first things first

first things first - The Best Advice So Far

In a recent post, I laid out my thoughts and plan for refocusing my time and energy at the start of this new year. So far, I’m pleased to say that, while I haven’t yet completely extricated myself from previous commitments I’d made, I’ve been clear-minded and steadfast in saying “no” more often in the last few weeks, with the ultimate goal of saying “yes” to some bigger, better and ultimately more impactful things.

Let me just say – it feels great.

On New Year’s Eve, I sent out hellos and wishes to many of the important people in my life, as well as asking what each was up to for their celebrations across the country.  It sure can make a guy feel as old as he probably really is, hearing from most of your friends that they are staying in on New Year’s Eve, watching a movie, and going to bed early.

An exception among the hum-drum was Chad, who sent back a short text with an image:

New Year's Friend with weird stuffed toy

I’ve always said … nothing conveys a fun night on the town quite like a picture of some kid you’ve never met sitting in the back seat of someone’s car holding a radiation-green, buck-toothed, neon-pink-eyed, franken-frog-rabbit plush toy.

Nothing like it, I tell you.

In the next day or so, Chad and I caught up by phone.  He’d read and “LOVED!” that weekend’s blog post; and I, of course, had gotten the gist of his New Year’s extravaganza via the picture of the Franken-Frog-Rabbit Kid. But we had a bit of time and were in the mood to fill such gaps as remained in our stories.

I’m not much of a partier when it comes to New Year’s Eve.  Instead, I’ve made a tradition out of staying home and investing time doing something I’d like to be doing more of in the year ahead. This is not a resolution, per se; it’s just a fun way to reassess and to start the new year off feeling ramped up and ready to go.

This year, while there are many worthwhile things I could have chosen as my New Year’s Eve focus in relation to the book and my goals there, my whole being was set on music for some reason.

For those of you who don’t know this about me, I’m also a singer/songwriter. In fact, I used to record and perform out, writing sometimes two or three songs a week for decades. (I even share some … er … interesting … lyrics from my early teen years in “Chapter 6: Happiness” of The Best Advice So Far.) But as time has moved on, my central focus has shifted to other things. Still, music is and always has been a huge part of who I am.

And so I was telling Chad that this year, music was my siren call. I found myself missing times past when I had friends in the area who owned studios – real ones, not just bedroom setups – and we’d hang out there for hours on end, dreaming, writing, playing with ideas, laying down tracks and, often, walking away with a song we’d created together. Even just thinking about it again now, I get that kind of longing that feels like bubbles rising in seltzer, spreading out through my soul: the longing to create something from nothing.

But those friends of yesteryear have all moved to other states now. It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than a decade since I’ve had the experience of collaborating in the live environment like that over music. So this year, as others were gallivanting shamelessly about with stuffed bucked-toothed companions, I was home searching the Internet for musicians and studios in the Greater Boston area, listening through their music and connecting through email or social media with those who seemed they might be good matches. Not only was this fun and inspiring for me, it was productive. I’ve connected with a handful of cool people and am hopeful that I’ll find myself in the studio creating SOMETHINGS out of *nothings* again soon.

Well, this is all very cool (at least for me). But I’ve not yet gotten to the really important bit – the part where Chad said something so simple yet so profound that it’s stuck with me since, guiding many a choice and conversation.

I may have even heard the words before and assented to them. I can’t remember. What he said was so compact and full of truth that I imagine the Internet must be teeming with memes of it. But for some reason, it struck me differently this time – as if for the first time. It sounded … well, life-changing.

And, man, do I love positive, life-changing stuff.

If you’re already familiar with this quote, I’d challenge you to not just read it again or even to nod your head and agree, but to consider it anew, however it is that you do that.

Write it down and focus on it for a day.

Center your meditation on it.

If you journal, try writing about it.

Discuss it with a positive person in your life.

So here’s what Chad said, in essence:

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” or “I’m too busy,”
try saying “That’s not a priority for me.”

Yikes.

I don’t know about you, but in the moment he shared that with me, it felt like being woken from a sound sleep and having your head plunged into a bucket of ice water.

The Best Advice So Far: I'm too busy really means It's not a priority

I wanted to say, “That’s just motivational mumbo-jumbo that sounds cool.”

I wanted to say, “No, that’s not really true. Look, here’s an example.”

Thing is, I couldn’t really come up with a legitimate counter.  Even, say, missing your daughter’s dance recital due to work doesn’t earn a free pass here.  Working those hours, making that money, keeping that job … were a priority over going to the dance recital. It’s as simple and economical as that. This wouldn’t be to say that you don’t love your daughter or that you don’t support her in dance; but by its very nature, it does say that the job/time/money were more important than being at the recital.  And that may be a perfectly reasonable and sound decision.

Or not.

Only you know the truth about you and your choices. And only I know that about my choices, about the difference between priorities set by true need – and priorities motivated by something else entirely.

A Pavlovian feeling of uneasiness unless I keep the powerful or emotionally draining people appeased at all times (at the expense of considering those who can’t give me something back or who don’t complain quite so loudly).

A never-ending quest for status or position.

A focus on material things over personal relationships.

A failure to consider the things that are important to other people besides myself.

A failure to consider other people besides myself at all.

For me, I realized that my struggle for the latter half of 2015 was actually considering myself, my time and my own goals as a priority.

It wasn’t an obvious thing. I wasn’t walking around feeling “less than.” But by my own choices as to what I took on in life, when aligned against what Chad said about “too busy” meaning “not a priority,” the thing I’d been too busy to spend time on … was me.

I’d gotten into a habit of essentially saying, “Your time is a higher priority than my time.”

“Your goals and dreams are a higher priority than my goals and dreams.”

“Your happiness is a higher priority than my own happiness.”

And if I’m being completely honest here, there’s something about those statements that feels right. It feels righteous and good.

It’s utter rubbish, of course; but it feels like it should be true – that good people, nice people, ought to think this way.

I know the truth. And that is not truth, however “right” it feels based on past dysfunction in our lives. However “right” others may tell us it is. However good they may tell us we are when we live this way (especially when they are the ones wanting priority at the moment).

In case you’ve forgotten my challenge – stop. Think. Write it down. Determine to ponder what it means to you where you are right now:

 “I’m too busy for that” really means “That’s not a priority for me.”

What important people, goals, dreams and values have you been “too busy” for lately? What new choices will you make to reset those priorities?

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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

8 responses to “first things first

  • Jed Jurchenko

    Such great wisdom. The busier I get, the more important these priority checks become. I love that you are getting back to music. Do you have any recordings posted on this site yet, and if not, where can I find them?

    So far, all that I’ve heard you sing, is a very odd rendition of “Happy Birthday,” on my voice mail–thinking about this, and that strange voice you used, still makes me laugh 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Erik

      Hey, Jed. In trying to keep my online identity streamlined primarily as “author/speaker,” I spent a long time actually removing other things from the web, among them previous evidences as “singer/songwriter.” But there are still a couple songs up HERE and HERE. I love the songs themselves, but the vocal approaches were a producer’s choice, not my natural style, which is more reminiscent of gospel (a la Whitney Houston).

      Liked by 1 person

  • Sean P Carlin

    Wowzer, Erik — what a difference semantics can make. It’s impossible to supplant “I’m too busy for that” with “That’s not a priority for me” and not get a flood of new insights into one’s own heart; it’s the ultimate test of self-appraisal. Kudos to Chad for his wise words. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say “I’m too busy for that” again and feel as though I’m being completely honest — with others or myself.

    And kudos to you for recommitting to your music this year. I find that the more hobbies and intellectual pursuits we cultivate, the more it benefits our area of professional specialty, however seemingly unrelated it may be on the surface: The more diverse our interests, the more we begin to recognize patterns amongst them — and the more in touch with others and ourselves we become as a result. You’ve always been adept at drawing lessons from life experiences big and small, and taking the same universal truth from each of them: that we always have a choice. Selflessness is a noble virtue, but prioritizing ourselves every so often isn’t a choice we need feel ashamed to make.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      Hey, Sean. I agree that varied creative pursuits make for a varied – and yet integrated – person. For me, it’s all about words, stories and getting something to go past the ears and into the soul.

      What you said at the end there is really important. I’m in no way advocating being selfish. It’s against everything I believe, live and write about. But I think being selfless and giving up something that’s important to you for the benefit of another person should always come from a position of strength – of having invested sufficiently in yourself prior.

      Liked by 1 person

  • D. Wallace Peach

    Great way to reframe our choices and behaviors. But what if we have lots of priorities? 🙂 I’m sort of kidding and sort of serious here, Erik. I’m constantly juggling priorities, and their rankings change hour by hour. So, once again, it comes down to self-awareness and making conscious choices. We always have a choice, right? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      We do always have a choice. 🙂

      Even with lots of priorities, I believe we will do first whatever we perceive as most important or which gives us the gain perceived as most valuable. And, yes, I get how that can “change by the hour” sometimes.

      Can we prioritize our priorities, or is that redundant? :O

      Liked by 1 person

  • Anonymous

    Loved this! And so true. Being a little ( a lot) older had given me more time to deal with this in the past. And it’s exactly right, we were trained, so to speak, to deny ourselves, to ALWAYS put others first, and the truth is it’s just not a good thing to do. You end up bitter, bedraggled and somewhat of a martyr. As I always say, “Congratulations! You get the prize for the having the worst life! What’s your prize? The worst life!”

    No, instead learn to nurture and care for yourself as a mother or wife would. Then, take care of your corner, in a healthy, balanced way. Be that person for those who are in your path, but perhaps not the whole world. And show them how good balance can be. I feel it’s the fast track to making a positive change in the world.
    Loved it, Erik… And you too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Erik

      This is one of the many reasons I wanted you to write the Foreword to the book (and why you turn up so often elsewhere in the book) – because you are a reminder for me so often of the important things. Glad we can be “that person” for one another when we need it. 🙂 XO

      Like

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