I know a lot of cool people. Smart people. Funny, creative, talented, generous, loving, wonderful people. They encourage me to be myself, push me to be better, and give me goals for the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. This series is all about the lessons I’m learning and the ways they inspire me. Today I’m inspired to identify my priorities.
A couple months ago a friend asked this question on Facebook:
Do you have any magical advice for my burning questions about how to balance work/life/family and still feel like you’re allocating your energy where you really want to put it?
I thought that was such an interesting way to put it. Am I investing my energy (or any other resource I have at my disposal) where it’s most effective? Where it’s most needed? Where it will bring me the greatest return?
One of her friends had the perfect response:
It’s all about letting go. Sit down and decide what your priorities really and truly are, then cut out anything and everything that doesn’t line up with your priorities. You might have to do this semi-regularly as your family grows up and changes. It’s hard to stay true to your priorities (not what everyone thinks your priorities should be), but so worth it!
I’ve been mulling over this exchange ever since.
While we were in DC last fall, we visited the National Arboretum, which contained the National Bonsai & Penjing Musem. (Did you know the US had such a thing? I did not. This country is ridiculous and awesome.) It was beautiful and fascinating to see so many bonsai trees in one place. And oh my goodness! They were SO OLD.
The one in that photo at the top of this post? It started as a bonsai in 1626. It is literally 150 years older than the Declaration of Independence. And it wasn’t even the oldest one there.
Can you imaging taking on a project that has been in progress for CENTURIES? What an immense responsibility! I feel bad about having killed a handful of houseplants someone gifted me; imagine the crushing guilt over ruining a bonsai that had been handed down for generations!
The people who care for these plants must really value and honor the tradition + culture + heritage they represent.
In other words, they must have priorities that align with caring for bonsai. Otherwise the trees wouldn’t be as flawless as they are today.
When I wrote about setting better boundaries for myself a while back, I was mostly hoping to protect my mental health and limited time. But I didn’t consider the need to identify my priorities before setting those boundaries. I pretty much just started saying “no” any time I didn’t want to say “yes.”
But the more I think about it, the more obvious it is that my boundaries should be defined by my values. Is it important to me to spend my time and money on certain things? Do I care about this particular issue or activity? Am I doing this because someone else values it or because I do? When I create space in my life, is it merely a reaction to feeling overwhelmed or is it a purposeful way to make room for what is important?
Thinking along these lines reminds me of one of Gretchen Rubin’s “splendid truths” about happiness: to be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Asking myself what feels good, what feels bad, and what feels right has been a good exercise in finding what is truly important to me.
And that takes me back to bonsai.
It’s an art form I’m not very familiar with. From what I understand, though, every branch and leaf has its place. Nothing is allowed to grow haphazardly; everything serves an aesthetic purpose. In order to know what to shape and what to cut, the gardener has to have a long-term vision for the tree. This beautiful baby below did not happen by accident.
So here’s what I’m inspired to do going forward:
- I need to take time to articulate the vision I have for my life. What kind of person do I want to be ten, twenty, fifty years from now?
- Once I know that, I need to identify the priorities that kind of person has.
- Then I need to make those my priorities right now.
- Any goals I set should align with those priorities.
For example, if Ideal Future Jen has seen the world, Less-Ideal Present Jen needs to set goals regarding her time + money to make that happen. If Ideal Future Jen has a fantastic relationship with her husband + children, Less-Ideal Present Jen needs to find specific strategies to begin strengthening those relationships today.
Smaller, bite-sized goals based on my big-picture priorities will help me become Ideal Future Jen, rather than Not-Ideal-and-Kinda-Bitter-About-It Future Jen.
I need to sit down and identify my priorities. Make sure they’re solid. And then I need to bonsai the heck out of my life, pruning + shifting + tending + arranging what remains around the things that truly matter to me.
It’s gonna be hard, deep work. But the results will be so beautifully worth it.
If you had to sit down and list your top priorities, your real core values, what would they be? I’m working on my list and it is a challenge to narrow it down!