A few weeks ago, I was reading a yet-to-be-released personal finance book. At one point in the book, the author suggested that I make an actual list of my priorities. What is the most important thing in my life? What are the key things that follow it, and in what order?
An aside: sometimes I receive prerelease copies of books from authors who hope I’ll say something kind about their book so that they can put the quote on the back cover as a selling point, and I don’t give a good quote unless I’ve actually read the book and liked the book, so my quotes are fairly rare.
After thinking about and editing the list a few times, my list looked something like this:
1. My marriage
2. My children
3. My spirituality and faith
4. My extended family and close friends
5. My health
7. Reading / learning new things
8. My community / politics
9. Other hobbies
I could keep going for a long time after this, but this is roughly what my list looked like.
The author offered up several thoughts about this priority list, but one thought kept running through my mind as I looked at this list of priorities that I’d made.
Every single significant problem in my life comes from situations in which I violate this list of priorities.
What do I mean by “violate”? I simply mean that I make a choice in which I take something of importance away from a higher priority and give it to a lower priority.
For example, if I were to stay up too late with some old friends and this causes me to sleep in too late the next day, missing something that my children wanted me to attend, I feel horrible.
Another example: if I spend too much money on my hobbies, it can impact something that I want to do in the future with my wife and children.
Yet another example: if I eat out (notice how this isn’t even on the list) too often, I won’t be able to afford a book I really want to read.
Now, one could take this to extremes and state that every action, by default, must support one’s highest priority. I don’t think that’s necessarily true at all.
Instead, it’s simply a call that I need to make sure that my higher priorities are covered before I do something involving a lower priority.
Is spending this evening with my friends going to keep me from doing something I need to do tomorrow with my wife, my children, or my spiritual life?
Is spending two hours kicked back and reading going to cause me to skip the exercise I need for my health?
Will this hobby purchase really provide enough for me to reduce the amount I can save toward our next family vacation or for the house my wife and I have always dreamed about?
Again, it comes back to a basic truth: every single significant problem in my life comes from situations in which I violate this list of priorities.
When I violate it with my money choices. With my time choices. With my attention choices.
What are your priorities? How do you handle things when something with a higher priority comes into conflict with something of a lower priority? What really wins? What’s really the priority in your life?