What’s your #1 priority?
One of my favorite aspects of traveling internationally is seeing how other people live, how their priorities are different from my own, and how an entire society may be in agreement about a set of priorities that mean nothing to us, back home. It gets me thinking… if I were so caught up in the moment yesterday in the United States — working to provide for my family, save up for college tuition for my kids, pay the mortgage, help as many people as I can in my career, call my parents to say hello, reach out to my brother and touch base, play with my son, and do something romantic for my wife — why is life so different now? In other words, were any of my concerns in yesterday’s reality even relevant today?
Many times, the answer is ‘no.’ In southern Spain, for example, the priority is on social life. This includes family, but very much does not include work. Work is something you do to have enough money to enjoy the rest of your life; plan your day around enjoyment, carving out the minimum time necessary to get your work done. Career is a less meaningful word, because you’re not looking to get a job, move up the ladder, and eventually achieve x, y, and z. Instead, you’re looking for stability, the ability to live close-to or with your extended family, and the opportunity to participate in all of life’s fun events.
Siesta, or nap time, is a cultural-wide phenomenon from 2–5pm each day. Come home for lunch with your family while you’re still fresh, take a nap if you feel like it, and go back to work when you’re ready. If you’re 15 minutes or an hour late when you get back to work, so be it. If you need to leave early because friends are meeting to have tapas (when you order a drink, a small snack is included that is different and more generous on every round), then that’s how today is going to go. And, if you’re up too late and need to show up tardy to work tomorrow, be sure to let your boss know it was because you were partying, or s/he may not understand.
When I was in my early 20’s, my priority was on school. I was working to get my doctorate in Physical Therapy, and I was completely focused on it. I felt my education would provide for my family in the future, and through my education, I would be able to help people with their health in a meaningful way.
Friends of mine, on the other hand, were focused on going out, getting drunk, and getting laid. Admittedly, there were points of jealousy… but, I stayed nose to the grindstone, and I put in the time.
Was being focused on education and the future right or wrong?
Pro’s: My career is stable. I do get to help hundreds of thousands of people worldwide with their health. My family has a bright and secure future.
Con’s: During my period of intense focus, I lost many friendships, or at least the quality of them; friends perceived I didn’t have time for them. I experimented less and followed the rules more. My parents aged, and some of the things I wanted to do with them were no longer possible. Eventually, my life was almost cut short, only a bit over 6 years after graduation. Had I died, my family would have been left with debt, and I would have sacrificed many of my last good years.
You see, it’s not as simple as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. This is a matter of choice. If I had to do it all over again, I would still go to school, but I would do it out of a passion to learn right now, in the moment. I would back off on my intensity and spend more time with family. I would make sure to learn what I needed to for my future patients, but I would understand I had time after graduation to fill in any gaps I missed during school. Every single day, I would have touched base with my family during lunch time, while still fresh, and spent time with my friends in the late afternoon. I probably would have sacrificed a bit of sleep for more fulfillment, but likely would have sacrificed a bit of work for both.
In hindsight, I would have learned through passion, joy, and love; I would have stopped the pattern of using stress and caffeine to conquer my day. I would have listened to my gut, and I would have taken time to reset every single day.
But, I say none of this with regret; simply, it’s the wisdom I’ve gained through my life, and the perspective I have today.
I lived in Spain in 2001 during the summer. Again in 2002 for 5–6 months. In 2015, I spent 3 more months. Each time, I’ve been reminded how awesome life is, and how easy it is to get caught up in the future, rather than present moment.
Friendships do matter. Family can be a part of every day. There’s plenty of time to take care of ‘providing’ and still enjoy. There is a happy medium, if you’ve had the opportunity to grow up with an American education, our work hard culture, and add a touch of innovation.
The key is to set boundaries, remember your priorities for today may not matter tomorrow, and to keep everything light-hearted. Spending time relaxing, in conversation with people you love, and having fun will help you achieve your desired outcome. Also, allowing yourself to think BIG — so you find career opportunities in your life that really make an impact — can be very fulfilling. There’s a balance…
I’ve learned focusing only on social life can lead to problems providing for my family. I’ve learned focusing only on work can lead to a feeling of missing out on life and all of it’s most important moments. I’ve learned focusing on the past creates regret; focusing on the future creates stress.
Focusing on the ‘now’ — and appreciating it’s dynamic and the only real moment — well, that’s harmony.
If you haven’t re-written your life priorities in awhile, I’d say it’s time. And, if you notice you are choosing one priority while sacrificing another, this means you need more time to get creative and solve the equation. Believing you have to sacrifice something important for you in order to have something else is misguided. It either means you’re focused on extremes, which are typically imbalanced, or you haven’t been creative enough to achieve both. Take the time and focus on your strategy for life, periodically re-evaluating what matters.
Here’s a current list of my priorities — please create your own:
I’ve narrowed it down. I only focus on these five priorities, and I focus on them in order. If I feel loving, I’m more likely to feel peace of mind. If I feel peace of mind, I’ll take the time to reach out to family and friends. When I feel connected to my family and friends, I get excited about spreading happiness and fulfillment to others through my mission. Finally, I experience so many things when I follow my heart and pursue my mission.
I’m so grateful for you,
Originally published at drkareem.com on February 15, 2017.
Originally published at medium.com