It’s easy to forget what’s important to you.
It shouldn’t be. It should be easy to say “no” to the unimportant. It’s counterintuitive that we so easily set aside our priorities in the wake of the new shiny. But we do, and quite often. I’m as guilty of it as anyone.
Why do we do it? Is it that we don’t believe in ourselves? That’s one possible answer. But I think more than anything that we often live subject to the tyranny of the urgent. An opportunity floats our way that’s time sensitive, attractive, and challenging, and we look at our own work and say, “I can get to that after this.” Sometimes those distractions are actually profitable. It’s even easier to justify setting aside your personal goals then. Sometimes, they’re just easier, so it’s satisfying to bang out three projects you don’t care about, while you slowly trundle away on the one that you do love.
All of this is guesswork, and I suspect the answers vary by who’s involved, but at least for me, I have always struggled with saying no to people and projects. It was easier to put my own projects to the side to help elsewhere. The end result is that the projects I’m passionate about slow to a crawl, even as I’m pulled in far too many directions at once. The only thing that helps me avoid this is constantly reminding myself of my priorities. [When you know exactly what you want to be doing, it’s easier to reject anything that will prevent you from doing that thing. It’s these reminders that help me know when to shelve a project, and when to take on another.
It’s for this reason that I was particularly enamored with Derek Siver’s /now page movement. All you have to do to take part is ensure that you have a page on your site where you list your current projects and priorities. It serves as a reminder to yourself on what you’ve committed yourself to, as well as a way to publicly share those goals with others. I’ve seen some use it to explain in advance if they are available for other collaborations, while others use it to make it clear that their time is limited. It’s a simple idea that seems to be taking off.
Of course, we also live in a culture where busy-ness is held as a high ideal, which means it’s quite possible for people to use this as an opportunity to peacock about. Which is a bit silly, since only existing for your work is an addiction that’s just as unhealthy and unattractive as any other. Focus is a far more valuable ideal for which to strive. But that’s a topic worthy of it’s own post.
My point is, reminders of what’s important are valuable. We can quibble about whether it’s just narcissism to post them publicly, as opposed to in a journal. We would certainly be able to raise good points on both sides. The real answer is that it varies a lot based on the individual and their motivations, and attempting them to map those out as acceptable or not, would be a purely mastabatory exercise in proving how big of an asshole we can strive to be. There are no simple answers when it comes to human behavior, but the act of documenting your priorities has it’s own value completely separate from any other motivations.
I’d encourage you to make such a list. I found it cathartic and edifying, and immediately began cutting things from my projects that didn’t conform to it. It was freeing and deeply satisfying, as I suspect it will be for you. Whether you post your list publicly or privately is a choice best left up to the individual, but for today, I’m happy to share mine with you.
Let's talk about regrets, shall we?
They tend to haunt us through the years. Sometimes they are the things we wish we had said (or could be unsaid), and sometimes they are bigger than that, a path you didn't take, or one you abandoned only a few steps along the way. It's the second type I'd like to focus on today, and I'd like to start with one of mine.