Prioritizing vs. Balance

One of the most important things you learn in college, people will tell you, is how to prioritize.

For me, prioritizing wasn’t only a factor in choosing which essay to write first—it also applied to my personal values. You can probably list a few things you value highly, like honesty, or perseverance, or family. And you can probably rank them from most to least important, a form of prioritizing. The problem with this ranking form of prioritizing is that while it does keep the top values important, it tends to let the lower values fall to the wayside. It creates the illusion that the lower values are unnecessary…and they’re not. Let me explain–

When I was planning this semester, I ranked my internship as the first priority, my education second, and my friends and free time third. This was what I thought I was supposed to do, and after all it does make logical sense. College exists to get you a better job, right? So placing my job over my education made sense, and people always say “school first, friends later,” so that made sense as well. Do my job, do my schoolwork, and then all the free time goes to my friends.

Well, this system didn’t work as well as I thought it would. I ended up feeling guilty whenever I was with my friends, and worse, I always felt rushed and spent most of the time with them glancing at the clock no matter what I was doing. I would skip important classes to cover assignments, since work took priority, and I would skip events I wanted to go to to do homework, since school took priority, and soon I found myself cutting out friends more and more and using those precious hours to take naps, as sleep was at the bottom of the totem pole and nearly always got shafted for more important things. Doing that made me feel guilty for spending too much time asleep, and so on.

I was falling apart, but didn’t know why. I thought I was finding a “work/life balance” like all those fancy BBC articles told me I should, but I didn’t feel balanced, I felt exhausted.

Prioritizing works alright for writing papers and doing assignments, but when it comes to scheduling your life, a more fluid system works far better. I told myself to look at the clock less, to listen more to myself and others. To do my work, sure, but to do things to make me happy as well. “As well,” not “instead.”

I realized that happiness wasn’t on my list of priorities at all. I figured that this semester would be crunch time, saving money and getting experience for the future. With my boyfriend returning from Mexico and my upcoming trip to Europe, I had time in the future to be happy, but for now, happiness wasn’t important. However, thinking about how I would be happy in the future didn’t make me happy in the present, it only made me sadder as I calculated the seemingly endless days and weeks and months until his return and my departure.

A while ago I was discussing with my roommate the “nomadic” lifestyle of traveling the country in an RV working minimum wage jobs. She said if it made people happy, then they should do it. I said it would be naive to assume that life was all smiles and roses, and that having the security of a job would allow for a more comfortable life. We were both right. The RV life would be difficult, but if it made people happy, then they should do it. I am just now seeing that both of those things being true at the same time is both possible and necessary.

Balance isn’t about prioritizing. Balance is about…balance. Happiness and success, together, both in healthy amounts. You shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other. And neither should I.

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6 thoughts on “Prioritizing vs. Balance

  1. It’s interesting how we intertwine prioritizing with achieving balance. They are nothing alike. I struggle between the difference. I thought I had to take care of certain things in order to find peace with myself. That is false, as it appears. I need to find balance with my work and home life and writing. I have to carve out time to do everything that I want to do, and not put things in a particular order.

    Thanks for this post. It helped put things in perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post! I think the most important question to ask your self when it comes to priorities is “why?”. Why do we work? So we can have the money to feed ourselves and do things we enjoy. If we’re doing more than necessary to fulfill those requirements, we’re paying in the price of time for money that we don’t really need, and that doesn’t significantly contribute to our happiness. It’s hard to remind ourselves to not conflate money and happiness, because money is necessary for a lot of things that lead to happiness: financial security, the ability to give to ourselves and the people we love, as well as being able to pay for experiences and items to enhance our lives. However, we really don’t need as much money as we need to do these things, and if we don’t start to understand that it’s easy to waste our lives away pursing things that don’t make sense when we take a closer look. I know people who have traveled to 20+ countries in Europe over the span of 3 months for around $5,000, where as some people think you need to be a millionaire to travel like that.

    Another aspect of our work is fulfillment, but you don’t have to get paid for your work to get a sense of fulfillment. Blogging is a prime example of that! Ideally, you want to find a work balance between money earned, time spent and the sense of fulfillment you receive from it.

    Additionally, assuming one isn’t a sociopath, it probably makes more sense to put family and friends very near the top of your “priority list”, because that is really what brings the most bang for you buck in terms of happiness. The thing about prioritizing is that it should constantly change, hour to hour and minute to minute based on the situation. If your best friends mother dies, she becomes the priority. If you’re about to publish your first book, that probably will become the priority. The main thing to keep in mind is the concept of neglect. If you’re neglecting your friends, family, work, school or yourself it’s important to try and find a way to make a change. If I find myself neglecting important parts of my life regularly, that’s a major inefficiency that means I’m not living sustainably, and if I’m not living sustainably that mean eventually (whether today or in ten years) I’m going to create some major issues for myself that are going to eventually impact my ability to achieve an overall sense of happiness.

    I obviously have a lot of thoughts on these kind of issues and a intense interest in behavioral economics which is the name for this kind of thing, and I’ve been working on a blog post for a while on how to evaluate efficiency in your life to help reach sustainability!

    One way I increase efficiency is through using audiobooks to supplement my reading which I address in this post: https://girlsarenotmachines.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/using-audiobooks-to-turn-monotony-into-memory/

    In this same vein is the idea of finding ways to get the most for your money. In this post, I talk about using libraries to build your own personal library for free: https://girlsarenotmachines.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/7-tips-for-building-a-personal-library-for-free/

    I try to read a minimum of 52 books a year. If I bought 52 books at $20 each from B&N that would mean I’m spending $1,040 on books a year, and since I’m a student lets assume I’ll probably be making a little over minimum wage at any job, with a take home of $8 an hour. That means, if I bought all my books straight out I would be paying for those 52 books with 130 hours of my time. If I could get those books for free, instead of paying for them in 130 hours I can actually use that 130 hours towards my reading time. To take this a bit further, if we assume the average book takes 8 hours to read, that mean’s I’m trying to spend 416 hours of my year reading. However, if we subtract that 130 hours I just saved myself now I only have to find 286 hours because I’ve been able to cut down on my work by 130 hours! If half of those total hours are spent listening to audiobooks while doing things I would need to do anyways (as detailed in that first post) that brings my original number of 416 hours to find time to read down to 208, and again if we subtract the 130 hours of work that means I only have to find 78 hours of “extra” reading time to reach my goal. And now that I’m writing out this comment, I think I might write another post on this concept as well!

    This post has proved quite thought provoking, I’m so glad you followed me and I got the chance to check out your blog and follow back! 🙂 Keep writing! xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This post has perfect timing with my life! I’m currently struggling to find a balance between school and me-time. I had the same notion of prioritizing school/work over family/friends and my own happiness. Now I’m paying the price of burn-out and no motivation.

    I think most of us make this mistake, thinking that once we get all of our work done, we can relax. However, (if we’re lucky) there will always be work, and time will always be finite. So yes! we have to find balance.

    Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’re right, happiness has to be on the list of priorities otherwise life becomes an exercise in meeting other people’s expectations and IMHO, that is not balanced in any way, shape or form…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on crowdCONNX and commented:
    Thoughts on prioritizing versus balance.

    M

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ahh I love this so much! You explained the right balance (of work/friends AND happiness) perfectly!

    Liked by 1 person

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