I have a terribly ordinary confession: I struggle with balancing all the priorities in my life competing for share of my time and attention. This is the universal challenge transcending culture, economic status, and time. The poor man has to sacrifice time and experiences with his family to put food on the table. The rich man has to sacrifice the very same to maintain his extravagant success. We all end up pinching pennies and giving up time with the ones we love in one way or another.
The worst part? It is inherent to the human condition that this struggle follows us wherever we go and however old we grow. We are cursed to feel like we’ve met our limits during the gradual ascent to adulthood, every transient friendship and misguided goal pecking away at our hearts and welcoming self-doubt. I remember when finishing classwork and going out with friends was a challenge to balance. That was before.
Then there’s after: young adulthood in a new city where I don’t know anyone, a chain of jobs in a soul-sucking career, a relationship I want to nurture and not burn down as I burn out. More bills than ever, more expensive groceries than ever. They just keep going up, too. Meanwhile, there are no raises or promotions on the horizon at work. We’re just expected to keep slogging along with a growing mountain of expenses and a smile plastered on our faces. We should be grateful to be exploited as our productivity continues rising exponentially while wages stagnate. As costs rise, our real wages are actually going down. No one told me about this part before.
Before, I was a chronic people-pleaser who was worried about holding onto bad friends. I allowed the worst people I’ve met to get close to me because it wasn’t until after that I learned I was allowed to say no to people in my life. I stopped letting life happen to me. Now, I live like a hermit with my long-term partner. I don’t have to worry about bad friends getting close to me just to try to burn my life down anymore. I don’t have to worry about any friends anymore, really. It’s a lonely but safe existence.
Instead, I throw myself into my work. I focus on climbing the ladder and trying to catapult myself toward success and financial stability. It’s a different thing to balance. I’m still learning how not to be a people-pleaser and how to set boundaries at work, but when work takes over your life, it does so differently than a bad friend. Workaholism is its own bad influence that reinforces itself by tying itself to your livelihood in every way. If you underperform, you can lose your home, healthcare, and everything you own in life. If you force yourself to overachieve, then you trick yourself into believing you’ll never be the one on the chopping block.
My priorities shift over the years. I imagine they’ll continue to shift as long as I keep growing old. I intend to keep one thing the same by keeping my partner at the very top of my list. No matter what changes in life occur below, we’ll get through it all by continuing to put each other first.