When one spends 50 or 60 hours a week immersed in an activity (does anyone reading this still work 40 hours or less?), it is easy to lose one’s perspective on just where that activity should rate in our lives.
For some of us, responsibility gives us a sense of importance, belonging and purpose – people depend on us. Our pager or mobile phone proves it by ringing us at all hours and in all places. We take the call because that shows others just how essential we are. It is very like the focus to our lives that having children gives. It may well be the same emotional pathways that are being invoked.
The danger of course is that, given the duration and intensity of the work experience, we can easily lose sight of the rest of our lives. Maybe other aspects of life lack the buzz and the rewards of time at work, but that will never change if we neglect them.
So long as you have your priorities clearly sorted, then decisions are easy, even the hard ones. If you go through the angst of making that choice once, then every decision follows naturally.
Make a list:
- Write them down, ranked from 1 downwards.
- Give it proper time and effort.
- No equals.
- Be realistic, honest and at times brutal.
Don’t write what you think they should be, write what they really are.
Get at least the top half dozen clear and settled – the rest don’t matter so much, though it is good to be clear on what comes at the bottom too.
If you get stuck, try getting a couple of trusted friends and/or wiser mentors together for an evening or a day to help each other develop priority lists.
For example, my top 10 and bottom 5 are:
- Security and happiness of my nuclear family: my wife, son, mother, and sister.
- My son’s growth, development and education.
- Our home.
- Travel and other novel experiences.
- Self-expression, for example through writing or creative hobbies.
- Living a long life. The older I get, the more that deferring death creeps up this list. So far it is working.
- Security and happiness of my extended family.
- Mental health, especially time out in the wild, back to nature.
- Preserving heritage, especially my family’s.
- Earning money, though it gets higher attention where it facilitates higher priorities.
- Watching TV, movies, DVDs, reading papers and magazines, consuming podcasts blogs and websites, music or any of the other media barrages that try to jelly our brains, except as necessary for something above.
- Mowing the lawn.
- Sex. I am at an age now where I have been (in the words of George Melley) "unchained from a monkey".
- Social change. I long since lost my boyish desire to fix the world. I’ve come to terms with it, I’m open about it.
This technique may be the most important life-skill you ever develop, so work on it. Then teach it to your children [Why don't we teach this in schools? What is wrong with these people who set curricula?]. Unfortunately the main input is wisdom to make the right priority decisions, and sadly there seems to be only one way to get wisom. So the older you get the betetr tyou get at it. But even an unwise list of priorities provides more guidance and consistency and sense to your life than none at all. A few people are smart enough to realise they are not wise, and get help with their list from wiser mentors.
Your job has two aspects that may well appear in different places on the list; what you do because you want to, and what you do because you need the money to pay for what you want. Working appears only briefly on my top 10 priorities, other than as a means to obtain the money to pay for them. So why did I once allow it to consume more than half my waking hours (even including weekends)?
That noted philosopher, Garfield the cat, said “Work is so bad they have to pay you to do it”. Arrange your life so that work gets the priority it deserves based on your list, and so that it leaves sufficient room and resources for your other priorities to get proper attention.