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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Palmer


Priorities. The phone rings. “This is the high school. There is nothing to be worried about.” I’m not worried, I don’t have a child at the high school. “Do you have a nephew?” Now I’m worried.

It was one of those crazy hectic days where I took my first call in pjs because it was too early and something had to give. My calendar was back-to-back meetings and coaching sessions (luckily none on video) and there was no room for a change in plans. Enter the need to change.

My nephew got hurt at lacrosse practice. He needed to be picked up and seen by a doctor and his parents were out of town. I am the emergency contact. Shamefully, my first thought was ‘I don’t have time for this.’

Not knowing how serious it was (remember, she did say there’s nothing to be worried about), I contacted my next client and asked for a reschedule. The response? “No problem; I hope he is okay.” Of course that was their response. The plan is to pick him up, and be back on line in an hour. He can rest up while I work.

By the end of the day, we had visited a doctor and a specialist (I did manage to put on real clothes), had two sets of x-rays and he had a broken clavicle. I also rescheduled or cancelled 10 meetings and not one person was angry, upset or fired me. My priorities had shifted to the highest need and I did exactly what I was supposed to do (albeit after I let go of the anxiety of change and guilt of disappointing those who were counting on me).

Life, and its complexities, have returned and more and more, we are facing competing priorities. Cancelled or changed plans because of a sick child, a change in child care, the need for a mental health day, or an unexpected event that changes a packed calendar. The need for change could come from anywhere.

And I hear a lot of guilt. Guilt in prioritizing family, friends, health, mental health, ahead of a workday. Guilt that co-workers will judge or have to bear the burden. Guilt that work can’t wait, but somehow family and friends – and our personal health – can. Inevitably, in the end, the right choice was made: meetings could be rescheduled or turned into emails, co-workers were able to cover, work progressed without you. I’m struck that it takes an emergency – a call for a full stop – for us to realize our priorities. I also know – first hand – the feeling of knowing I made the right choice. There is no guilt in hindsight.

Maybe we could be as kind and forgiving to ourselves as we are to others in setting our priorities.

  • What would we say to the co-worker that isn’t feeling well? Stay home, get better.

  • To the friend whose child needs some extra attention? Not a problem, we’ll reschedule.

  • To the client who has to cancel a meeting because their care broke down or they need to be with a friend who is in pain? Of course! We’ll continue the work and connect another time.

Whatever it is that might interrupt a schedule, plans are best laid and always subject to change. To live our values is to prioritize the right things at the right time. The grace we show ourselves should match what we are willing to extend to others.

And unlike me, if the call comes that you are needed, I hope your priorities are exactly where they should be. Too busy is only a function of prioritization.

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