Appointments. Meetings. Commitments. Maybe you’re buried under obligations, expectations, bills.
By the time we reach our late forties or fifties, some of us have more freedom than others. And whether or not we have true freedom, we may be so accustomed to living a certain way that reassessing our priorities seems like an overwhelming task.
Disconnecting from a tedious or tiring routine?
It may be easier than we think.
If you’re still in your parenting years, your only “breaks” from the routine may come if the other parent provides them, or if others in your life — friends, family members, neighbors — are willing to do the same.
(And let’s remember that the trend in having children older may well mean you’re 50 with a child who is still quite young!)
For those who are past the active parenting years, you may think you will have all the time in the world to do as you please after empty nest, even if you’re working and have occasional family obligations.
Busy at Empty Nest?
Surprise, surprise. You may arrive at this juncture and find life has other plans — you’re stalled by some unexpected health or financial challenge. Or, perhaps you’ve taken on so much over the years that even with kids off to college or well along in their adult lives, you’re still feeling like there isn’t enough of you to go around! You’re filling your hours with work, yes… family, yes… friends, too… and online time.
The first in this list may be the easiest to manage of all, especially if you perform work on a fairly regular schedule. And if you work as an independent, on commission, or from home? Are you always semi “at work” and unable to let it go?
On the “family” item, what if you’re still working but your spouse is not? One of the downsides to the older man-younger woman pairing is that retirement comes far sooner for one spouse. That may leave the other feeling like her time, space and energy — her independence, to a degree — are all being usurped.
Friends, I suspect, may be getting too little of your “real world” time. This may not be the case for some; for others, what’s left after paying the bills and making the meals, giving an adult child your time with a newborn for the first month, and a sister-in-law in transition for the month after…
Are You Prioritizing Your Online Time?
The real challenge comes with our “online time,” don’t you think? Whether work, family, friends or strangers, isn’t it easy to become dependent, if not “addicted?”
In recent months, I’ve needed to cut back on my social media time. This is partly due to client commitments, but is at least as much the result of my own feeling that I was allowing my online life to overshadow my offline existence. Don’t get me wrong — the online world can be exceptionally helpful in so many ways. Nonetheless, moderation allows us to manage it — and not the other way around.
From time to time, I tell myself I am going to disconnect entirely, and not only that, but I’m going to break my usual routine — simply to shake things up and see what happens. (Might there be a different angle on a work challenge? Energy kicked up as the result of doing something different?)
This weekend, I stopped myself from checking work-related emails. That one was hard. I’m undecided if the stress of resisting was better than the interruption of 10 minutes of work here and 20 minutes of work there, but certainly it was worth a shot.
How to Re-Prioritize
So how do you “disconnect” or make time when you’re pulled in too many directions? You enlist help if you can, and you re-prioritize.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I find that lists are useful. This is no more true than when I need to prioritize, or reconsider my priorities.
Some examples of people and activities that may make our lists:
- Relationship (spouse, lover; the absence of either and the desire for one)
- Children (and grandchildren); our commitments and our “enjoyable” activities
- Extended family (elder parents, siblings, in-laws, etc.)
- Friends (online, offline; friends you might hope to make)
- Personal health and well-being (Hello, Sleep? Exercise? Sanity?)
- Work (type and nature of job(s), hours spent, meaning or purpose, financial aspects)
- Money (that’s a book in and of itself!)
- Community (many ways to interpret)
- Personal dreams (again, interpret as you will)
- “Self” (however you will interpret that)
And like too many women, ironically, “self” comes at the end of my quickly tapped out list… It’s something I’m working on, with the understanding of the man in my life.
The point of these bullets? To highlight how easy it is to feel ourselves split into pieces — everyone wanting or needing something of us, not to mention us — wanting to enjoy and take advantage of so many aspects of the people we care about and the activities we wish to pursue.
It’s a lot! Of course we have to prioritize, and it makes sense for us to examine those priorities from time to time.
Crises Lend Us Perspective
By the time we’re at the half century mark, most of us have dealt with some sort of adversity — illness, the passing of a loved one, the end of a marriage or other significant loss. We learn from what we experience, frequently saying goodbye to what previously seemed like non-negotiable “musts” and discovering we do just fine without them.
While coming at the issues of priorities from a different angle, this Psychology Today column on resilience speaks to the value of examining what is important to us. Especially important after a period of challenge or crisis, not only should we “make time for ourselves,” but:
… take a look at what you let fall behind during the time of disruption… Make two lists. One list should detail what you felt you had to do to get through the critical period… This reinforces your resiliency… The second list should be filled with all those things that you let fall by the wayside… start crossing off all of those things that are not so important after all…
This seems like a helpful exercise. If we can manage without certain activities or routines we were once convinced we needed, doesn’t that offer us a certain freedom to reassess their value? Doesn’t this enable us to engage in small steps toward change that may offer big relief in terms of value?
Value and Values
Naturally, they change as our lives change, as our circumstances change, as we change and move through a variety of experiences and stages. Besides, aren’t priorities a function of our values as well as our goals? Don’t we want to feel valued, and don’t we want to encourage others to feel the same?
Some will say they are able to manage priorities and accomplish goals as a matter of attitude and determination. I agree that attitude and initiative are enormously important, but they do have to be balanced with responsibilities and circumstances. That said, even when we have obligations to others in our lives, for example the need to stretch ourselves thin to care for an elder family member or to cover the bills, surely we can find one hour somewhere — to ground ourselves and evaluate how we’re spending our time.
Making over our priorities needn’t wait for a disruptive event. Certainly, setting aside a little time to consider what really matters is an exercise that makes sense at any stage of life. And on a final note, how often do we prioritize fun? Sure, eventually life will toss us plenty of serious challenges, but the greatest joys are usually simple ones, and well within grasp.
How often do you stop to catch your breath? Are you at last in a stage where that comes easier? Are you in a position to reassess your priorities? Do you force yourself to do so periodically? Have you changed things up occasionally just to see what happens?
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