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.