It was a beautiful fall morning in New England. The leaves had a tinge of fire on their edges and the breeze was cool against my skin. I was sitting on the deck, waiting for my friend to arrive for a chat over coffee. That’s when the call came in. I picked it up and listened. There was some preamble I can barely remember, followed by words I will never forget: I’m recommending your daughter be evaluated for a lung transplant. 

In that moment, it felt as if the world had just dropped from beneath my feet. A feeling of dread and despair washed over so profoundly I couldn’t make sense of what was up or what was down.  The call ended, but the words kept replaying like a broken record. I felt overwhelmed by fear as my mind filled with visions of worst case scenarios. Life going forward was going to look very different for all of us.  As the days progressed, we entered into a whirlwind of meetings, tests, and procedures, all of which took place two hours from home. Day in and day out, back and forth…

It was at this time I realized something had to give. It was going to be impossible to maintain all of my outside activities while still being there to support my daughter and make important medical decisions. I was forced to take a look at everything I was committed to, all the organizations and committees I was involved in, and make a decision as to what could stay and what had to go. 

It was time to re-prioritize my life. 

There is a tendency to overload our lives until something happens that forces us to come back to what’s important. 

One of the many things I learned throughout this experience was the importance of recognizing – before something tragic happens – how we order things in our lives and how to determine what things truly do need our attention and what we’d be better off letting go. 

When the call came in, I was a volunteer with the fire department, a member of the Board of Education, and had just made the decision to open a piano studio.  That may not sound like a lot on the surface, and most things don’t seem that way when you first sign on. But when you break each commitment down, you may be surprised at how much these things truly demand of you. 

For instance, there were so many other responsibilities that came with being a volunteer with the fire department. In addition to responding to emergency calls and maintaining my certifications, I was involved with recruitment and retention activities, fundraising activities, teaching CPR, and being an evaluator for state EMT exams. Things add up quickly, and often insidiously. Quite honestly, I didn’t realize how much so until I was forced to break it all down.  I knew I’d have to let go of a few things, and that decision proved to be harder than I thought it would be. 

I felt a strong responsibility to all of my commitments. Take the Board of Education for example. It was not a position I took lightly and required hours of my time, researching and attending meetings, not to mention the mental toll. To walk away felt irresponsible and I worried about potential backlash. 

But when I ranked the importance of the BOE against the need to be there for my daughter – physically, emotionally, and mentally – I knew it was the right decision for all involved. I couldn’t give 100% of myself to both. And when I finally made the announcement that I would be leaving, instead of getting backlash, the other members of the board were compassionate and supportive. 

Emotionally we may feel like we have no choice in the matter, but the reality is, there’s always a choice. This lack of clarity makes it tricky to recognize immediately where things might be out of order, but when we intentionally and consciously put things into perspective and have the courage to realign our priorities, we give ourselves the chance to be more productive and successful in whatever we set out to do. 

When all is said and done, choosing to stay with an activity when we know deep inside we should let it go only results in causing undue stress. It stretches us thin, inhibits our ability to do our best for each commitment, and ultimately compromises our quality of life. 

3 Ways to Proactively Re-Prioritize Your Life Now 

1. Contextualize

Put things into their proper context. Make a list and then rank them in order of importance. It’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of doing and not stop to ask ourselves, is this important? Is this where my focus needs to be? Is it where I want and need to put my attention? Now’s the time to ask those important questions. 

2. Gain perspective

Ask yourself, what’s the worst that will happen if you let something go? Our thoughts tend to lean toward worst case scenarios, but more often than not, those scenarios don’t come to fruition. Put those thoughts into perspective and keep in mind that while the worst can happen, it usually doesn’t. Make a back-up plan to handle possible outcomes, and then confidently move forward with your decision. 

3. Consider the bigger picture

Finally, take a step back and look at the situation from a bird’s eye view. Based on the above, you should have a better idea of what to prioritize and what you can and should let go of so you can give more of yourself to the things that truly matter most. Once the decision is made, be sure to communicate it to all involved confidently, yet kindly and professionally. 

In conclusion

As it turned out, doctors discovered an alternative treatment. My daughter is doing well and surgery is no longer necessary. 

As a bonus, I discovered that by eliminating distractions, I was better able to focus on what was truly important. 

In the end, learning how to prioritize things in our lives, then proactively aligning them accordingly, enables us to put our energy where it matters most.