Shifting Priorities

Yesterday I wrote up a long post leaving behind last year and describing some of the ways that I want this year (2024) to be different. However if I want the changes to happen, I have to build structure and guide rails around those changes. This post describes one of the guides I’ll be using to make this year different.

A structure I created for myself in 2023 was a set of priorities. They served me well. Each month I looked at my usage of time and energy to make sure that I was spending them in alignment with my stated priorities. They felt so solid that in early December I was sure that I’d simply roll them over into the new year unchanged. I had more to do on each of them. Yet as I finished up my year-in-review of personal writing, I realized a problem with one of my priorities, specifically the priority to Pay Down Debt.

The fact that it is the only priority that I failed to make significant progress on is a symptom of the larger problem. Having that one in place encouraged me to be constantly re-doing financial math and focusing on urgency around finances. Focusing on paying down debt was creating anxiety and emotional burden. I need to change it. So I dug into the why of it. The reason I want to pay down debt is so that I don’t have to be as afraid when the world and the economy shifts around me. I want to have more resources and better options for responding to unknown challenges that would come at me in the future. At it’s core “pay down debt” was “buy a less fearful future.” It was meant to create less anxiety. Oops.

What if I just stopped being as anxious now instead of trying to buy a future with less anxiety? I think that starts with creating “live less anxiously” as one of my priorities for the year. I tried to reframe my broken priority to include both reducing daily anxiety load and express that I need to be building financial and physical stability for the future I want. Eventually I realized I needed two priorities where before I only had one. I don’t love increasing the priority count. It creates more opportunity for inter-priority conflict and gives me more to track, but this feels like the right call for now.

So here are my 2024 priorities with a short explanation of what I mean by them. They are co-equal and not listed in order of importance.

Quiet the Noise: I will take actions to dismiss anxiety over-planning, self judging internal monologue, and other mental noise from my days. I will choose times to address concerns and do tasks, but at other times I will dismiss thoughts about those tasks until it is time to do them again. I will pay attention to what makes my head feel noisy and what makes my head feel quieter.

Be a Wise Steward: I will pay attention to my financial, physical, and emotional resources to make sure that I am building up good reserves against potential future need.

Strengthen Core Connections: I will nurture the connections between me, my religion, my family, and my friends. I will give time to the people, places, and ideas that ground me in my purpose, my heritage, and my path.

Get Books on the Table: I will take up space unashamedly. I will claim my expertise. I will do this in part by finishing physical books to put onto the table.

Tend My Health: I will pay attention to my physical health and take actions to improve it.

Clearly I have some overlap between priorities. Much of what I’m labeling as “tend my health” could be encapsulated under “be a wise steward” but I’m keeping it separate for now particularly because I think if I don’t keep it separate, I’ll be inclined to neglect my physical health in favor of one of the many other things I have stewardship over. I’m hoping that “quiet the noise” will help me identify things that I should not try to steward anymore and to let them go.  

I’m still wearing these new priorities lightly. They may need to shift and change as the year progresses. At the beginning of 2023 I felt like the words to describe the coming year were stabilize and grow. I feel like I did both. Today as I look forward into the new year, it feels like the word is Bloom. Which is a beautiful, wonderful, and terrifying word to claim for myself. Today the future feels bright and possible. I hope I can hold that feeling through all that comes my way.