Setting Priorities

Why should I define priorities? How do my priorities affect my character? Where do I start defining what is most important to me?

"Do you have your priorities straight?" That's a question that is beyond cringe-worthy. We've all been asked this at one point in our lives, or even just flat out told that we don't have our priorities "straight".

Priority is an interesting word. In my experience as a child, it was predominantly used in a negative context by teachers, parents and other adults as a word often packaged in guilt and shipped with a glare. However, several years ago I made peace with the word, in the same way, we make peace with a toilet bowl cleaner or a dishwasher- we come to love them because they are tools that keep our lives clean and "clutter" free. Priorities are an essential tool in today’s world. We live in a cluttered world and if we don't define what is important to us, our time will become cluttered too.

You may think that this is an archaic idea, but in reality, in a busier world, it is even more essential that we identify what we want to invest ourselves in. I know from experience. The importance of priorities was revealed to me in my junior year of high school. At that time I was working two part-time jobs, volunteering for six hours a week and holding up a pretty hardcore AP course load. Needless to say, it was killing me. I felt overworked and uninspired. I remember being torn between my obsessive drive to multi-task and my sanity - feeling deeply unsure of what path to choose. I think it was my mom who mentioned I should sit down and think about my priorities. The next chance I had I sat down on my bed with a pad of paper and write out all the things I was doing with my time. I think the list went something like this: self-care, volunteering, money, class/homework, music, relationships. Then I took a good hard look at my list and asked myself which of those activities made me feel most happy and fulfilled. I then sorted them in order of most importance to least importance. At this point, my list looked like this: self-care, relationships, music, volunteer, school/homework, money. Then I listed all the things within each category in order of importance as well. This was very hard for me! When you love everything, it's hard to choose what is most important to you. However, there is always a hierarchy of importance, don't cheat yourself and say "everything is equally important to me". It is not and you know it.

After I had "gotten my priorities straight" I felt amazingly relieved. I had taken time to figure out my priorities and while doing so, I had figured out myself. I wrote all my priorities in order on a sticky note and taped it on the back of my bedroom wall. It is still there to this day I think, or it was the last time I visited my parent's home.

A quick anecdote about priorities; they help you make the fullest use of your limited time here on earth. You may think that's a little bit of an exaggerated statement, but you may reconsider once you hear what happened soon after I changed my priorities around. Starbucks had fallen to the bottom of the bottom and although it took courage, I knew I needed to make a change. Within a week I had approached my boss and apologetically given my two weeks' notice. Suddenly I had twenty extra hours a week to devote to the things that I couldn't live without. One of those things is relationships. I had realized I had been neglecting spending time with my grandparents, who I am very, very close with. I began purposefully spending more dedicated time with them, stopping by for chats more frequently and checking in more often.

I quit Starbucks in February to spend more time with my grandparents. My grandfather passed in April. Because I realized what was truly important to me and eliminated what was getting in the way of those things I was able to spend time with my grandfather. Of the many regrets I have, I do not have the burden of regretting missing his last days.

While organizing your priorities may not be as life-changing as it was for me, it may give you peace of mind and help you to find your path. If you ever feel at a loss to what you should be doing, overwhelmed or in need of a change, check-in with your priorities and make sure the way you are spending your time is in line with what matters to you.

A note on getting your priorities "straight"; it doesn't exist. Your priorities are your priorities. No one has the right to tell you what should be most or least important to you. While it may be easy to accept what other people tell you is important, that's not a sustainable way to live. You'll find yourself running out of inspiration and steam if you live by someone else's priority hierarchy. I'm telling you, discovering what is important to you will help you foster sustainable self-understanding. Make sure also that as time changes and you get involved in new and exciting things that you continually reevaluate your priorities. They may change and that's okay, healthy even. Your priorities will shape how you act- they will make decisions for you. If you love the earth more than convenience, you will recycle. If you love money more than free time, you will work more. Understanding what drives these choices makes them ultimately easier to make.

Here's a fantastic article on how to get started on your priority list.

Best of luck!