As my cousin Kevin drove Kennedy and me to O’Hare last week, we had a conversation about setting priorities, taking time to take care of oneself (especially if it’s your job to take care of others) and being meticulous about how we relinquish time in general. I mentioned to him that I’ve chosen to surround myself with people who are goal-oriented only; people who aren’t aspiring toward being more or doing better probably won’t have the same outlook as I do, and it’s been a nice determinant for dwindling my circle over the past year. He made a suggestion that stuck with me: Make sure that your time investment in people matches the amount of value they bring to your life. It’s a simple concept, but how profound! This is an area I’ve struggled in a lot for as long as I can remember, but the sentiment of Kevin’s words are the perfect panacea to this problem.
We all have people in our lives whom I’m sure wouldn’t make the cut if we were only allowed to “keep 5,” or “save 3,” or “rank from 1 to 10.” The tricky part is that cutting these people out entirely isn’t usually an option. If it’s an annoying coworker, you’re pretty much stuck with them until the day they embezzle large sums of money from the company’s corporate account, shoot up heroin at their cubicle with a group of onlookers watching, or physically assault someone in the break room. The likelihood of those things happening is probably just as high as your probability for winning the lottery, for a million dollars to magically fall out of the sky and into your backyard, or for some rich uncle twice removed to croak and decide to leave you his fortune. They’re likely going to be around for a while, so you just deal with them.
Similarly, if you have an annoying neighbor, that clingy friend who can’t seem to take the hint, a relative who always seems to insert themselves into your process without invitation or need, or anyone else you might know who you may have invited into your life at one time, but you’ve since discovered you have less and less in common with, cutting them off altogether is too harsh of an action to take at once. It’d insight more questioning, hurt feelings, attitudes, and unnecessary drama. And, despite how annoying, draining, or displeasing these folks may seem 90% of the time, chances are they still serve some purpose in your life, even if nothing more than as an example of things you’d like to avoid as you make your way through circumstances. I believe every person has a purpose; that purpose may not always be evident to you or me, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have one. It’s also not for us to determine – we have our own purposes to sort out and live toward.
As we live toward these purposes, however, we are fully within our rights to delegate the appropriate amount of time and energy (terms that are often interchangeable in my life) toward these people as we determine our system of support.
The reason? Because we can’t afford NOT to approach our time and/or energy this way.
At least I know that I certainly can’t.
Like attracts like, so people who think the same way have a tendency to gravitate toward one another, leaving those with different views and approaches on the perimeter. That’s okay. The people in the common interest circle serve to push each other toward their goals, which may or may not look the same, but likely have the same common denominator. Two people who decide they want to save more money might go about it in different ways: one person might decide to increase their income as a means for creating more revenue to be saved, and another might decide to cut things from their life they don’t deem necessary so that this money can be stashed away. Similarly, two people who decide they want to exercise more may not both agree that weight loss is the desired outcome; for some, getting in shape, bulking up, or preventing health issues down the line may be the reason. Two people may decide that they both want to increase their education, but they might not both be seeking better paying jobs or job options as a result; some people like to learn merely because it’s enjoyable to them. In these aforementioned scenarios, the end goals aren’t always the same, but there is a common denominator.
What I’ve found is that the people I have denominators in common with, but whose goals may be a little different from mine, tend to motivate me to think outside the box a bit. A career student might inspire the person attending school for a better résumé to not just finish a program, but finish with excellence. People on a health journey with different goals in mind can offer solutions and tips to each other when they hit plateaus or get into ruts.
But with people whose goals as well as denominators are different, it’s tough to stay as connected or complementary. I can’t see much coming from a relationship between two people where one person is interested in expanding their mindset and moving themselves forward and the other person is content with being stuck in their ways and staying put.
I used to see patience and grace as weak character traits, but I’ve since grown to learn that they’re signs of maturity and immense strength. A significant mind shift is required to practice true empathy, which is something I’m working on right now. In trying to be a more patient person and extend more grace, I’m also alerted to the ways in which other people I meet or have known are impatient, narrow-minded, and self-centered. If a person is content being this way – it serves them and hasn’t been a problem thus far – I don’t see how I can gain or add much value through maintaining a relationship with them and therefore don’t see the need to pump as much of my time into maintaining one.
I used to think I needed permission to say no, to make myself unavailable, or to simply not devote the time to people who had maybe done so for me in the past or who were related to me by blood. Some people might argue that I am still obligated to these folks, but I don’t see it that way anymore. I cannot afford to expend my time and energy on them because I’m in a place where I need time and energy for myself. It isn’t enough for me to simply say I love myself. When we claim to love others, we show that love through gift-giving, emotional investment, and other nice gestures. I haven’t done much lately to show how much I love myself, such as through allowing myself proper rest, engaging in activities I love, and, what I deem most important, protecting my most precious resource: my energy.
This life reset incorporates just that. My time and energy are housed in metaphoric bank accounts, and the withdrawals have been frequent and sizeable, but deposits have been few and far between. I’m on overdraft status and need to build myself a surplus that I will spend how I choose.