Need a Priority Checkup?

The summer before I graduated from college, I was living with my friend, Linda in a cool old house in San Francisco’s Sunset District.  We had just spent an evening out in a new, trendy bar area, the hip thing to do when you just turned 21. How hip were we?  So hip we barely had the bus fare between the two of us to get home.  We knew we’d have to transfer buses in a pretty sketchy neighborhood, but, hey, we were young, hip, and, okay, dumb.

Just before getting off the bus, I noticed two suspicious looking men staring at us which obviously set off an internal ‘Oh, God’ alarm.  I tapped my friend who assured me we were fine.  Once off the bus, the men walked right past us.  No sooner had they passed us when two young punks about 15 years old walked up to us as we stood at the bus stop.

Quickly, one came over to me and demanded my wallet while the other stood guard on the corner.  The kid gave it his most persuasive ‘give-me-your-mother f’ing wallet’ assertion.  But it wasn’t until I looked down to see a gun pointed at me that his request became, shall we say, incredibly convincing.  I let out my best rendition of the ‘Hail Mary’ convinced I would shortly meet her.  He looked puzzled as though he was possibly holding up a nun. So, he turned to my friend, Linda and made the same demand.  “I’m not giving you my wallet!” she blurted out.   Just then a bus pulled up. When the doors opened, we rushed to the back faster than a female SWAT team.

Both of us still shaking, my friend asked why I didn’t hand over my purse.  “I couldn’t let go of it!” I replied.  I asked her the same question.  “No way, that wallet cost me $8!”

Deciding what is really important to you should definitely not be made under duress.  In fact, it should be well thought out before you actually have to test it out as my friend and I did.  It may sound trite to say that none of us should take our lives for granted.  Yet, in our personal and work lives we do it all the time.

The strategies and ideas below might come in handy if you find yourself with outdated priorities …

We live in a chaotic world and can often lose sight of what we value the most.  In fact, our careers have a way of pointing out what is and isn’t really important even when we don’t take the time to acknowledge it.  My client, Jane, came to see me because she felt incredibly stuck.  The new position she had accepted was full of stress for her.  She hated her hours, her co-workers and her boss, but continued to work overtime because “the work had to get done.”  It wasn’t really Jane’s work or even the setting that were to blame for her unhappiness.  Jane never considered what was important to her in her work, let alone whether she should feel entitled to them.  Because of this, she blamed everything else for her unhappiness.

Being aware and sticking to your priorities isn’t selfish; in fact, it makes for a more productive and harmonious work environment.  For Jane, one of her top priorities was to work in a setting where everyone’s contribution was valued.  Had she focused on whether this organization shared that same value prior to accepting the position, she could have had a very different outcome.

Simply put, when your talents and values are allowed to be expressed in your work environment, you’re happy.  People keep themselves in a state of constant agitation by not periodically re-evaluating what’s most important to them.  No amount of external trappings will ever make someone feel proud of their work if it conflicts with one’s internal benefits.  The trick is to keep your priorities clear and current.

Take a few minutes to evaluate what’s most important to you right now.  First, make a list of what you believe to be your current priorities.  Many people assume they are the same as they have always been and, true, there are intrinsic values that don’t change.  Yet, many of us never considered values in our past choices and so, as my client, Jane, end up living unhappily. Think about such things as flexibility, meaning, service to others, time with family, or proximity to work as examples of what is important.  Okay, write yours all down and then narrow your list to the top six.  Then ask yourself which of these are being met in your current work.  Could be revealing!

This may sound like a ‘nice-to-do’ exercise only, but consider this.   When faced with an unexpected opportunity or situation, (for instance, your work suddenly demands extensive overtime, or a better position in another area comes up), it’s much easier to make a decision if you know ahead of time what you really value.  It may seem difficult to stick to your values, but in the long-run you’ll be a much happier camper.  And, after all, isn’t that what’s really important!

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