Do you Prioritize Your Life or Your Work? Maybe It Is Time to Rethink

An article on the Harvard Business Review blog called, “If You Don’t Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will,” really made me think. I also read a thoughtful blog post on a similar subject over at Truth and Cake called “Save Your Own Ass.”

The concept behind both of these posts is simple: take care of yourself first because if you don’t, no one else will.

The Harvard Business Review article tells the story of a man who attended a meeting the day after his child was born, because he thought he should. While attending the meeting, the man realized that he really should have been with his wife and newborn child instead of at this routine business meeting.

This got me thinking about times when I have felt conflicted between work obligations and home obligations. One of these moments happened just last week.

As many of you know, we had a wildfire directly in front of our house last week. I was scheduled to drive five hours for an all day work meeting last Friday. I felt that I had to go to the meeting, but was concerned to travel so far from home at that moment.

I felt like I “should” make the meeting. My bosses over the years have been very supportive when I needed to bow out of something because of an emergency at home. It is not pressure from my employers that has made me feel that I need to meet my obligations at work, regardless of the situation at home.

I ended up calling into the meeting last week instead of travelling, which I thought was a good compromise. And we were fortunate that the weather and the firefighters helped quell the fire quickly. My colleagues at the meeting were very understanding as, I’m sure, the colleagues of the author of the Harvard Business Review blog post would have been on the day after his child’s birth.

I don’t know what makes these types of decisions more difficult than they need to be. Perhaps at times like these I need to remember to repeat my new mantra gleaned from the sage bloggers at Truth and Cake and the Harvard Business Review: Take care your yourself, because if you don’t, no one else will.

What do you think? What is it that makes us often feel the need to neglect the things in life that are most important, even when it is not necessary that we do so? Is it because we take for granted that the people and things we love will always be there, but work is fleeting? But doesn’t that make it even more important that we tend to our personal needs, lives and loves? Have you learned any lessons about this the hard way or the easy way that you would like to share? Any tips for people who struggle with these types of decisions?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thank you for reading!

If you liked this, you might also like:

The Freedom of a Vacation: Why Would We Give That Up? 

The Importance of Slowing Down in a Busy Bee Culture

Does Anyone Care About the Lack of Women in Leadership Positions?

Give Me a Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?  


Filed under Business, Career Planning, Culture, Economy, Education, Forest Fires, Health, Parenting, Peace, Relationships, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

38 responses to “Do you Prioritize Your Life or Your Work? Maybe It Is Time to Rethink

  1. In a previous job I would have done this, but I made a decision that in future employment, I would take care of myself. The difference between I live to work and I work to live. We live in a dog-eat-dog culture and have this fear that if we don’t ‘show up’ someone else will …. and reap the benefits for doing so.

    • Good for you. You are so right in your analysis. I have gotten much better about this myself, but I still struggle with it at times. I will have to keep reading your insightful blog for pearls of wisdom about how you made the change. 🙂

      • haha it’s just age. As you get older you stand up for yourself more. I will be turning 40-10 next year and I figure by the time I’m 40-13 I will be able to say the 50!

        • I’m no good at math and a little ADD — how old does that really make you? I turned 40 this year and have already felt some positive changes. I think the next decade is going to be the best – full of living out my life lessons and finding more balance. Anyway, that’s the gold medal I am going for this year. 😉

  2. Barneysday

    Good commentary. Good piece in last weeks NYTimes about our busy schedules. Turns out, we make them that way. I look back at all the times I went to the “meeting” and sacrificed something personal, and realize I had made some poor choices. No regret, just making sure that the next meetings are in my best interest.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you!!! You are so right. We fabricate the magnitude of our importance sometimes and think that the world will stop without our guidance. When really, the earth will continue to spin if we occasionally realign our priorities to focus on what matters most. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

  3. I expect you will get a great many positive comments on this. But I have a couple of problems with it. To begin with, I’m not sure what it means to “Take care of yourself.” But I have written a book about our culture’s preoccupation with self and this seems to me to be more of the same. I think we need to think less about ourselves and more about others. We tend to get “hermetically sealed” within ourselves, as Ortega said so succinctly. But it is a very big topic and one, as I say, that will strike many a responsive chord.

    • Great point, Hugh. I think you are right on a societal basis, but on an individual basis people, especially women, are willing to give more of themselves than is healthy, rarely taking time for things that nourish their own soul – not their kids souls, not their partner’s souls and not their employers…but you are very right about a need for society to focus more on others than ourselves. What’s the name of the book, Hugh? Sounds interesting!

      • Thanks for that perspective, Jennifer. That’s why I read your blogs! My book was given the awful title of “Inverted Consciousness From Dante to Derrida” by the publisher. It’s way too expensive, but it is available in paperback if you are a glutton for punishment. Again, thanks for the women’s perspective. I do tend to look at these things from the perspective of culture.

        • Wow! That is some title, Hugh!!! To be able to write a book with a title like that, you must know some stuff! 🙂

          • Judging from the sales of the book it’s stuff no one else is much interested in!

            • That’s too bad. The actual topic sounds really interesting, once I get past the name, which only doesn’t seem as interesting because I am not as familiar with those individuals and their philosophies.

              • It’s a study in intellectual history, something I have been interested in for years. One of the reasons I enjoyed teaching in a small college is that I got to teach subjects I was most interested in! This book had been stirring around in my brain for many years. It was good to get it out. The title is actually worse than I led you to believe: The Inversion of Consciousness From Dante to Derrida.” Thanks for asking 🙂

  4. lately I have been working little and playing lots … much better life quality 🙂 BUT sadly one can’t pay the bills that way

    • Good for you! But you are right about paying the bills…hate that little detail. 😉 Thanks for the comment!

    • The type of physician I would like to work for is a Pediatrician. Pediatrician’s sicapelty is to work with children. I have been working with children for a long time mainly because I work at a daycare facility. I’ve got to a point where I feel like I can handle anything that will come my way with them. It would also leave me feeling good at the end of the day to know that I have helped in some way to make a child feel better.The type of physician I would not care to work for is a Epidemiologist. Epidemiologist’s specialize in epidemics caused by infections agents and also work with sexually transmitted diseases. I feel if I were to work in this type of sicapelty I would be putting my self at risk of exposure to these infectious agents. Also I would be focusing a lot of my time on trying to not get infected instead of having a steady mind on what I was actually supposed to be doing.

  5. To combine thoughts on your post and the comments…Many, (including those selling products) pursue me first, what’s in it for me, more is better, status through consumerism, have to be perfect, if you can work more-you should, over scheduled=full life, lives. If you decide to push back, there will be consequences. If your the only runner in a race to stop for a water break, you will lose the race. Are you running the race because it’s fun or because you want the gold medal?

    • What an insightful comment! You are so right about the journey versus the destination. Diana at talktodiana had a great recent blog post about this. I like to think I am getting better at focusing on the journey and not ust the medal, but I guess i have a way to go. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      • Thank you. I have been struggling with it as well. This is helping to focus my thoughts. I have to decide what my goal is and how to fit my actions to my mission statement. Working out loyalty to a company and boss and loyalty to my callings in life.

  6. I’ve definitely learned over the years that I should take care of myself better because if I don’t my life might not be worth very much going forward. A trip to the hospital that landed me in the intensive care unit after emergency surgery, helped me to realize how important it was for me to better control my health, and my life.

    • That does seem to be what makes us realize the importance of taking care of ourselves. I had a similar, but much less serious run in with TMJ, which required surgery and braces. But we should be able to find a way to make these changes without these eergencies, don’t you think? Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. Many years ago, I had a boss who insisted that the only phone calls he was to be interrupted for while in meetings were those from his family. His reasoning was that if he were to drop dead, the people he was working with might or might not care, but his family definitely would. So when I decided to become a parent, I organized my work life around my parenting life. I’ve never regretted it. Over the years, I realized that I was taking care of everyone but myself, depleting myself of nourishment. That’s when I realized that for the sake of my family and those who depend on me, it is important to make sure I’m nourished first. It’s like they tell you on airplanes to put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting your child, same principle applies in life: when you nourish yourself first, you have lots to give. When you neglect nourishing yourself you’re empty: empty for yourself, empty for your family.

    There’s a lot of societal pressure to define ourselves through our work. I’m in the process of defining myself first, and my work second. It’s a sometimes scary process…we’ll see where it leads!

    Great topic to cogitate! All the best, M

    • Wow. What a great role model! I had one of those at a young age as well, which has no doubt shaped my thoughts on this. Good for you for figuring out what you needed and making it happen. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

  8. It is considered noble to think of others before ourselves, but sometimes people get so lost in helping others they do not take care of themselves. I have heard of so many people, often spouses who are taking care of seriously ill significant others, they forget to make sure they stay healthy.

    A friend of mine lost both parents one summer because the mother was so busy taking care of her husband she did not take care of herself and ended up being almost as sick as her husband but didn’t go for treatment until it was too late.

    When my grandmother broke her hip, my mother would go to her house, open the drapes as though Grandma was still home, after which Mom would go to the hospital to spend the day with her mother. Around supper time, she would go back to her mother’s house, close the drapes and go home to fix dinner for my dad. Afterwards, she would go back to the hospital (& eventually nursing home) until 11 or 12:00 before going home and getting some sleep. She did this for 4 months, until Grandma died. The strain on my mother was evident in the next few years. Her health declined considerably and five years later, she joined her mother.

    So, despite those who think this is a ‘ME society’ (and I think it is mostly the younger generation who fall into this category) there are many out there who let their own health decline because they are so focussed on helping others. These are the people who need to take care of themselves, first. 🙂

  9. The lightbulb certainly goes off around 40…thank goodness. We grow into ourselves and start realizing there is a big world out there, much bigger than out offices. I always had a strong sense of loyalty to my employers and always gave the 150% of myself, until my daughter was born. Woman certainly struggle with this more than men. As always..a great post!

  10. Pingback: Friendship Over 30: Why is it so much harder? | newsofthetimes

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