“Action expresses priorities.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.
I write a lot about priorities. I think a lot about priorities. People talk a lot about their priorities. The problem is that what people express as their priorities seldom match their demonstrated priorities.
I’ve sat in depositions listening to successful executives describe their children as their top priorities and then later testifying that their normal work schedule involves being out of the home for 85 hours per week with two business trips per month. While it’s easy to understand that working 85 hours per week in three jobs to put food on the table places children in a priority position, it is much harder to make that leap for the high-six figure earner who sees his kids for an hour or two each night but still manages to get 18 holes in every weekend.
You can always tell what someone’s real priorities are because they will act consistently with them. The fabric of our lives is woven together by the threads of choices that we make everyday. Sometimes a grey thread or two will show up, but in the end, the cloth is pretty much black or white.
Each of us wants to be someone else’s highest priority. It’s a fundamental part of being human. It is a basic need. The internet and every newsstand are filled with self-help articles and memes that tell you that happiness is found within and that you can’t rely on someone else to make you happy. Those statements are true, but it does not alter the fact that everyone, even the most independent among us, wants someone else to care how their day went. That is part of the fabric of being human.
Priorities make or break relationships.
There is no other factor. Think about it. When a man tells a lie, he did not prioritize that his partner deserved to know the truth. When a woman engages in infidelity, she prioritized herself and her lover over her spouse. When you choose to work every night until 10 p.m., you prioritize your work over seeing your loved ones. When you engage in loud, emotional fighting, you prioritize your need to self-indulge in your temper over the feelings of your partner.
If you want what you have, you make it your priority. You vote with your feet. The expression “quality of time over quantity of time” is complete mythology. Priorities play themselves out in the minutiae, day after day. Did you go to your daughter’s room when she had a nightmare? Were you there to hear your husband tell you that his boss was a jerk at his board meeting that morning? Did you baby him when he had a cold? If you only ate her Christmas roast and not her tuna casserole, you probably missed this point. Your loved ones feel prioritized when they have a bad moment and turn to find you there, not as the result of a scheduled interaction. A connection has continuity.
When someone is your priority, you keep very close track of Zuzu’s petals.
Nurturing Zuzu’s petals is somewhat easier in non-romantic relationships, although navigating these delicate matters is never seamless. If you don’t give your toddler your full attention, she will help you cure that.
The incongruity of priorities is what causes breakdown, because when one person makes you her highest priority, and you demonstrate that she is not yours, she will likely take her ball and go home. But there is another side to this coin: don’t ever seek to change someone else’s priorities.
In the end, people always do what they want to anyway. You can make someone attend your best friend’s wedding or your sister’s baby shower. You can coerce someone into going to your country club function or appear on your arm for an office Christmas party, but unless someone wants to be with you, coaxing them is a bad plan.
You should never want to be in someone’s company unless there is nowhere else that you want to be. And the person you are with should feel the same way. I have a dog that demonstrates this everyday. He lives to be near me. He cries if I leave the room. The other day, I ran to the grocery store. When I came home, my daughter told me, “He cried, literally, the whole time you were gone.” He would rather sleep next to my bed than eat his supper. His priorities are painfully clear and he unashamedly demonstrates them every moment that he can.
It is not a criminal act for someone else to have different priorities. This point is critical to happiness. If someone is not a match, then let them go. If you like stripes, don’t weave a plaid fabric and don’t be sad about the plaid outfit that you didn’t buy.
Let go of the things that don’t fit.