On Priorities

With a new semester, it begins again.   I am not talking about the classes, the meetings, the students, the committees, the scrambling to pick up loose strands left over from last semester.

I am talking about the promises we make to ourselves.  It is our new year's ritual in a world of busy, whether it is manufactured or organic busy.  Everywhere I turn, people are making bold declarations. "I will say 'no' more often."  "I will only check email twice a day." "I will remember to stop and breathe."  "I promise to make time for what matters to me and to stop wasting time on things that don't matter."  "No more Facebook!"  "No more Netflix." "No more letting people dump stuff on my shoulders.  I choose me!"

Everywhere I look, people want off the habitrail… Looking for meaning.  Purpose. Authenticity.  Time for the people and things we love.  The sense that we are in the right place, doing what we should be doing  -- a feeling that, if we were very lucky, we glimpsed for a moment or two as we nestled in with family and friends during the holidays.  Remember?  It was nice, wasn't it?

Conveniently, this cultural moment coincides with the new year's rush on inspirational quotes.  I must admit, I do love a good quote, especially if it involves a pretty graphic.    So, here are some quotation-infused thoughts on making and sticking to priorities.

Let's start with a little hope, shall we?  

Some joy and excitement in the face of uncertainty is in order, after all.  

Who cares that January is an arbitrary "reset" point.  It is a point, right?

It is upon us. Let it work for you.

Embrace the new.  Define it for yourself.    

Speak in a new voice.

Next, be clear about your agency.

This one is hard, especially for the people out there who look around trying to understand how they took on so much and conclude that the truckload of responsibilities got foisted on them like 40,000 pounds of bananas.

(Yes, I do mean us.)

Choices, people.  Choices.

We make choices, even when we don't know we are doing it.

Remember: you have a choice.

Ah, but with choice comes responsibility.  

After all, in the short run it is way easier to feel like everything is fixed and that we don't have actually make the decisions, are not steering the vessel, don't control where it is headed.  Etc. Etc. 

Enter any and all appropriate navigational metaphors here.

That's when we need to remember the critical bit.  This quote is gender-specific, but it refers to all of us.

In the stories we tell ourselves, isn't it better to be the person who does the doing, not the person who is consistently done to?  The hero, not the victim?

My friend recently said, "I am on Team 'Margo Looks Out for Her Own Damn Self.'"  And I thought, "Huh, I should be on that team, too."  

All right.  You still with me?  We've decided the new year is a good time to make changes. 

We've decided that some of these changes are within our power to make and that we can choose, within limits, what we value and how to make our commitments reflect that.

Do what matters.  

My sister Kathleen is one smart cookie; she is  in high demand and is undergoing a personal and professional renaissance of sorts.  She told me recently that she created a list of five priorities.  

If someone asks for her time, directly or indirectly, she takes mental inventory:  Does it fit with any of her five priorities?  Yes.  She's all in, gung-ho and ready to run with it.

If it doesn't fit?  She says, "No."  (Well, she probably says, "No, thank you," but you get it.) 

I have been thinking about this conversation a lot.  I was so inspired by the blend of personal and professional priorities, by the way they fit together, by how clearly they reflected her personality, her vision for the world and for her life.  

And it seemed to be working.  

She is centered and happy.  I am not sure if it had everything to do with her list, but I totally had that Harry Met Sally moment.

"I'll have what she's having."

I have been thinking about my list ever since.  It is not so easy at first. The categories are either too many or they are so broad that I cannot see them actually helping me with the yes, pleases and the no, thank yous.

So, this is the list of the moment.  1.  Immediate Family (includes husband and pets.)  2. Public history teaching, service and engagement (includes my PH classes, the PH commitments I have already made.) 3. My book manuscript.  4. Bigger family (not necessarily biological --- includes parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and dear friends.)  5. Physical and emotional wellbeing (includes exercise and treating my body like I would treat a friend. Also includes the Good Wife and Gilmore Girls. And John Banville's new novel. And FB in measured doses, because my friends, siblings and hubby are there and it hits #1 and #4, too.  Just need to learn to let it work for that and not for killing time.

These are the things I want to say yes to.  There are a lot of other things on my plate.  I waste a lot of energy feeling bad about all the resistance I feel towards those things.  I can let myself off the hook for saying no to them or for giving them less time and energy.  They are not on my list.  
I think this list is good for a year.  After that, I can revisit it. But this is a solid statement on what matters to me and I think I can use it to organize my time.

You don't have to make a list.  You should do what works for you. 

 I am sure it will be great.


  1. I am on "Team Margo Looks Out For Her Own Damn Self"! Carry on!

  2. Nice write-up. Thanks for sharing your sister's solution and your list. I think I'll make one, too! -Eppu

    1. Hei, thank you! I want to hear about your list!


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