Sacrifice (v): give up (something valued) for the sake of other considerations.
Any college kid or employee has heard about this concept before. It goes by many names: prioritization (probably the most common), time management, budgeting, following through on goals, New Years resolutions… it’s what comes in between realizing you need to do something to live your life more fully or improve something or reach that place you want to go, and actually getting there.
So I paid my dues and tried to prioritize for the semester. In broad strokes, I wrote down everything I needed to get done this semester. I numbered the list, so that I could make quick decisions about which things to do first when pressed for time.
Then I got stuck. I’d done this before, and it always got me nowhere.
There’s a wealth of materials on prioritization, but I feel like they all amount to pretty much the same message under the surface: identify where you want to go, isolate the steps you need to take to get there, stop drinking lattes every day to save a ton of money, don’t forget to follow through and you’ll reach your dreams.
Here’s what we don’t talk about in this whole process: how to gracefully sacrifice the things that don’t get prioritized.
One problem that I’d been running into was that I’d make a decision to have a priority list like: 1) health, 2) academics, 3) work-study, 4) social, 5) city engagement. You can probably see the problem with this right away. It’s fine to have a list like that, until the weekend rolls around and to participate in the main social event, you have to stay up a little past your bedtime, compromising ‘health’. But then you remember that your paper could use a little more work, so you wonder if you should skip the gathering and just edit. Then you think, “no, sleep should come first according to my list,” but you’re not even tired… and you really want to go to the gathering… and you decide to maybe cheat a little because does it even matter that much anyways, and suddenly your prioritization list just doesn’t seem as powerful as before.
The other problem is that if, carrying on with this example, I chose to go to the gathering, then I’d feel guilty about neglecting my sleep and paper. Same thing if I chose either of the other two options. I tell myself that next time I’ll plan better so I’ll have enough time for all three. Then at the end of the semester, not only do I feel guilty for not prioritizing city engagement at all, I realized that I didn’t have enough time for the first three anyways.
Part of the solution will always be to become better at making time for the things that are important to you. If you really want to make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to sleep, you can make that happen (barring extreme circumstances). If you want to spend more time on that paper, you can do that. Making time is something I am constantly striving to improve on, but it’s hard, because that means you have to say “no” to some things… which is the whole problem.
We don’t know how to say “no” and move on, without judging ourselves, or thinking that others are judging us. We cannot gracefully surrender those things we have to let go of. We give ourselves FOMO about whatever we’ve left behind, and so run around trying to do it all.
How many papers, books, articles have been written about time management strategies? How many podcasts solely focus on increasing productivity, how many seminars have been sat through on budgeting?
I can’t remember one that talks about how to deal with letting go of things that are important to you. And once you’re living a full life, you’ll start to find that there are many things that are important to you. Enough to take up your entire lifetime, and then another, and another. That’s a problem because in order to prioritize, simple follow-through on your goals isn’t enough: you have to let go of the other ones, or else you’ll never have enough time, energy, or resources for what you’ve decided should come first in that moment in your life.
Prioritization means sacrifice… and that can really suck.