up living it. So, if you’re telling people that you’re busy all the time, then that’s the life you’re going to live. And if you start changing that language, and creating space, reminding yourself of all the things that you do that are not classified as busy, then that’s the life that you’re going to lead better”, says Dustin.

Projecting Or Not Projecting?

One way Dustin finds his balance is by keeping all of his social media work-free. “I keep that space for all the things that I really cherish outside of work. So that is for my friends, that is for my dog, that is for my hiking trips. That’s for things that inspire me. And you’ll never see me post a work picture on there unless it’s something that’s monumental with my team, which I consider to be a crossover into personal. I don’t use that platform for work to show how busy I am”.

For Nick, things are a bit more subjective. “There’s no one path that is the correct path. I don’t know, there are ones that are very strategic, and that only talk about business”, he says. “I think there are ways to make yourself look busy through social media beyond what you are. There are ways to make yourself look more balanced than you are. And I think that social media is a tool of perception change, often. And it’s a storytelling device”.

busyThe Stories We Could Tell…

No one can tell you better stories about being busy than our four industry professionals here. Nick, for instance, thinks a lot about the past. “I look back at a lot of things that I missed because I didn’t have weekends for the majority of my high school to let’s say, maybe seven or eight years ago. You look back at that kind of stuff, and it’s tough for sure. For me though, it was pain that was towards something or worth it. Now I have an understanding, and I guess an appreciation for that part of the industry that I wouldn’t if I didn’t do that”.

Thuy recalls a story she heard last year. “He was a moderator, and his aha moment realizing he was too busy was he was texting and driving. And he got to a light, and he actually almost hit someone. He said that’s not worth it to figure out if someone wants to be for chicken. So, obviously that was funny, everyone giggled at that. But we are so intertwined to just being busy every day that we’re not even cognizant or aware, mindful of what’s happening around us”.

“I’m on the note of being busy and how that affects you”, adds Dustin. “I think I’ve literally changed my clothes on every parkade in this city, and have duct tape my shoes back together, and crawled on a floor under a stage and then showed up at a client meeting five minutes later. Yeah, busy, busy”.

An Industry Pain

“I think that there is a sort of inevitability in an aspect of your journey in the events industry being harder than a lot of other ways that you can make a living. And busier than a lot of other ways you can make a living. I think what we’re talking a lot about is it’s just not sustainable for good”, says Nick. “Whatever it is to give you the confidence, to give you the skills. If it’s pain for something, then it’s good pain. I think that, I do know a lot of people in the industry, however, who have just got stuck in that cycle of the pain. Then they aren’t doing it for something, they’re just doing it to doing it, to doing it, and they never get off the ride”.

“I think ultimately, what most of us really need to do is consider being busy in the way that is the negative part of that word is bad for the client too”, he adds.

Sensitivity & Legitimacy

“I wonder if some of this really leads back to as an industry fighting to be perceived as a real industry, and that we have real jobs that matter. That conversation still happens to this day, and I actually think we’re nowhere near winning that battle”, says Dustin. Adding to that aspect is time sensitivity. “We’re constantly trying to make sure that things are coming to a close at any minute. Oh, the week before, I’m going to be really busy. Oh, as we get closer, you get really busy. Then obviously, not many people work more than one event at a time”, says Will.

It’s Not That Bad (It’s Actually Pretty Amazing!)

Even though Thuy agrees that both these things contribute to the excessive use of the term “busy”, she adds something else. “I would say it’s more about us being so passionate that we lack that balance because we don’t establish the boundaries”, she explains. Nick even adds that “while we’ve been talking about all the negative parts wrapped up in the busy part, there’s a lot of stuff that’s intrinsic to our industry that is so free and so meaningful”.

“We get to be the only people bringing people together in this world right now. That’s pretty cool. I think we should talk more about that, and like that, than talk about the grind aspect of it, which is just the thing you have to do to get to the part that’s cool. But like everyone else, they have the less physically enduring, but soul-crushing part of it that goes on forever. And we don’t always have the soul-crushing part. There’s a bit of the creation part that is unique to what we do”, says Nick.

The Shift

For Thuy, it comes down to changing the way we think. “It’s the mindset. It’s your perception of things. If you say you’re going to be busy, or it’s a burden to do something, then it is what it is. But if you shift your mindset and say, it’s been really productive, and right now I can’t source a tiger for this pool reception. That is eye-catching, and that starts really great conversations. We have so many random, and beautiful, and interesting, innovative ideas that we’re trying to make a reality. Why aren’t we focused on talking about that? That should be what our busy talk is”.


And that’s a wrap on this week’s edition of Event Brew! Are you feeling more relaxed? Are you finally ready to change your mentality and tackle all the things you have to do without screaming how busy you are from the highest mountain tops? Hopefully, the answer is a resounding yes. And don’t forget to join us again next week for a fresh new batch of the industry’s most exciting podcast!


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Dustin Westling

Author Dustin Westling

Managing Partner at Calgary-based OneWest Event Design & Logistics. A self-described ‘Senior Millennial,’ Dustin brings his tongue-in-cheek humour and engaged energy to his role as commander-in-chief where he leads a team of talented and talked-about event profs.

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