“She Needs To Sort Out Her Priorities”

Sadly, this is not a post regarding the cuteness of Ronald Weasley. About 2 weeks ago, I had a drastic wake-up call about my priorities.

Until that point in time, I was humming along on several fronts toward my big three goals: get out of debt so we can buy a bigger house (one with a writing space and a better neighborhood); Lose weight; and to publish a book.  All of those laudable, reasonable – and dare I say it – pretty ordinary goals.

Until April 19th, I was paying off my credit card and pinching pennies like a pro. I had finished my agent queries for Salvaged, and was plugging away at the newest novel and new short stories.

I had earned a promotion at work in March, and the Google announcement  about mobile rankings in late February kicked off my first major project in that role. I had an April 21st deadline. And a whole lot of work to do to get there on time.

I was driven. I was moving toward all of the right places – professionally, personally, creatively.

Then on April 19th, I found a lump in my breast. I’ll spoil the suspense to tell you everything turned out fine, and there’s nothing to worry about. But, as you can imagine, I was justifiably freaked out on Sunday night, two days before my big deadline.  A surgeon saw me on Monday. On Tuesday, I spent the day in the Emory Cancer center getting a series of diagnostic tests. By the time I got the all-clear that afternoon, I was so emotionally spent there was no way I was going to the office.  Instead, Brett and I went up to the Etowah mounds and thought about things that are bigger and older than we are.

image of photographer looking down on a etowah mound

Since that afternoon, I’ve noticed that my weight has plateaued, my checkbook has been less flush, and I’ve had a general not-giving-a-shit-ness about my long term goals. I didn’t really care that I missed the big algo rollout, even though it was my project to land, and land it we did. I didn’t really care about much beyond spending time with Brett for that first week.  Last week, I started writing and sewing again.

This weekend, I’ve dismantled the growing pile of “I’ll do that later” papers and lists, and I’ve realized I need to re-orient myself to my big, long term goals.  With journal and pen, I started musing about those three big goals – financial, physical and occupational.

First, I realized that of the three, the only one with real joy involved in the steps to get there is the writing. I love writing every day. It feeds me. It gives back to me. But the focus on an end product that I want to sell is wringing the joy out of that process. So, scaling back this goal a little bit. It’s still there, but let’s recapture the play and wonder and let those long term what-ifs live somewhere in the future.

Both penny-pinching and calorie-counting are efforts of willpower. They are both self-discipline and austerity. They are effortful – even when you really need something like eating dinner to be effortless. I read an article at work about willpower.  It’s a budgeted emotional energy – people only have so much.

I know how to fill up my introvert energy reserves, how to refill my creative well, even how to give my self-esteem a boost. But I don’t know how to refill a tank of willpower. And clearly, when I’m spending willpower on the effort to just get through the day without freaking out, it runs out quickly.

The other thing I noticed is that penny-pinching and calorie-counting are fairly miserable activities. And by orienting myself to these two far off goals, I’m banking on some future happiness that might not ever pay out.  What if skinny author Alicia in her big house is absolutely miserable?

I’m not okay with being miserable in the short term to secure long-term imaginary joy.

To that end, I’ve decided to pick one of the three – just one – to focus on for a while.

As for other kinds of joy – I’ve got pretty good habits built up around spending time with friends and getting woods-time, around doing things that make me happy, and spending a lot more time being rather than doing.  I am playing with the idea of creating a larger, longer term goal that is more joyful, but I resist that thought. Joy is transient and in the moment. It’s not something captured by something so finite as a goal.

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8 thoughts on “ “She Needs To Sort Out Her Priorities”

  1. Everyone has those days, and the freak out was real. The concern, as you know was real. This was so much a moment to care for yourself instead of tax yourself…I’m not doing well supporting, as I’m more reiterating what you’ve already been through. Shortly:
    I’m proud to have met you and this recognition of your own abilities makes me more so.

  2. Sounds like you have your priorities all sorted out and that’s a good thing! 🙂 No truer words were ever written when I saw this from your post here: “I’m not okay with being miserable in the short term to secure long-term imaginary joy.” Joy is often fleeting and we really should relish those moments as much as we can.

  3. This is brilliant, AK–brilliant and brave. I have all kinds of faith that you’re going to succeed at whatever you set your heart on. I think I learn something important from you every time I read your posts, and that says a lot. I’ve had the breast-lump scare, too–it really will shake things up fast! So glad you’re healthy and able to focus on the next stage of this wacky roller-coaster ride.

    • I got your card the other day, will have to find something suitable to return. 🙂 I have to be careful what I set my heart on, because it can drive a lot of subconscious decisions!

  4. I think this all sounds really positive. It’s always important to listen to what feels intuitively right. I’m also glad to hear all is well health wise. Nicky. 🙂

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