What matters most to you?

By Caitlin Kelly

When you wish upon a star...
When you wish upon a star…

I know a younger writer who — ho hum — has produced five books and four children in less than a decade.

Laura Vanderkam is happily and lucratively obsessed with the notion of time management, which isn’t as compelling to me. (But it’s clearly working for her!)

I do love her stance on a default phrase we often use — “I’m too busy”.

No, she says, the words you want, and want to mean, are “It’s not a priority.”

Travel! I live for this. I work for this. Probably my number one priority

The things you devote the most of your time to become, de facto, your priorities.

It’s where we invest the bulk of our energy, money and attention. Our hopes and dreams.

We sacrifice other things to make sure these are, and remain, a central part of our life.

It might be your pet(s) or children or partner or your job.

It might be a passion project.

It could be competing in triathlons and beating your own personal record, time and again.

It might be setting up a charitable foundation, as several people I know have done.

It might — as several friends of mine are facing — be recovering, far more slowly than they’d hope, from surgery, illness or accident, losing hours and hours to maintaining or trying to regain their health and strength.

Sometimes life makes sure whatever we think is a priority…isn’t anymore.

Time to just sit still and enjoy the beauty all around us
I value making time to just sit still and enjoy the beauty around us

I think about this a lot because, like many of you, my life is filled with so many simultaneous things I hope to accomplish personally, professionally, intellectually, physically — from losing at least 30 pounds to publishing several more books.

So I make time to take a jazz dance class on Monday and Friday mornings which leaves my sweat in puddles on the floor and am finishing up my third book proposal, with a publisher already asking to see it.

I want my marriage (my second, 15 years in) to keep thriving, which means paying attention to my husband and his needs.

So we have both chosen to stay freelance (which means a sort of financial tapdance many can’t tolerate) so we can now sit and eat a mid-day meal at home together or travel much more often and widely because, as long as we have work and wi-fi, we can still earn a living.

A resort we love to visit...saving up for it means we make it a priority
A resort we love to visit…saving up for it means we make it a priority

I love to travel and am always planning the next journey, whether a road trip, a visit to a friend out-of-state or another flight across an ocean.

So I try to stay healthy enough to work hard, then take breaks. We nurture our relationships, so we have places to stay and friends to visit. We save money so we can afford flights, car rental, meals and lodging.

I want to make enough money to enjoy some real luxuries, whether beautiful new clothing, well-made accessories, regular massages.

Yet I also want to keep enough of a savings cushion I never have to fear poverty.

(That’s an ongoing conflict for me!)

I want to do work that deeply challenges me intellectually, no matter how much that can scare me.

What if I fail?

I now co-chair a volunteer board, The Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, (which sends a grant of up to $4,000 within a week or so to a needy writer who meets the criteria), so I’m testing and growing my leadership skills.

It’s already proving a real challenge to manage all the goals we’ve set for ourselves.

But which of all of these is most important and why?

How about you?
What matters most to you — and are you putting that first in your life right now?

38 thoughts on “What matters most to you?

  1. I know you expect me to say that it’s my stories and writing, and those are important to me, but to me, it’s maintaining relationships with the people I care about, even if it’s only through the Internet. I care about the people in my life, and one thing I fear is that my eccentricities will somehow get in the way of those relationships. That scares me. So I try my best to make sure that my friends and family love me no matter what, and that my personality never gets in the way of that.
    So far, so good.

    1. Actually, your choice doesn’t surprise me! But it’s good to know people matter so much to you. The people who love us are accepting of who we are, not only our “perfect” selves.

      Thank heaven, right! 🙂

  2. I take care of my health so that on any given day I can choose to do what gives me the most joy. If it is work in my studio, great. If it is a marketing challenge, great as well. If I am not healthy, I won’t be able to do anything except think about how I feel and I’d rather be filled with joy from a day well spent. I keep my life simple and uncomplicated, as little stress and drama as I can, and I enjoy my friends. It’s good that way, for me anyway. It used to be very, very different, until I pulled the plug on that life.

    1. Thanks for this…Sounds like a good life. I agree, it takes some effort to remove as much stress and drama as possible. I hate both of those things as well.

      I doubt that anyone likes them, but getting rid of them can also mean make some more difficult choices as well (like quitting a job or an industry or culling toxic relationships.)

      1. Yes, true. I decided creative destruction would benefit my life a few years ago. Destroy what didn’t work, learn why, and rebuild a life I wanted. So far, so good, not easy. But, I feel alive and totally in charge of how I react to life. If I don’t need to ramp up over something that I have no control over, I move on. I dumped many toxic relationships and am the better for it. I was pretty brutal, a conscious effort to be that way, but I no longer care about what others think, that’s up to them. All is cool in my world!

      2. I also think this is easier later in life — so much of our 20s, 30s, 40s (maybe more) are spent trying to make everyone happy except ourselves. We can end up exhausted and resentful.

  3. ‘The things you devote the most of your time to become, de facto, your priorities.’ – absolutely, 100 percent true. in my life, family, friends, teaching, learning, seeing the world, and connections to others are my priorities.

  4. After having my baby, my constant refrain is ‘I am so busy’. But the truth is that it is all about prioritising. I cribe that I don’t have time to read or write, but then I watch stupid talk shows to give my hubby some company. We are lazy beings, who just hide behind such lame excuses.

  5. So “… that I never have to fear poverty”.

    Caitlin, do fear poverty. Never mind the cashmere. Or the antiques or reading your three favourite Sunday papers purchased in print. Yes, I remember it well.

    You remind me of my ex husband, father of my son: We were comfortably off. Yet, according to him, and relentlessly, we never had “any money”. His misery, not mine. Now? Let’s just say he flies across the Atlantic and I walk everywhere. Which is fine. I didn’t feather my bed and now I am cold.

    Having fallen from a height (not cushioned), when I hear you, and others so sheltered, talk about ‘poverty’ I don’t weep. I smirk. Few have a clue what it means to be poor (as in this minute I have nine pence British Brass in my pocket to last me till Saturday). It exceeds people’s imagination what poverty means. No more so when you belong to the “class” this shouldn’t happen to. People’s imagination so impoverished they will shed a tear when they see the half frozen little match box girl in some weepy movie, on leaving the cinema walking straight past those whose need stares them in the face.

    Caitlin, I am happy for you (and I mean it). There is a whiff of anxiety about you and your financial affairs. Take it from me: You are fine. Don’t let the unfounded spoil the moment.


    PS How does one qualify for that writer’s emergency fund you mention? Not that I am a writer as such but needs must.

    PPS Anyway, for the more squeamish among us including myself: I am not “poor”. I am, curently, “impecunious”. That’s spin for you.

    1. Sorry to read this.

      My first husband was an MD with a very nice salary and my expectations were of a very comfortable life — with him. He left. I had seven years of surviving on my own, mostly freelance, living on a very tight budget and still paying $500 a month for my health insurance.

      Being broke is terrifying.

  6. sthrendyle

    One of your best columns, yet. I dunno, I think ‘fear’ based on experience can be a good thing – a reminder of how things can go sideways.

  7. Wow, talk about timing. I accidently found you and I’m so pleased that I did. I needed your words today. I’ve been struggling to start a new routine in my life. I knew I needed “something,” and thank you so much, you helped me to find it. It’s my first visit but not my last.

  8. I’m glad I took the time to read this. I’ve made some decisions recently that parents and friends my question. I’ve decided to scale back on working more than 40 hours per week and took a non traditional sales job working from home so I could have more time to work on my novel. Yes I’ve received only rejections so far, but I wouldn’t have even had the time to write my synopsis and send out query letters if I hadn’t made the decision to work less. Writing, my critique group, my blind cat and my boyfriend are what really matter. I have to drive an old car and my clothes aren’t the nicest, but at least I’m happy and I can take a nap in the middle of the day if I want!

    1. Thanks, Logan.

      It’s counter-intuitive to choose to earn less money and own less flashy stuff — how else to prove you’re “successful?” In my view, an old car means nothing to me (ours is 14 yrs old) compared to the luxury of time for my own interests, whether travel, time with my husband or a nap. The $3-5,000 a year it would cost to own a new(er) one, at least, = $4-6,000 a year in pre-tax money I would have to earn, every single month. That, to me, is somewhat of a trap.

  9. I’m learning to put my health first (above this obsessive need to accomplish things). As my new adopted pal, Fozzie (a one-year-old white terrier mix), tries to nudge my laptop off my lap so he can be my laptop, I know that being a loving companion to my new pal is more important than my computer when I’ve been on my computer for 3 hours! 😉

  10. A very thought-provoking post!

    I think our priorities shift during different times in our lives, although some probably stay the same/similar. For the time being, one of my priorities is having enough time to do things I enjoy and not splitting myself between too many things.

    I made a big decision recently to defer my MA (technically, I have withdrawn from the course and can re-apply if and when I decide to). The main reason is that my chosen area of sociolinguistic research, while interesting, has been thoroughly investigated and my research proposal was in a very niche area. I could have carried on and slogged through two years of my MA alongside my part time job, barely making ends meet. But it wasn’t grabbing me or inspiring me, and a lecturer I spoke with in my department completely understood my concerns. After intensive consideration, I made the decision to stop. I’m usually bad at making tough choices, but this one feels absolutely right.

    It means I can now work almost full time at my job, which is good! 🙂 I enjoy it, I get to apply my academic skills (writing, research, using data, proofreading etc), the people I work with are all lovely and it’s great to have some security. I’m actually able to put some money into savings each month, which is another of my priorities.

    I’m sure I’ll return to academia one day, and I haven’t lost my passion for linguistics. But for now, I’m very happy to prioritise my job and the advantages it gives me.

    1. That is a huge decision, knowing from our earlier conversations how much that mattered to you. Good for you! It sounds like you’re doing well and being happy in the life you’ve chosen is terrific.

      1. Thank you for your support. I appreciate it. 🙂

        Sociolinguistics still matters to me, but I realized that I’m much more interested in pursuing it from a more socio-psychological angle than purely looking at geographical variation in accents and dialects. That’s one of the joys of sociolinguistics: it’s a subfield of linguistics but within sociolinguistics itself, there are multiple areas of research.

        I don’t know when I’ll go back to academia, but it’s always there if/when I decide to return. One of my neighbours is in his early 80s and recently graduated with a Masters degree! And one of my lecturers worked for ten years after getting her BA and before starting an MA.

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