Sacrifice: what prioritization is really about

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.

The “Impress” Playlist

Today I deleted one of the first Spotify playlists I ever created.

“Impress” mostly had songs added to it in late September of 2014, and had all those tracks I always hoped somebody would catch me listening to, so I could show off my eccentric-yet-oh-so-appealing taste in music. It had everything from Nunca Me Acuerdo de Olvidarte by Shakira to German rap to Wizard Love by heyhihello.

I remember standing at the bus transit center in 2014, earbuds in, hoping one of my familiar-yet-totally-unknown-and-definitely-not-relatable classmates would stop to ask what I was bobbing my head to. By the end of September, I must have only been back in the states for… two months. I was seventeen, and had just spent a year going to agricultural trade school in rural Panama. There was no internet. The town I resided in featured a single expat (avoiding US taxes), 0.5+0.5 Peace Corps volunteers (one left a few months after I got there, the other I never met), two Thai exchange students (who I barely saw), and a crew of Jehovah’s Witnesses (only two of whom I saw regularly). My kindle was my prized possession then; I could check out ebooks from my library back home and download them at an internet cafe a bus ride away.

With the exception of the worlds I could go to through the kindle, the few times I saw other foreign nonconformists a week, or my bimonthly call with my parents until I ran out of credit on my phone… it was just me that year. No cell phone, no social media, no English, no cafes, no familiar food, no Swiggy or UberEats… just my classmates and school and host family and host community… and me.

I didn’t speak Spanish when I arrived in Panama. Nobody, including my exchange program liaison , spoke English. I didn’t even bring a proper dictionary––I just figured that 1) I would pick it up within a week because that’s what all the stories say about the extraordinary powers of language exchange, 2) people would speak some English maybe? and 3) there would be internet and why carry an outdated and heavy dictionary when you had SpanishDict.com?

Talk about finding yourself. For a few months, I was the only one I could reliably talk to and understand. Even after I started to get pretty good at the whole Spanish thing, everybody around me came from radically different backgrounds.

The Thai students pretty much only spoke Thai to each other, even when they took me out for a birthday lunch. (Wow, I think I’m still salty about that. It was  kind of them, but I just sat there staring for much of the meal.) And they were from Thailand––they had a cultural background that was entirely different than my own; somewhat superficial differences that felt like a chasm between us when we were sixteen. (The other American and German who had come with us had left within two weeks and two months respectively.)

My Panamanian classmates and host family, were, of course, Panamanian. They lived in a world I didn’t even know existed––my international education covered that Europe was a thing, and that Mexico had sugar skulls, but not much more than that. The realities of poverty, of the tropics, of Spanish, even the idea that cultural differences were so prevalent… those were all shocks when I arrived.

The other United Stateians (whenever I call myself American people like to remind me that there are lots of other countries in North and South America, why should the U.S. be the only ones to get to be known as Americans? To which I would say that, yes, I agree––which doesn’t exclude me from being an American as well, as I come from the North American continent… simpler to just avoid the situation), they were also from different backgrounds. One was an elderly woman who had too much tax to pay in the U.S. and so was stuck in Panama, but seemed to hate the country and didn’t speak Spanish very well despite having lived there for like 15 years. Another was a Peace Corps volunteer who also was feeling pretty negative towards the country, and I’m ashamed to admit that I let that color my perception of the country. The Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed fine here, and I honestly enjoyed spending them with them, but the conversation never got far from God.

One day in late July 2014, eleven months after I’d arrived, I flew “home.” I met my family at the airport. My little baby brother’s face had turned from a circle to an oval. He was taller than I was now––something everybody always warned me would happen, but I never imagined would actually occur. I hadn’t realized how little the occasional video-call would tell you about what your little siblings look like. I hadn’t talked to my sister, who hates phone and video calls, in almost a year. The house was the same as I remembered, but I hadn’t realized we were so wealthy. The tap water would never make me sick or turn grey. The walls met the ceiling and formed a perfect bubble. We had A/C and a working shower head. There were almonds in the cabinet, and cheese––cheese!––in the fridge. My room was full of things, things that I recognized but only as if they came from the set of a beloved TV sitcom. They belonged to somebody else; their very presence seemed rather ridiculous.

School started in two weeks. I was going back to the same school that I had gone to for sophomore year of high school, which felt strange. I’ve switched schools every year (if not semester) all my life; seventh and eighth grade remain the only years I completed a consecutive year at the same institution.

Through the first day of class, and the second, everybody wanted to know how my year abroad had been. To my knowledge, I’m the only student from City High who has ever studied abroad. How was it? It was good? Great! So anyways I was saying, you’ll never believe what happened in math class–– By the third day, they’d stopped asking.

I stopped telling people details. I learned that people were uncomfortable if you brought up the negatives. And besides, how could you explain the same things you yourself couldn’t have comprehended a year earlier?

And so I found myself hanging out at the bus transit center, waiting for bus 6, earbuds in, hoping somebody would talk to me. Goodness knows I wasn’t sure how to talk to anybody else anymore.

Something had changed. I had this vague impression that I was different than other people now. Not just unique, I knew that––but that fundamentally, I had changed. There were no words to explain to anybody how I was feeling though, especially not without offending them.

So I created a playlist. It had music that was different. Similar to what you might be used to, but… different. A song about love between a Slytherin and a Gryffindor student falling in love. Salsa Tequila, the lyrics of which I now found hilarious having spent a year speaking actual Spanish. Different from what you’d hear on the radio… but familiar enough to start a conversation over.

And I named it “Impress.” That was its purpose, wasn’t it? I felt like I had a year of stories to impress with, none of which I could share. They were too long or too complicated or too sad or acknowledged too many uncomfortable truths. Songs, though… Maybe they could serve as a proxy for these stories.

I don’t need the playlist anymore.

I go to an international school with international peers, and we move to a new city somewhere in the world every four months while pursuing our bachelor’s degree. It’s called Minerva; you can read what I’ve written about it here. I’m now surrounded by my classmates, who get it (mostly)––they deal with the same stuff I do every day.

I don’t need a playlist of songs people haven’t heard of to show off anymore. I don’t need the same external validation as I did four years ago, nor am I restrained to a playlist to communicate. “Impress” will do just fine in the trash.

Don’t worry too much, though––the songs got moved to “alt up,” which has all my alternative but upbeat songs. Still extra, you say? Yeah, you’re right. 😉

 

Want more playlists? Follow Phoebe.blue on Spotify.

Improving quality time

My friend Shiao-li and I are trying out a new way to hang out. In the past we’ve tried studying together, but I often get distracted when I’m around people, especially if I’d rather not do whatever studying needs to be done. It means that there are many times we don’t hang out + reconnect or study together as well as we could be.

Some days, when the workload is low and/or I’m in need of a bandwidth recharge, this doesn’t matter. It’s fun to study together, especially since you get the added boost of exercise (walking to the cafe) and caffeine. Taking breaks while studying to talk is also fun.

But for days when I’m already going at full capacity and feeling motivated to get work done… this doesn’t work well.

So we tried setting a 30 minute period of time, 1-1:30pm, and a location, the patio. We showed up, without our computers or an agenda. We talked for that time, caught up, shared knowledge… and then left at 1:30.

It worked out really well, because we were both 100% tuned into the conversation, and because it meant that I was 100% committed to it the entire time despite feeling stressed about completing all the work I had on my plate. Because I knew it would end in just 30 minutes, which was an amount of time I felt comfortable giving, I didn’t have to worry about what else I could be doing with my time or how to exit the conversation.

How might we find other ways to improve our quality time with one another in an environment of hearty workloads and a poor work-life balance?

First two weeks in HITEC City!

I made it to India! It’s way better than I thought it would be, honestly. Multiple people told me that everybody either loves India, or hates it, but I think I’m solidly over the line on the “liking” side, but not quite to “love” yet. Enjoying the heck out of while I’m here, yes, but I’m not sure I’d move here permanently.

Here are some highlights!

My first meal in India was thali, I think South Indian. Basically, a huge dish of samples of curry, breads, yogurt, rices, desserts… not pictured are a basket of roti (puffed bread) and a small metal pitcher of hot (and hella delicious) ghee. We use ghee at my house, but I’ve never heard other people talk about it… until now.

Some school friends and I went to Golconda Fort, a historical marvel that spiked my creativity, fascination with the area, and dislike for people who carve their names carelessly into their surroundings. (Note: I don’t mind beautiful, well-thought out and well-placed tagging and graffiti. Just the stuff so unaesthetic as to besiege your senses.)

Part of the fort, newly re-plastered. One of the coolest things was thanks to the same low standards for protection of the site that led to the vandalism I shook my head over in just the previous photo: we could go anywhere in the site. No nook or cranny or hallway was off limits. Through that black portal to the right was an internal site where pigeons now reigned, so far from the bustle of the main grounds that I could imagine going there on a hot day when I wanted to escape the rest of the inhabitants of the fort hundreds of years ago.

Olaf and Mayzie, on one of the only walkways in the place. One thing I can’t say about India: it’s universally accessible.

Alondra.

The pigeon decided not to hold still for a photo. I decided I didn’t mind.

LOOK AT THOSE EDGES. HOW. INTENSE. Can you imagine building that by hand?!?

The view from the top. Hazy. Yum yum pollution! I’m going to start looking into anti-pollution measures here in Hyderabad; with all the of bright minds in this country, I’d be surprised if there weren’t several startup solutions in the works already. The only question is, how do I best support the effort?

Suraj snapped this photo. It’s got to be my favorite photo of myself, ever.

Dare I call this the obligatory, “cows-in-the-road-I’m-in-India” pic?

South Korea, where we spent the last semester, has left its mark on us. 애교!

Another delicious meal. I’ve only eaten something gross here once––a sort of shredded coconut curry thing with balls of something lemony in it. A Mistake. Shredded coconut is my kryptonite. The rest is delicious. This plate came from a resturant down the street and cost about $2. I am spoiled. Best of all, I’ve started eating street vendor’s all-you-can-eat-rice-and-curry dishes for $1. So. gooooooood.

Isn’t this over-way in construction fascinating! I don’t know what it is about it, but it feels so… futuristic. Urban.

And it just ends…

Amazing.

Face swipe: understanding intergenerational conflict

Maybe this explains why we have a divide between the generations: without realizing, we misinterpret each other. Trying to play along, we miss some essential component that was invisible to us, but obvious to the other person. The first two boys are 23 and 20 respectively, the man is 40. 20 years is more than enough time for references and social behaviors to come and go. Besides being the funniest thing I’ve seen today, it’s a good reminder to keep your eyes peeled for the things we can’t always see.

Also, here is a comic about Detective Hume. 🙂

 

Day in pictures.

Started out my day alone at Minerva Seoul HQ (school headquarters), just me, a latte, and a LBA paper to write on glocalization.

Justine and Inna, being artsy af, joined soon after and provided welcome company as well as creative inspiration.


While getting coffee for us three, I was struck by this building, which I’ve passed by before but never seen. I took a picture, because why not? I like the building. Now it’s recorded on my personal device.

Same story with this framing / shape making technique in the coffee shop I went to. What an interesting way to decorate the wall!

All the way back to HQ I felt a curious sense of belonging. I, Phoebe, was holding a takeaway coffee carton because I had too many drinks to carry in my hands. I had friends/co-workers to get back to. I had a place. I had a purpose. And it was clear for the world to see.

And of course, the obligatory selfie reminding you of where in the world I am. With a little Korean touch – I’ve always wanted to wear the fog mask, and here I am. What fun. 🙂

Portugal’s approach to the war on drugs

This is a really interesting causality analysis comparing the U.S. approach to the war on drugs and Portugal’s decriminalization of drug use… it’s especially meaningful to me having grown up in Tucson, Arizona near the border, lived in Panama for a year for high school student exchange, and worked with people coming from Central America seeking refugee status from the U.S. government.

I think that if the results from Portugal are replicable in another study that follows typical, empirical criteria for attaining accurate and confound-free results, we should adapt this model in the U.S. to start decreasing the amount of money poured into the war on drugs, extending lifespan and improving quality of life of those suffering from addiction, and ultimately decreasing the prevalence of hard drug usage overall.