Determining Your Life’s Priorities: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself 

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Are you one of the many people reevaluating your priorities since the pandemic began? Such impactful events naturally make you reflect on what matters to you — and what takes up way too much of your valuable time. 

The past two years reminded everyone that our time here on earth is all too brief. While everyone needs to tend to life’s necessities, it’s just as important to enjoy the ride, go on adventures, and spend quality time with the people we love. If you find yourself, like many, in a bit of an existential crisis of late, here are five questions to ask yourself to determine your life’s priorities. 

1. What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up? 

Often, your earliest interests offer valuable insight into the types of career you’ll enjoy as an adult. However, not everyone pursues their passions — at least at first. You can lose sight of what makes your heart soar when well-meaning parents and guidance counselors start asking you what you’re going to do to make money. 

Guess what? It’s never too late to pursue your dreams and reorient your priorities. Now might be the perfect time to act if you’re thinking about a change. The great resignation has given workers more bargaining power than they have in the past four to five decades, and the time is now to find something new or work with your present employer toward a path that suits you better. 

Yours truly is a case in point. As a child, I loved to write. However, I was told I could never make a living doing it, so I pursued an alternative career path. That is, until a traumatic brain injury and resulting health woes robbed me of my ability to work outside the home — and do even the simplest computations. An inability to do math is a decided liability for someone in the tax and accounting field. 

However, the accident turned out to be a happy one. Today, I’m a successful copywriter and couldn’t be more in love with my career. My only wish is that I had started doing it years ago — but I learned a valuable lesson. It’s never too late to change course and pursue what you were meant to do. 

2. Who Is the Most Important to You in Your Life? 

Before the Great Resignation came the pandemic’s impact — particularly on working mothers. Women accounted for 100% of the jobs lost in December of 2020, often because the demands of child-rearing and homeschooling while simultaneously telecommuting proved too much and strained family relationships. 

I don’t know a single person who ever lay on their deathbed saying, “Gee, I really wish I had spent more time at work.” Yes, you want to be productive and contribute to greater society, but not at the expense of those relationships you hold most dear. 

How many people have missed precious moments with their children that they can never regain working multiple shifts to make ends meet? Humans are social creatures, and our relationships matter more than material possessions. Even business leaders will tell you that building positive connections with others is critical to achieving success. As Lee Iacocca says, “Business, after all, is nothing more than a bunch of human relationships.” 

Figure out who means the most to you and why. When you sit down with your planner on Sunday evening, reset your time and priorities with them. 

3. What One Task Will Make the Greatest Impact? 

Have you ever sat down at your desk, intending to productively rock your morning — until a single email or notification distracted you? Then, one of your colleagues needed help, and the phone rang. Before you knew it, the clock was nearing five p.m., and you still had oodles left undone. 

Try this method to keep on track. When you make your next day’s to-do list, ask yourself what one task could have the biggest impact. It’s not necessarily the one that will take the most time or energy. For example, remembering to RSVP to the office holiday party could determine whether or not you ever get to chat with the chair of the department you’d like to transfer into — and it takes maybe a minute or two. 

Other times, you might find yourself amid a long-term project that needs your full attention. If that’s the most important thing on your plate, add it to your to-do list first before other activities sap your energy. Remember the principle that if you have to eat a frog, it’s best to do so first thing in the morning. That way, the rest of your day is a breeze, not a gloomy trudge toward that one thing you absolutely must get done.

4. Will This Matter a Week From Now? A Year? Five? 

Distractions sometimes demand your immediate attention. For example, you should heed that fire alarm. However, much of the time, you get caught up in vicious stress spirals about things that honestly won’t make much of a difference in the future. 

For example, you spill coffee on your white blouse on the way to an interview for a job you covet. You could try to run home, change, catch the next bus and end up arriving late and flustered. Or you could take it in stride, explain that a passerby bumped your elbow and otherwise dazzle the HR representative with your calm, unperturbed professionalism. 

5. What Does Your Intuition Tell You? 

Personal safety guru Gavin de Becker urges people to trust their intuition when it comes to danger. Worry does more harm than good in more ways than elevating your stress and blood pressure. It makes you focus so much on what you fear happening in the future that you don’t pay attention to what’s occurring in the present — often with disastrous consequences. 

Here’s the thing: the human senses constantly pick up a stream of sensory input from all directions. You might not consciously notice the faint smell of smoke, but deep in your brain’s amygdala, signals fire, warning you to locate the nearest exit, just in case. 

This inborn navigational system doesn’t only switch on in times of danger. We’ve all experienced situations that didn’t seem quite right or people that we weren’t so sure we could trust. It’s far better to listen to that still, small voice from inside than to reason your way into taking a job that isn’t the right environment for you or dating someone who gives you an iffy vibe. “I should have followed my gut,” is one of the worst regrets you can have. 

Therefore, get mindful and pay attention to what your “spidey senses” are telling you when you’re unsure of the best course of action. Does your stomach start to churn or head ache when you consider one of your options? That’s probably your body telling you that it picked up on an unconscious signal that pursuing it isn’t in your best interests. 

What Are Your Priorities? 

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a collective awakening. It gave everyone pause, prompting people to reflect on what mattered the most to them in life. 

You might be one of the many reassessing your life’s choices and determining what matters most to you. Ask yourself the five questions above when determining your life’s priorities. 

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