Prioritising: do you know what really matters to you?

traditional british road sign priorities changed ahead on rural road leading to the top of the hill

I have met few women who knew when they started their working life what they would be passionate about; what kind of work would give meaning and purpose to their life. Some never find out and, as a result, their lives are that much poorer.

traditional british road sign priorities changed ahead on rural road leading to the top of the hillWhen I was young, I never gave any thought to what really mattered to me. The only reason I became a secretary was because that was what my Dad decided I should become since I had a gift for languages. I never cared one way or the other – at least not for a very long time.

I’d been a secretary for about 18 years when everything changed. When my husband’s application for a job transfer from London to Gloucester was accepted, the world as I knew it fell apart.

As I tried to settle into my new life and look for a job I discovered that there were few secretarial vacancies at the time. In response to a situation where there were too many people in one particular job category but not enough jobs, the Government introduced a scheme designed to offer opportunities for retraining in order to create new job openings.

I decided to go for it and chose Personnel Management, not because I knew anything about it but because the only two other options were secretarial and computer qualifications, neither of which appealed to me.

As it turned out, it was by sheer accident that I hit on the profession that became my passion at the time, Human Resources. As I completed the program and found my first job at the bottom rung of the ladder, it was the first time I had work that had any meaning for me. I felt I was where I belonged.

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Pressures and demands

As life seems to turn faster and faster it can feel like all we can do is to run just to stand still. We’re overwhelmed by pressures and demands and life can feel frantic, full of lists of things to do, and other people’s demands and expectations, making prioritising seem almost impossible.

A common survival technique is to just give in for the sake of a little peace and quiet. We should, therefore, not be surprised to find that we become distracted and forget what really matters to us the most, assuming, of course, that we know what that is in the first place.

Does this resonate with you? I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to feel passionate about your work but, at the very least, you can expect to enjoy it and your work environment. You’d be surprised if you knew how few people do.

Something missing

But you might be one of those women who feel as if there’s something missing but don’t know what. If, on the surface, you’ve got it all (at least that’s what all your friends tell you) yet still feel vaguely dissatisfied without knowing why.

At this point you’re probably ready to look within yourself. Work that has meaning usually goes beyond earning enough to pay the mortgage. When you follow your heart, things on the outside tend to fall into place too.

But following your heart doesn’t have to revolve around work; it could be devoting yourself to raising a family, creating a happy and rich home experience for those you love; it could be working to create financial freedom. If your health is not 100%, you might put your energies into improving your health and wellbeing – defined as physical, emotional and spiritual, or it might have something to do with making a contribution to society by way of charity or voluntary work. The options are endless.

When we know what is truly important to us we are able to make choices and decisions that meet our deepest needs and wants because our actions are aligned with our values.

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The point is that, to live a truly happy life, we need to know what matters to us the most, what makes us jump out of bed and look forward to the day ahead. Every one of us has different priorities and dreams and, when we know what’s really important to us, we’re able to make choices and decisions that are in harmony with it.

Prioritising, I discovered, is critical to the quality of our life and relationships. More than that, knowing that we’re making a meaningful contribution to our relationships, our work, and/or our community causes us to feel really good about ourselves. We know we matter.

To get the process underway, you might start by taking a large piece of paper and drawing a circle. Divide it into eight segments and label each with one aspect of your life, for example: family, partner/children, love, work, finances, spirituality, health and wellbeing, etc.

Now fill in each segment to the extent to which you’re happy with how that part of your life feels. The happier you are, the closer you go to the top; the more dis-satisfied you are, the closer you stay to the centre.

Reflect on what you have discovered about the quality of your life and record your insights in a journal. Your journal will become a valuable tool for learning and growing; for getting to know yourself better.

You may be someone who, like me, finds it helpful to process things by talking to friends, people you trust, instead of allowing your thoughts to run around in circles in your own head. The purpose of talking with others is not necessarily so they can come up with some pearl of wisdom but so you can hear the pearls of wisdom that come out of your own mouth. Listen to them; most people don’t.

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To mis-quote Camus, philosopher and writer:

“There’s no happiness if the things we do are different from the things we believe in.”