Conflicting Priorities

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

June 18, 2012

Levi looking down at me.

We were at Brooklyn Park, playing. Levi was running around, and I was snapping photos. Here’s a silly photo of Levi looking down at me.

I only studied for English (10.1) and my drivers’ education manual. Everything else slipped. The teacher was the same, so if I was going to prioritize one class over another – those two classes would win out.

I was in tenth grade. I was a sophomore in high school. And, this is just one example of where I get involved in things because I think they are important and suffer from continued, conflicting priorities.

I was surprised today by the random discussion of happiness. It doesn’t happen very often. Usually, it’s when a loved one thinks that I am unhappy and they question my happiness. The exchange with this individual included her definition of happiness that sounded more like some unattainable place of consistent joy to me. She even asked me if I was simply happy with who I am. I quickly stated “No.” Why? Because I’m not.

I explained that I think “happiness” is this ride we’re on. Sometimes there are highs, and sometimes there are lows. It just is. Life just is. I hope to eventually cherish all moments and knit them together in the story of me. Perhaps one day someone will be interested in hearing it.

I am not wholly happy with myself because, as most of us, I am my own worst critic. I know my faults. I know many of my strengths (even if I don’t know how to describe them well enough for others to understand or hear them). But, I definitely know my faults. I know where I fail as a wife, sister, daughter, and most importantly mother. I know when I should be more patient. I internalize a lot. So, I replay scenes where I screwed up in my head, repeatedly. No matter how quickly the other has gotten over whatever trespass, chances are I still haven’t forgiven myself.

Now, this plays out in a day to day scene where I more or less don’t worry about these things. They affect me, I internalize, and I think I play it out with a pretty straight face.

Back to priorities. This post is really about priorities and happiness. The thought has occurred to me, again, that perhaps I actually define happiness by doing something, which is why I started this post in tenth grade.

I consider this while my leg jiggles, I check my email, double check my schedule, and choose to NOT do other things. I am not editing notes and redrafting minutes. I am not reading for the meeting on Saturday. I am not perusing a gift to by for an upcoming wedding. I am not looking at ticket prices for our trip to Michigan. I am not folding laundry. I am not watching TV. I am not finishing the dishes.

Conflicting priorities. If everything is important than nothing is. Conflicting priorities. I can only be in one space at a time. One moment. With my inability to accurately assess how long tasks take, coupled with my inability (or refusal) to say no, I end up with conflicting priorities – often. The above example of thoughts in my head is not unlike most moments in the day. When I’m in a meeting where I feel my time is being valued, I don’t have a problem remaining in the moment. It’s when I’m out of the forced set aside that conflict arises. This didn’t start in tenth grade. It started long before that. My mother has even quipped that I frequently burn the candle at both ends.

But there is just so much to do! So many interesting things. So many obligations! So much going on … and I don’t want to miss a minute of it. Which means that with my inability to say no, I inevitably miss some things. (Like when I missed Levi’s last soccer game of the year last year. I had been to every single other game and practice, but the last game conflicted with my employer’s gala. I chose to participate in the paying gig.)

I do feel joy being a part of these things I believe in: my son’s education and upbringing, time with my husband, social justice, food justice, stewardship of the land. Knowing that I am working with things that are important to me gives me contentment. But, I wouldn’t call it happiness – it’s a journey towards happiness. I do not like feeling idle, and if there’s time in the schedule – I feel idle. So, when there isn’t time in the schedule – I am over-committed and conflicted!

And that, friends, is why it’s called a Balancing Act.

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