The other day a couple of my Twitter followers mentioned that they were getting better at following my advice about focusing on their priorities and not saying yes to everything but that they still felt guilty about that.
I’m pretty sure they are not alone.
I think the problem might be that my advice seems selfish. By focusing on your priorities, it seems like you are putting your needs above those of others.
Your priorities are not selfish
Yes, some people’s priorities are selfish. Those people do not feel guilty about that.
In my experience, people who feel guilty about focusing on their priorities and saying no to things, are the kind of people who prioritize doing good in the world in some way.
You feel guilty that the good you are doing isn’t enough. That you could do more. That the research you are doing is only a drop in the bucket of what is needed. That you aren’t doing enough to compensate for the failures of mass higher education to truly meet the needs of those students who have so much potential. That university committees really do need to be diverse. …
You can only do so much
Your resources — time, energy, etc — are finite.
You cannot allow your measure of your worth to be based on how much of a dent you put in the infinite stock of stuff that needs doing.
Focus on how well you are using the resources you have.
What is your best contribution?
You can’t do everything so what is the best thing for you to contribute. That is your priority.
Remember the airline safety rule: put on your own mask before helping others. If you are unemployed and homeless it’s going to be a lot harder for you to make a strong contribution to making the world a better place. Securing a job that gives you the solid foundation from which to work might look selfish but it also serves your higher purpose.
Similarly, if you are burnt out, tired, undernourished, or sick you can’t make your best contribution. Taking time to look after your own physical, emotional and spiritual needs is not a distraction. You are maintaining the tool you use to make your contribution.
If you need to finish x before you can really do y, then focusing on whatever it takes to finish x is a sensible priority even if the immediate impact of x doesn’t feel that significant. It is a stepping stone to y, which has more impact.
This is hard
I think it is especially hard for women in our culture for reasons a whole library of feminist literature tries to explain. But it’s hard for anyone who wants to make a contribution to something bigger. Focusing on yourself seems the antithesis of that goal.
This post was edited July 3, 2017.