I have had more conversations with people about the relationship between self, family, people, and career, than on any other topic. And I’ve been trying to figure out and wondering how people prioritise these things.
I do know one thing: people do prioritise; some do it consciously, others just go with gut instinct, but there is a definite – if sometimes unwritten – order of priority.
I am told that age has a lot to do with the way we prioritise, although I know quite a few people who have been focused right from school days. My childhood friend, Deba, is one who’s been focused on what he wanted from the age of 14 (well that’s when I first met him, I suspect that he was born with a clear focus); my brother Shubho is another (focused from his secondary school days); My childhood friend, Satyan, is yet another (he’s been single-minded since he was about 21). And even today, they are on the path driven by their single-minded focus on what life means to them and how they interface with the world including family and career, the two main poles). All three have one thing in common: work and career merged to mean one and the same thing, which is very rare in any age.
My approach is simpler (and a bit of a cheat sheet): I created a questionnaire when I was 14, and I have been filling it in every year (the day before my birthday). And that’s all the time I spend on the matter.
So what comes first: Family? Career? Self? Friends? World Peace?
My documented diary entries and survey responses tell me that my top priority was I, Me, Myself right through secondary school, college and well into the fifth year of my work-life. Then the next decade belonged to I, Me, Myself followed by my work and marriage, and here let me differentiate work from career. As a writer and journalist, it would have done my career a whole lot of good to have jumped ship from print media to broadcast when the Indian media boom happened. But I wanted to hone my editing skills – that’s work.
The past few years family-life has been priority along with work, but again, let me clarify that at all points of time in my life, I, Me, Myself is always first and that’s the way it’ll probably be till I’m around. My wife, children, parents, siblings, friends all know this about me. I come first: First, Last, and Always. It bothers many people, some get angry. The safety briefing on an aircraft sums up my thoughts on the matter very well: “In case of an emergency, first put on your Oxygen mask, and then help others.”
The way I look at it, I can’t help any one if I ain’t well my own self. I can’t feed others, if I can’t feed myself. I can’t smile and make others feel better, if I don’t feel like smiling at all because my life sucks. I can’t teach others anything if I don’t learn myself. And so on, and so forth.
My gut-feel is that everybody puts themselves first or wants to. What is important is to also remember the second part of the safety briefing, which says: “and then help others”.
So there it is: my two paise on an inane existential matter which Deba, Satyan, and Shubho have negotiated in a much better fashion – they knew what they wanted, stayed on the course, and as a result today help more than a fair share of people as mentors – and without making a fuss about it.
Meanwhile, I am still just going through life one mountain at a time … and loving it too.