How do decide what matters most, so we can make a life that matters?
What matters most?
We talk a lot on this show about making a life that matters, and about accomplishing what matters. In fact, just last week, we talked about making a life that matters as you define it and some of the things that get in the way of doing that. We talk about how intentional living is necessary in order to make a life that matters--living on purpose, choosing intentionally how we spend our time, energy, and attention. These are all important parts of what this podcast is all about.
Over the years, I've often gotten questions about how to figure out what matters most, when there are so many options and commitments available to us. The question is often asked as if the answer is “out there” somewhere, when in fact I believe the answer is within us. I thought it was worth talking about what that means and how we figure it out so we can apply it to our lives and actually create a meaningfully productive life.
Can we really rank our priorities?
Often, we want to come up with a list of what matters most that applies to life in general, with priorities or roles ranked in order of importance, that will guide all our decisions going forward. However, this is something I've always questioned. For me, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Can we truly rank our faith, self-care, husband, children, jobs, or other important factors in our lives? The idea that we can create a list of priorities to govern our lives may not be realistic or practical. What I don't like about it is that it puts important things in competition with each other. Is our husband more important or our children? Is our job more important or is it our family? I really struggle with the idea of what it means to create a list of "priorities" and rank them in order, deciding which one is most important, which one is second, and so on.
What does it mean to put these things in order of rank? That we spend most of our time on the thing that matters most--or that we should be doing so? Self-care is important, and maintaining a strong marriage is important, but at certain stages of our life our young children require more of our time, energy, and attention. Does that mean that our kids are more important than our health or our marriage?
Work requires a certain number of hours a week, so most of us spend more time at work than with our families. Does that mean work is more important? Or if family is more important, does that mean we must adjust our time so we spend more time with them than at work? Again, for most of us, this isn't practically achievable. So is time spent the measure of what matters?
The challenge is there when the way we spend our days, time, energy, and attention doesn't match up with the rank order of our lists and we end up feeling like we've done something wrong.
Furthermore, priority is and has always been a singular word. In the article “Priority vs. Priorities”,
the writer explains that the concept of having multiple priorities has only been around for the last 100 years.
For me, there are two components to figuring out what matters: the first is to find out what matters, and then to figure out what matters most. But I'm not sure that we can pick one thing that matters most overall that will always apply in the sense of governing how we use our time.
I think the concept of priority of asking what is the most important thing is useful in a very limited, specific area.
What is the priority at this moment?
In any given moment we can only do one thing. To give our best, to be our best, in any given moment, we can really only do one thing. So the question of figuring out what matters,