A few weeks ago, I posted Paradigm Shifter #30: Believe what people do (not what they say). In that post, I mentioned that people’s actions are the only true reflection of their real priorities. It’s just as true a reflection of you.
Today’s hyperactive pace often leads to many of us doing things because we think that we have to – even if they aren’t necessarily aligned with what we say is important to us. But actions do speak louder than words.
Priorities are not the mind-numbing “to do” lists. Nor are they the “have to’s” that other people demand of us.
Instead, priorities reflect our values, beliefs, and (when acted upon) our dreams, goals, and aspirations. Life is short and, without priorities, we tend to flounder and may never attain whatever it is that we deeply want.
When I was 27 years old, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Two months later, Nana (my grandmother who lived with my family from the time I was a little girl) died. Fifteen months later, my mother succumbed to cancer; she was not even 60 years old.
Because I didn’t have children, I knew then at the age of 28 that I was the final link in the lineage from my grandmother to my mother to me – and, from a generational perspective, I was “next.” I faced these losses by making a concrete vow to NOT reach the end of my life saying, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
This epiphany was a momentous turning point for me. Too often we believe that we are invincible…that there is always a tomorrow. While some people believe that this is the prescription for frenetic activity, I instead believed that workaholism (that compulsive commitment to work which is rampant in entrepreneurs) was not the answer. (Ironically, many years later, I discovered that workaholism is actually one of many false cures used in attempts to overcome burnout.)
Life is many-faceted – all of which are clamoring for our attention. We have the opportunity to choose at any given moment what is a priority and consequently on what we will focus our attention.
It was inevitable that my change in perception came with a major shift in priorities:
- I chose not to be the workaholic business owner who never had time for friends or family.
- But I also did not want to be unsuccessful in my business because I was too focused on “saving” the people in my life – even if they didn’t want to be “saved.”
- I recognized that there usually always is another day – but that each moment is precious and should not be squandered.
- What I choose to spend my time on in any given moment is a blatant reflection of what is important to me at that time.
- Furthermore, if everything is important, then nothing is truly a priority – prioritization necessarily characterizes some things as more important than others.
- Finally, the unique way in which we balance all these activities and situations is reflective of what we truly believe is important and worthwhile.
I would love to say that this perceptual shift was met with great enthusiasm and support by those around me. It wasn’t. Probably because when you say “yes” to one thing, you inevitably have to say “no” to something (or someone) else.
Because people change, it also means that people’s priorities will also change. Sometimes they will still be in sync, but, other times, they may actually be counterproductive.
It takes courage to define exactly what it is that you want in your life…but it is only the first step. The much more difficult challenge is to choose on what you will spend your time: minute by minute, hour by hour, week by week, year by year.
A basic law of physics states that nothing is motionless: so if you’re not moving forward, then you’re moving backward. The biggest regrets that I’ve observed in family, friends, colleagues, and clients relate to never finding the time to do what it is that they say they really want to do.
Although it sounds cliché, we can’t please everyone – but, at the end of the day, we can please ourselves.
Living your life by your own priorities and having the courage to ensure that your actions align with those priorities is not selfish. In fact, I’ve found that we are much better people to be around when we are genuinely happy with what we are doing in our lives. In my own life, just a few of the times that I went against the advice of well-meaning friends and family in relation to my career include:
- Going back to graduate school for two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. when many of my friends were looking to scale back toward retirement. (One of the best decisions I ever made.)
- Quitting a full-time faculty job due to an abusive dean when many people told me to “quit caring, do the bare minimum, and collect the paycheck.” (To me, this was simply hypocritical and contradicted my deeply held beliefs about healthy human resources, effective workplaces and, of course, the important relationship between a professor and his/her students.)
- Proselytizing the concept of humanism in the workplace at a time when many of my colleagues deemed this as naïve because “business is about bottom line results and not employees.” (Glad to say that there is an increasingly large body of research to support the relationship between human resources and corporate sustainability.)
Earl Nightingale is often quoted as saying, “You are what you think about.” What you think about is the catalyst for what you will act upon. And what you act upon reflects your innermost decisions about what you believe is important in every moment.
Living your life by the priorities that you set for yourself is not just a guarantee that you will continue moving forward (despite the obstacles) on your path to the goal. The added bonus? The chance for regrets about “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is almost nil.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.