The holiday break and new year are often times where the activities of our life change. Growing up, it was a time where stress and responsibility went away and fun and relaxation filled every day. I wouldn’t say that holidays are stress free these days- but certainly the activities change and the grind of work or school flow into managing children’s activities, spending time with friends, and entertaining extended family. In my life, I certainly notice that I have a lot more unstructured time to think and contemplate. In fact, I often push many of the family discussions about long-term plans to the end of the year when Ms. SE and I have a little time to spend together.
The question I need to evaluate and answer each year is this: How am I treating the people I love the most? Am I prioritizing the right people? Am I allocating my time and attention appropriately? And lastly, am I communicating my love in a way that the people I care about understand and internalize?
The People We Love The Most
Who is it for you? Your spouse? Your parents? Your kids, coworkers, close friends? What about your self? If you had to make a mental list- who do you love the most? Do your actions and attention reflect this list? The people we love the most change over time. Sure, there are some steady people in our life, but 5 years ago two of the most important people in my life didn’t even exist. My time was certainly divided differently, and the life circumstances around my family and friends will be much different in the next year compared to the last few years.
Our lives ebb and flow and we go through different periods of intentionality and distraction. At times we feel in control and other times we feel like we are just hanging on for a season. Our commitments and responsibilities change, but I think it is brutally important to evaluate our part in our most important relationships. What are we doing well? What could use improvement? Evaluation is often the first step to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.
The Most Important Person
For many of the readers here, a significant other is the most important person in our life. However, the person who means the most in our life tends to get the left-overs. Often, our bosses, our work, annoying or problematic clients and customers, our children, and aging family members, command our time and mental energy. Depending on the timing and life circumstance, they may be the most important or need priority. However, we must all be aware that we have a limited amount of mental energy to disseminate. We need to be conscientious about how we distribute that attention and constantly be on guard for misallocation of our energy.
It all boils down to decision making. In essence, it strikes at the core of simplistic economics- the allocation of scarce resources. We must allocate our time and attention. Who gets the best? Who gets the worst? Who gets the leftovers? If you want a really honest answer, ask the people who mean the most to you: “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” and see how they respond.
Prioritizing the Important Over the Urgent
We often end up being firemen. Although not our intention, our lives often revolve around dealing with the most urgent issues that arise. We are forced to put out fires. Maybe work, maybe demanding friends or family members, maybe obligations or organizational responsibilities. Our time gets filled by what is most urgent instead of careful crafting around what is most important. It feel strange ignore the urgent. Our inclination is to attend to the loudest. But that may not be optimal. Spend the time to separate the important from the urgent.
Flipping the Script
The tricky part about solving the important people dilemma is this: it can often be difficult in the short term. We often have commitments, jobs, responsibilities and obligations that command our attention. We often find ourselves in poor financial situations that limit our freedom and choice. The first step is to simply evaluate. How are you doing? How are we doing? Are we doing a pretty good job- or are there areas for immediate improvement? Start with the low hanging fruit. The long term steps may be tougher. They may include a much simpler life with less stress and less stuff. It may mean a career change or a move in location that drops our commute and gives back hours a week. It may mean putting date-nights on the calendar or scheduling physical intimacy. It may even mean having an outside coach (or counselor) provide a safe place to have hard conversations or address reoccurring issues. Long-term we have the ability to say no to new commitments, drop the unfulfilling ones and emphasize the important ones. They may all be necessary to prioritize the people you love the most. It should also be noted that many high performance and “successful” people are really bad at healthy relationships. It takes work to build and maintain healthy relationships. In fact, we often have an intuition about what needs to be done but we don’t want to deal with the discomfort of the process. But it is worth it. Healthy relationships are the most important thing in life. We need to make time and give attention to the people in our life we love the most.