Redefining parameters & priorities

When I moved to a new city and new job, I had this vision of the things I would do with my newfound time and cash flow. It was rooted in the things I’d done outside work over the past few years – things I thought I wanted to continue or recommit to or expand.

Reality didn’t line up with expectations. I felt at a loss. I was frustrated. I felt lazy and unmotivated. I was disconsolate.

Gradually I began to realize that I had failed to grasp how disruptive this new experience could be.

How new environments would alter what I was getting in my usual routine.

How changes in the present could pull up things of the past.

How the newness of everything might amplify persistent self-doubt and a host of other things.

I had never considered that, in a new environment and set of circumstances, my wants and needs – or the forms they took – might change.

Taking stock

Recently I started talking with someone and taking a sort of inventory. We discussed priorities, the things I wanted to be spending my time. The list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, detailed, or immutable. The intent was to start with four or five broad categories that were at the forefront of my mind.

My initial list (in no particular order) came down to:

  • Work and career
  • Relationship with my partner
  • Physical fitness
  • Social interactions
  • Home life

The first few are pretty self-explanatory. They came easily. They connected to long-held priorities.

I was a little surprised to find myself adding “social interactions” to the list, with face-to-face contact in mind. I’m an introvert. In the past, I hadn’t sought consistent connection outside work.

But things were different in Boston. When I moved there I was married, so there was human engagement outside work. I worked in labs where we shared workspaces and interests and break areas. Sometimes those interactions extended beyond the lab. I found connections with people through Twitter, as waited on data acquisition or wound down at home. Even after my spouse and I separated, much of my network was still in play. I had housemates. I found some additional community where I needed it.

Now I live alone. My project at work is pretty solitary, with much communication done via email. The layout of the workspace and the nature of work people do makes it harder to connect with people who aren’t working on the same project. I spend my day reading and writing and planning, so the snippets of time for checking in on Twitter are rarer (and the way I interact online has been shifting over time).

Home life is basically about making my space comfortable and livable. It covers a few things – planning and preparing meals, keeping things clean, getting my space organized, keeping a budget. Most of this isn’t new – and yet it is. I have a much larger space, my own space. There’s more to do. Locations and logistics changed. My capacity changed. Not long ago, I could walk into a grocery store without a list and emerge with what I needed for the week. Now I can find that overwhelming, so I have to prepare and/or be mindful of my mood.

What are you doing?

Next we took the list and discussed how I wanted them to rank. Which one did I want at the top of the list? What seemed to be dominating time now?

We started talking about my schedule, day-by-day.

After I get up, I get ready and head straight to work. I’m usually home by about 4:30. Work is pretty solidly covered.

So what do I do after work? And how do those things relate to my priorities?

One day a week I go to a running group. That addresses physical and social aspects.

I usually run at least two other days during the week – additional points for fitness.

Sometimes after work or running, I’ll cook dinner and clean up. A contribution to the home life.

Typically I attend a discussion group each week. Every week or two, I end up going out for a couple of hours with a friend after work. More social time.

My partner and I talk on the phone every night, and we see each other most weekends. So I’m investing time in that relationship.

Most of these things don’t go into a calendar. They’re just things I do.

Building on the present reality

Sketching out my schedule, I realized that I’m not just abandoning my evenings to nothingness, as I thought. I’m regularly doing something almost every day of the week. And the things I’m doing directly feed priorities I had identified.

It also let me see what pieces might need some more time and attention.

Some details work against others. I need my home to be a welcoming space, which has required some new acquisitions. I need structure and accountability for fitness beyond running, which I addressed with a gym membership. This pull directly against my desire to budget and pay down debt. There are choices and compromises.

And then there’s the part of me that always wants to do more. I’m beginning to feel that I have the time and energy to do more things. But I don’t have the time and energy to do all the things. I have to reflect. How do I choose?

I have to take a long view. No gimmicky quick-fix scheme is going to get me where I want to be. I have to put in the work. I have to adjust to my present reality, and I’ll have to keep doing that.

But as I adjust to the present reality, I get to begin building on it, rather than shells of the past or of fantasy.

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