Prioritizing My Life

Someone pointed me toward Covey Quadrant as a way to prioritize my own life and my own needs. While it’s an interesting concept, it seems more geared toward business and commerce.

Facing some of the issues I am now, I would take their priorities and quadrants and rearrange them to fit my life.

Some things that are urgent to me are both important and not important, such as eating chocolate. I’ll admit it, I’m a chocoholic, and since time (and life) are limited, then why waste it. Eating chocolate is always going to be a priority in my life, and it is one of those pleasures that you can easily combine with other urgencies, such as connecting with friends, or enjoying the sunshine. I mean what can be better, than sitting on a sunny bench in a park, listening to the birds call and the kids playing while eating a thick, rich chocolate brownie?

If that’s not urgent, then the world is totally messed up. I mean, why would someone think that a deadline-driven project is so urgent and so important that everything else should have to wait? I would tell that person to take another look at their life, and figure out where their priorities really need to be.

As for work, it’s never urgent…unless you work in a hospital emergency room or something similar. But for most of us, work is simply one of those things that’s always there, always will be, and no matter how hard we go at it, it will never change. So, it becomes a non-priority in my life. It’s simply one of those necessary things, and nothing more.

So, that’s my take on the Covey Quadrant. Maybe you should take a look at your own life and see if you need to rearrange your own priorities.

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What’s your label?

Labels, nick names, pet names, and icons—those small descriptions identifying someone’s perception of you, or the way in which you identify your perception of someone else 

Okay, I can hear you all going, “Huh?”

Did you ever meet someone and say to yourself after speaking with them for a few minutes, “Man, he’s a real techno-geek…”, or “Wow, she’s a real airhead…”? Well, those are both examples of labeling or assigning icons to someone based on your perceptions.

And before you start telling yourself that you would never do something like that, think back to your own childhood and your own relationships with your family…uh-huh, that’s right. Everyone does it, even your own parents and siblings. What were you? “Little Troublemaker”? “Little Man”? or “Maybe Dad’s Little Princess”?

That was my icon/label, which probably was fine up until I reached the age of about six, from then on it didn’t fit, but my parents never noticed, and I’ve been fighting against their mindset and label ever since.

Read on and maybe you’ll understand a little more…

* * *

As my brothers and I came back together to take care of my father, during my mother’s illness, I found that the familial patterns they tried to reintroduce just didn’t fit. You see, once I reached puberty, I was never comfortable with my family. It seemed as if they were always expecting someone else—someone more “traditional”, more “dutiful”, more “amenable”, and someone more “pliable”. Instead, they got me (whatever that was).

Because I was uncomfortable with the “roles” they had devised for me, I left home quite willingly as soon as I could (which means as soon as I could escape to college and away from parental controls). From then on, I only made brief forays into the world of family—weddings, funerals, Christmas, and an occasional Thanksgiving. Each time I went home with the hope that it would be different, and each time I was disappointed and frustrated. (Talk about being a slow learner;-)

After every short exposure into the familial experience, I would still find my father thinking of me as his “little princess”, my mother trying to turn me into a “mini-her”, my oldest brother trying to play macho-protector (“my hero”), and the middle child (my other brother)—unsure of his own role—convinced that I (like all women) should be the epitome of the 50’s woman—a combination of the Stepford wives and the mother from the Donna Reed show.

Every time I left one of those family gatherings it would take me several days to work through the anger, disappointment, and frustration, which left me jittery and stressed, with a headache and upset stomach.

Why couldn’t they just see me for who I was? Why did they continually try to push me into some ridiculous, outmoded (and in some instances, not even close) mold or make we wear some outrageous label that didn’t even come close to describing who I really was?

I had never been a traditional female, so my middle brother’s attempts to make me fit his ideal of the typically, traditional female and their roles in society and the family always frustrated and angered me. But since I saw that he did that with every female, I didn’t take it completely personally, so it didn’t bother me nearly as much as my parents’ labeling did. The same was true of my oldest brother. He felt (and still does) that his machismo and bravado were the way to win women’s attention and affection, and once “won over” they were to be protected from everyone else. This included mothers and sisters. Therefore, this was another labeling that I could more or less ignore, since it was applied to all females and not just me.

No, it was the labels directed solely at me that troubled me the most, and filled me with such frustration and anger.

My mother’s continued attempts to turn me into a miniature of herself probably angered me the most. Although we shared some similarities in physical features (short, stocky—what some might call dumpy—with reddish, blonde hair), our personalities were complete opposites. Yet, no matter how much I tried to make her see this, she absolutely refused to recognize me as an individual. (See the entry, “Killjoy”, to understand a little more about my mother’s personality traits.)

The more she held on to this icon, this label, this perception of me, the less I wanted to visit. I wasn’t that person, and I was tired of trying to pretend that I was. If my parents couldn’t accept me for what and who I was, then I didn’t want to see them.

I can see now that my father never fully understood why I cut myself off from the family, but has merely assigned that period to “the troublesome growing up period” I was going through. (He doesn’t seem to notice, or maybe he just doesn’t want to, that this period lasted for nearly twenty years.)

 * * *

When I met my future husband’s family, they had no expectations of who or what I was. So, there were no “icons” or molds that I had to fill—other than that of “woman my son loves”. And since that icon came easily, we all got along wonderfully. We began spending all our holidays with his family, or at least as many as possible. Why? Because I didn’t have to be someone I wasn’t, and neither did Dale. His parents hadn’t assigned a role to Dale other than “youngest child”, and since that defined him, as well as his actual position within the family, it was also an easy one for him to “live up to”.

Visiting with his family was a wonderful release. There were no two-day decompression periods. No anger submerged inside like landmines, ready to explode at any moment, but unseen by those who unexpectedly triggered them. It was just a joyous time of friends gathering, talking, playing board or card games, laughing, having a good time, then going our separate ways again. His parents and family simply accepted me for who I was (although my father-in-law did have a tough time getting my first name right), but their only label was “youngest son’s wife”, which allowed me to be whomever and whatever I wanted to be.

As for my family, well, it never improved. Even after getting married, they still tried to fit me into their old molds. It didn’t seem to matter how much I had changed or grown, or how many years had passed. None of them could seem to move beyond the old labels. After several years of poor interactions with my family, my spouse even came to agree that it just wasn’t worth all the aggravation.

And it wasn’t just me who was being given these badly fitting labels. Because my mother kept insisting on trying to make me into a miniature of herself, she tried to assign an icon of “miniature daddy” to my husband. Although quiet like my father, my husband is not really that much like my father; in fact, I think they’re really quite different. My father was more of a man of action, while my husband is a man of study. My husband prefers to read and study and think about a task or problem before actually doing something. Now, that’s not to say that my dad didn’t think or plan what he was going to do, but he was more prone to simply dive in and give an idea a try, while my husband will study the idea from every possible angle first.

When my mom died, my husband and I had been married nearly twenty years, and my family and I were almost completely estranged. I had tried so many times to reconcile, but my parents (my mother especially) wouldn’t, or couldn’t, move beyond their originally labeling of me, so I chose to stay away most of the time.

At my mother’s funeral, however, there was a slight shift—not much, but a little. I realized that it had been primarily my mother’s influence that had kept the original labels in place. Now, without my mother there to enforce the labeling, my brothers, but especially my father, were willing to let me move beyond my original icon to something a little closer to who I was then.

It wasn’t perfect, and we still had a long way to go, but it was a welcomed, and long overdue, adjustment to their understanding of just who and what I was (and am). It’s been nearly seven years since my mother’s death, and my dad came pretty close to accepting me for who I am before he died. Because I no longer care to fit any preconceived notions of who I am or what I’m about, we actually argued and verbally sparred, and that was okay. I think my dad actually enjoyed this sometimes, because it helped keep him feeling young. After all, if you know everything, and everyone always agrees with you, then there’s no more learning, and without learning, what’s the point?

So, I kept my father guessing, and sometimes myself, as I shifted my role as I saw fit. And since neither of us never knew from moment to moment who I was going to be or what I was going to do, it became very difficult to assign me an icon, because it’s hard to give a name to a moving target.

(For more information about icons and families, see the book, Michael on Life and Relationships.)

Every path is right; Every choice is right

There is no wrong or right path, because they all lead to the same destination—who and what you are right now. Some paths may be longer or shorter, but no matter the length, and no matter how many twists or turns, they still always lead to who and what you are. You may think you took a wrong turning, but that only means you misunderstood the destination. You may think that the destination was getting married and having a family, but you find that by making the choices you did, by following the paths that you did, you have gotten married but had no children, or perhaps you haven’t gotten married at all.

But are you happy with and accepting of who you are? Did you enjoy getting to where you are now? And who’s to say where your next set of choices might lead—after all, is it ever really too late to get married? And does every family have to include children?

If you regret what you did or choices you made, then you can’t fully accept who you are, because you are a composite of your choices. If someone tells you that you’ve made poor, bad, or wrong choices, then you have to decide whether to accept or ignore their judgment. However, if you’re happy with who you are, and accepting of who and what you are, then their judgment shouldn’t matter. After all, they never walked in your shoes along your path, so how can they possibly know what led you to the choices you made?

Most people who would criticize another’s path, do so either because they see everyone as being copies of themselves and so everyone should make the same choices and take the same paths they would in the given set of circumstances, or because they wish they had the other person’s life with the other person’s choices. In other words, they dislike their own life, but rather than change it, they would live your life for you.

Every choice you make is a valid choice. Even those that create karmic bonds are valid choices. Some people need to color outside the lines to see the true image, while others only want to paint the images they see in the coloring book, staying within the lines and coloring very precisely. Either way is fine. Taking the path of creating karmic bonds may take you a bit longer to get to a “final” destination, but that’s okay, too, because in truth, the destination is in the journey.

Each of us makes choices, travels down our selected paths, and creates a person that is different every minute, every hour, and every day. And if we ever decide we don’t like who we are, we don’t want to be what we are, well…then make different choices, select another path.

We’ve all seen the person who makes the same choice day after day, and when the same response occurs to their choice they act surprised, maybe even angry. It’s as if they’re expecting something else to happen and can’t understand why it isn’t. But give them the same situation a week later, and watch as they again choose to respond in the same way, ending up with the same result. (Picture a head being repeatedly banged against a wall.) And you have to ask yourself, why don’t they make another choice; why don’t they try something else?

But while to us watching that person making the same choices over and over may seem foolish, it’s their choice; and it may just be that making that same choice over and over is a way for them to learn whatever it is they’re not quite grasping. Kids do it all the time, it’s called trial and error. Sometimes it takes more than one trial to convince someone that if they want a different response, they need to make a different choice.

Once they get it, though, they can now make a more aware choice when deciding whether to keep traveling the same path, or to try something different. Every path is a valid path. Every path leads to the same destination. And every path is great experience, for all of us.

Are you balanced?

Self-karma that’s what those imbalances that we create within ourselves are called. These can be anything to weight problems to addictions to prejudice, to racial hatred. Almost anything can become an imbalance within ourselves if we let it.

A self-karma is ourselves taking a viewpoint that is extreme of center. Instead of accepting our body for the shape, type, and size it is, we decide that we hate it. We hate our height, or we hate our weight, or we hate the fact that our hair is straight/curly/brown/blonde, our nose is long/short/stubby…In not accepting or understanding ourselves or others, we create an imbalance.

Perhaps we cannot abide someone if their skin is other than brown/white/yellow/red, or we can’t abide someone whose opinions disagree with ours, or we don’t like people who are extremely tall/short, or extremely fat/thin. Whatever it is that we dislike (in the extreme) we will end up having to deal with.

That isn’t to say that you can’t dislike anything. Of course you can. Maybe extremely tall people make you uncomfortable, so you tend to avoid dealing with them whenever possible. However, when it’s not possible, you simply do what you must, to finish the interaction and continue on with your life. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to behave considering how they make you feel. You may be ‘afraid’ of tall people, but you’re not letting your fear completely run your life.

However, if you make snide remarks, or continuously denigrate tall people because they make you uncomfortable, and you go out of your way to be nasty or cruel, or refuse to work with or interact with someone simply because they’re tall, now you’re creating an imbalance within yourself.

You’re failing to recognize that just because someone is different, they’re not necessarily evil, bad, or horrible. You’re allowing your fear of their difference (their tallness) direct your life, and this is what is creating the imbalance in you. Because somewhere down the line you will have to face the exact same type of “abuse”. Somewhere, in another life, you will be extremely tall, and you will encounter someone who really dislikes tall people, and you will have to endure all their jibes, and denigrating remarks.

Someone may be different, and that difference may even make you uncomfortable, but by reacting to that difference through fear you create an imbalance in yourself. If you can’t resolve that imbalance within the current life by recognizing what you’re doing and why, then later on in another life you will become that which you most feared. Then you will face the hate and fear of others until you can recognize and understand the fear that is coming from them and accept it as what it is—fear. As long as you return fear to those who fear you, the circle remains continuous. But once you recognize the fear for what it is, and return loving acceptance instead, then the circle is broken and the self-karma is balanced.

Self-karmas are usually about something that you fear—body types and shapes (height, weight, coloration), race, handicaps (mental deficiencies, physical challenges, such as polio, MS, or other debilitating diseases), nationality, religious beliefs, social prejudices—these are all types of self-karmas that you can induce simply by becoming either too fearful of them or too enamored of them.

Oh yes…if you become too fond of a particular trait or body type or ethnicity that can create self-karma, too. After all, extremes of any type are an imbalance. What is sought is balance, and that means within ourselves, too. So, if you like being red-haired, and always insist on red-hair and pretty soon you find that you feel negative towards any other color of hair, you’re on your way to creating self-karma. After all, just because you like red hair, doesn’t make brown hair wrong.

Now, if you adore red hair and always incarnate with red hair but feel that the other hair colors are fine (that is, you’re not afraid of them or don’t dislike them—except for yourself) then there is no imbalance. It’s only if you start disdaining any hair color except red that you’ll find yourself back in that self-karmic circle trying to make things balance out.

So, learn to accept yourself and who you are—tall, short, thin, heavy, clumsy, graceful, red-haired, blonde, female, male, black, white, yellow, red, Baptist, Catholic, Buddhist—then be accepting of everyone else, too.

That’s not so hard…is it?