The Struggle to Prioritize

There is a moment where you realize that, try as you might, you actually can’t do it all. It’s not physically possible. And if you are someone like me, this fact can be particularly crushing.

For the longest time I had been trying to ‘do it all.’ I tried to perform well in my classes, run and organize weekly meetings for NUMA (Northeastern’s marketing club), apply for jobs, all while juggle three part-time jobs. Even when I finally got a full-time internship, I avoided giving up as many side jobs as possible. Not to mention the general ‘life’ activities I wanted to do that took up time. I wanted to blog consistently, read a book a week, go to the gym, see my friends, date, travel to new places, learn French to a passable degree, cook something other than pasta, call my parents, and, if there was any time left, sleep.

It still surprises me I was able to manage all of this in the short run, but could I go on for months and months? I was burning myself out, fast. Sleep was the clear loser out of all my goals, but it was a small sacrifice if I could achieve everything else. Right?

False. So very false.

While I might have been physically capable of doing everything (thank you expert scheduling skills!), I wasn’t mentally able to be present for each task. When in class I would knock out a few minutes of research for one of my jobs. Spending time with friends was an easy time to complete other tasks, like going to the gym, with some convincing (“gym dates” anyone?). Even when I went on an incredible trip to visit my brother and best friend from high school in Pittsburgh I was acutely aware of how ‘behind’ I was falling on everything else.

But it was fine, I was totally fine – at least for a little bit. But when getting breakfast with a friend she asked me an important question: how in the world was I managing to find time for myself, let alone time to make myself happy, amongst all my activities and obligations?

Truthfully? I wasn’t.

To some degree I was proud I was able to do so much. I liked knowing people saw me as someone who could manage everything and more, as someone who could hit any goal. I wore my ‘busy’ label with pride. But when I removed the happiness I got from my perceived reputation from the equation, it turned out I wasn’t that happy doing everything.

Things I had once enjoyed doing weren’t bringing me pleasure anymore. I was stuck thinking that I had failed if I quit any of them, but I just wasn’t able to manage everything.

But it’s better to do a few things well than to do everything halfway.

Was I truly doing the best I could at any of my activities? No way. It wasn’t fair to the people I had made commitments to, or even to myself.

So I had to figure out what I wanted to prioritize.

Shockingly, this was not easy, especially when you had been convinced for so long you could do everything. When you are involved in so much there are so many good reasons to keep each, and letting go of anything hurts. How are you expected to figure out what stays and what goes?

Focus on what sparks joy.

pavement-coffee-shop

For my job as a research assistant I am studying minimalism. One of the more popular books I read for the project was “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. While I think some things in her book need to be taken with a grain of salt, something she uses to help clients determine what stays and what goes in their life is to touch their items and see if it makes them feel happy, if it fills them with joy.

So I went through everything I was involved in and determined what brought me joy, and a significantly smaller list of activities was created.

Ever since the tiny list’s creation, my life has definitely more joy in it. I prioritized what was important to me and focused on those activities fully. Not only have I enjoyed them more, but I also feel more grounded in my life as a whole. I get more happiness rock climbing with friends than I do listening to ‘French for Beginners’ podcasts. Sleeping a full eight hours makes everything else easier. And reading during commutes is more enjoyable than stressing about if I need to pick up food on my way home for whatever elaborate meal I pretended to enjoy cooking.

I’ve also realized that there is no shame prioritizing different interests at different times.

For the past few months I’ve been prioritizing NUMA. It’s something I love growing and leading. But now that the semester is done, I have more time; time that I can spend prioritizing something else, like writing this blog.

I will admit I was slightly embarrassed getting back into writing. I felt like a fraud. I had removed it as a priority for so many months, it made me question what ‘right’ I had to pick it back up when it suited me.

But reconnecting with interests is great because life is all about changing and adapting.

Taking a break from blogging made sense for me when I was unable to dedicate the right amount of time and energy to it. But now that I have more free time I realized I miss sitting and writing my thoughts down. But what happens when school starts back up in the fall? Or when I get closer to publishing the paper I’m co-authoring? Or when I have to start finding a full-time job post-graduation? Writing a blog might have to take a backseat again, and that’s okay! It’s me prioritizing what’s important in my life so I can give it my all.