Tag Archives: priorities

Things Men Have Said To Me #17

We’d recently starting seeing each other but things had moved quickly in the relationship. Although young, he was an attorney as well as a volunteer firefighter.

HIM (informing): “My job comes first and the fire department comes second.”

(I had a pretty good idea his Mama was third in line; my number wasn’t looking promising.)

Where are your priorities??

I have a hard time relating to people who have their priorities out of whack. It’s like there could be a giant tree that has fallen and crushed the roof of their house but they want to talk about the weed in the lawn that is really bothering them. I don’t know what to say to this kind of talk. I don’t have a lot of patience for it.

It could be that focusing on trivia when there are much bigger issues at hand is a coping skill (albeit not a very good one). And that might be the case in some instances, especially when the bigger problem is out of their control or simply too much to deal with all at once. That I understand. As I write this, I’m trying to think if I ever do that; become preoccupied with small stuff when I can’t do anything about the larger concerns. It’s possible.

What I’m getting at, though, isn’t about situations where nothing can be done. It is when people willfully refuse to prioritize, when they could do something about an important problem or issue that needs their attention, and instead obsess over minutia and – significantly – want to talk about it and enlist your involvement. They want you to respond in kind. That I cannot do. Humoring people is not my strong suit.

I gauge my response, if any, depending on the relationship, with responses like:
Why is that important?
Why are you telling me about this?
Why is that bothering you?
Don’t you have bigger problems?
You might want to forget about the weed and do something about the tree in your roof.

One idea that keeps coming up time and again is that what all people, whoever they are, really want is to be acknowledged, valued, and heard. To feel that they, and their contribution, matter. And I see a good deal of evidence to support that. On a personal level it rings true too. I have a hard time, though, reconciling this apparent truism with all the trivia talkers, the people who forego important things, the high priority stuff, in favor of minutia. Who seem to have no priorities.

Telling other people the right things

I mentioned in a recent post that I have a tendency to become distracted. I was referring before to being overly attentive to other people’s agendas, issues, concerns, problems, etcetera. For example, historically, when asked for help, particularly by intimates but others too, I responded immediately, whether it was in my best interest or not. I have been the drop-everything person and at times there’s been a price for that. But I’m not blaming other people, I don’t mean that. At the worst, I may have been – okay, likely was – vulnerable to people who were pushy or needy or aggressive, but then again, I let it happen.

I think that I lean toward distraction generally, maybe more as I’ve aged. I’ve got a lot on my mind, always (not all meritorious, but still). It’s not that I can’t pay attention to one thing at a time or don’t follow through on tasks and commitments. I can and I do. In fact, I like to get things done ahead of deadline whenever possible (yes, I was the little girl who always turned in her book report first and that trait is still there). And yet, I sit down in my screen tent to relax and next thing you know I’ve hopped up to trim a shrub or dig up a plant. I’ll start a project in one room, leave the room and not come back till later after I’ve forgotten about it. I will read a book, get distracted by something, possibly in the book but maybe in the room, and hop up (I hop a lot) to pay attention to something else. I’ve also allowed other people to cause me, not major detriment – I don’t hand out money or otherwise get in over my head – but both aggravations and inconveniences because I sometimes get distracted by them and put their apparent needs ahead of my own. I didn’t always think about in that light. But it is a kind of distraction.

Being easily distracted or pulled off course when it comes to my own business, is something in me. I observe other people, many of them anyway, and I see that they don’t do this. Or rather I’m intentionally looking at people who stay focused and on track for their concerns and priorities, in order to see how it’s done. They do what they need to for themselves, their priorities are first. When they need to go, they don’t mince words, they just go. They offer minimal or fleeting attention to other people’s business or problems. They don’t go out of their way in any sense of the phrase. While not necessarily cold or antisocial, they don’t appear to worry a lot about other people’s feelings and wants. They simply aren’t distracted by these things.

To tell you the truth, I’m not so certain I’d want to be like those people, but I could sure stand to borrow a page from their repertoire. For awhile now, I’ve been in the process of doing that. I’m reflecting to you ground already covered and the direction I’m heading. As with other things in this blog, I doubt I’d write about it if I hadn’t made progress. I use phrases with people I rarely or never used to:

  • I can’t do that now.
  • That will have to wait till next week.
  • This isn’t the right time (and “X” is).
  • I’m not interested.
  • That’s not right for me/that’s not something I do.
  • I need to go.

These may sound like simple phrases that you, or everybody, uses. They did not for me. In the past, instead of using them when I meant them, I may have namby-pambyed around, insinuating them and/or hoping the other person would (politely) get the message. But that’s not how it works, not much of the time. I’ve learned that these are magic phrases. Because other people don’t take you seriously until you can say them (and mean them). It’s still open season. If you say “No, I can’t” and proceed to let the other person goad or otherwise talk you into something, then the phrases are useless. For me, I couldn’t say them till I meant them. It doesn’t always come easy; sometimes for example, I’ll give myself a little talking-to in advance: Don’t let such-and-so hold you up and make you late. Or, if Person X asks for Thing Y, say “No” and let it go at that. I’ll even talk myself through things (in my head I mean, although doing it aloud might have interesting consequences) in the moment when necessary.

If your goal is never to disappoint people, from intimates to strangers; if it is to be liked; if it is to gain approval: if it is not to rock the boat; if it is to pay attention to anyone who wants it; if it is to uphold the highest levels of kindly virtue; if it is to be everybody’s friend; if it is to not make people mad — then you take comes with that. That is, better understand that your interests take a back seat. Hell, sometimes they ride in the trunk! Because nobody hands out prizes, not that I’ve noticed, to people who, in one form or another, have the aforementioned as their goals. And if I’m not being obvious enough, these are some of the reasons (I believe) you might permit yourself to be so easily distracted by other people, even to your disadvantage.

There’s one last part to this. As I suggested, it can be pushy, needy or aggressive people who are the most distracting. I reckon they get a lot of what they want that way too, not just from me, but from LOTS of people. They are the ones making noise and grabbing attention. And here’s what I think. I don’t want to reward that, not anymore. Not with my time, attention, and efforts. I’m not saying I won’t do squat for them, because knowing myself I probably will. But I want to be AWARE when I’m doing it, to say to myself: “Yes, this person is pushing and distracting me from my own affairs, but I don’t mind to do this one thing they want. I have no obligation beyond that no matter WHAT they think.” (Or how put out or indignant they act.) Also, and this is important, I want to make sure I’m giving my attention and efforts to people who aren’t demanding it or cajoling me for one thing or another. It’s easy to overlook the quieter people, the unassuming people, the ones not leaping up in your face, or maybe not knock yourself out so much on their behalf. After all, THEY won’t say anything. But they are the ones who will likely really appreciate it. And in any case, I don’t want to give them short-shrift because I’m so distracted by more aggressive types. Seems like a worthier goal.