Setting Priorities For Life

It seems sometimes that the human condition is one of constant turmoil and conflict. We as a group seem determined to fill our lives with every manner of competing goals and aspirations without a clear vision on what is really important in life. I think everyone should have and assess often a solid list of priorities in their life. Most of the problems we create for ourselves are a result of being unable to resolve a conflict between two or more priorities or allowing lower priority things to take over our life.

There is only one person in this life making decisions for you (even if the decision may be to allow someone else to make a decision). So many of lifeís decisions become much easier to make, when you use a concrete list of priorities as a decision making tool. You should always avoid making any decision that violates your list of priorities.

Easy is the decision to base your life on a fixed set of priorities. Harder is actually developing a list of priorities for your life. Even harder is having the discipline to stick to them, but thatís another article.

To some extent, priorities are personal and dependent on each personís life and value system. Fundamentally, though, there are a number of general priorities that every person should have in their life and each person should arrange these basic priorities in the same order of importance.

Personal Health and Wellbeing:

Above all other priorities in your life your own personal health and wellbeing should be the most important priority. Humans have a strong sense of self preservation to keep us from killing ourselves (some more than others), but too many people do not take care of themselves physically or mentally. In North American society obesity is reaching epidemic levels and too many people to not take responsibility for their health.

The most important thing you can do for yourself and everyone around you is to not allow anyone (yourself included) do anything that would violate your person wellbeing. Itís obvious to say that no one should allow anyone to inflict physical or mental harm on them, but far too many people find themselves in abusive relationships. Certainly it is an issue far more complex than just this point, but to not force change would be to place other priorities above this one.

There are cases where it may be valid to place other priorities above this. Extraordinary circumstances like war and persecution do change things, depending on your personal beliefs. To sacrifice yourself (temporarily or even to give your life) for someone else is an important part of humanity that is a topic of its own. The key to sacrifice is to ensure that it is valid and balanced. To give your life to save your childís life is something that most parents would do, but it is not legitimate to engage in a career or activity that places your health or life at risk, unreasonably. A healthy, living parent is far more valuable to a child than a dead or dying parent who killed themselves to make sure their child would have college tuition.

Your Spouse:

Next to yourself, there should be no person more important in your life than your spouse. There is no more important commitment in your life than to spend your life with someone else and there is no person more fundamental to your happiness than the person you choose to spend it with. That relationship is one that should be valued and cherished.

Far too many people take their marriage and partner for granted. With divorce, infidelity and unhappy marriages are a devastating force in society and is the biggest contributing factor to negatively affecting your first priority (personal health and wellbeing). If you are miserable in your marriage then very little in your life will be good. Studies have even proven that who you marry will have an effect on your lifespan.

As a society, we both marry and then divorce too easily. A marriage is something that you should not enter into unless you have done everything possible to ensure its success and then you should not throw away unless every possible effort has been made to save it (or unless it violates your first priority).

Your Children:

Very close behind your spouse in your priorities should be your children. It is obvious how important a childís parents and how they were raised is, to whom they become as an adult, but too many people do not give it the effort it deserves.

Some people do understand the importance of putting their children high on their priority list, but improperly place them ahead of their marriage or even themselves. Unless your spouse is a threat to the wellbeing of your children, then your marriage must be higher priority.

In a very basic sense, your children are a permanent part of your life only for 18 to 25 (or more) years. Then they move out and get lives of their own. Your spouse is someone you will spend your entire life with. On another level, the greatest gift you can give your children as they grow up is a stable and loving family to grow up in. To focus on children without maintaining the marriage to the point of failure would be a tremendous blow to that childís life and development.

Your Home:

Everyone needs a stable and safe place to live. The need is obvious to everyone, but too many people loose their home because of things farther down the priority list. Bankruptcy and poor life management skills have placed too many families at the brink of loosing their homes and being on the street. It becomes very difficult to maintain any of the first three priorities when you donít have a home.

Your Career:

Next to your marriage, there is no bigger influence on your happiness in life that the career that you choose. A little less than half of your waking hours will be spent at your job. If you canít be happy in that job, it will be very tough to be happy in the rest of your life.

The best advice I have ever heard when choosing a career is to: pick something youíd do for free and then make a career out of it. While that isnít always practical, you should enjoy what you do.

Beyond enjoying it, you have to maintain a career that will enable you to look after all of the other priorities (home, children, marriage and your health). The cold reality of life is, it isnít free.

As important as enjoying what you do is, no one loves their job every day of their life. Doing your job anyway is part of the commitment you make to your career. Even to have the career you want may require that you spend part of your life doing something that you donít like (like school, or an entry level job). Provided that it is not a threat to your more important priorities, that is a part of life.

Your Family:

Beyond your immediate family (spouse and children) everyone has parents and siblings that should be an important part of your life. You may not choose your family, but they are an important part of who you are and part of being a member of a family is being there to support them, even when no one else will.

Your parents were the biggest influence on who you have become and no one will have sacrificed as much for you in your life. Your parents deserve a great deal of respect for that.

Your Friends:

The personal relationships you create and maintain in your life should be an important part of your life. Unselfishly helping others is one of the best parts of humanity and it is something to be encouraged.

Everyone will also encounter problems in their life, both small and large. No one should be expected to survive the slings and arrows of life alone and without help. When you find yourself at the bottom of a dark hole, it will be your true friends that will be there, offering you a hand up.

Loyalty, companionship and support are things only to be encouraged.

... And The Rest:

Beyond these fundamental priorities, the list becomes more subjective and personal. Religion, charity, country, hobbies or community are all important to different people in different ways. It is important for you to decide how they are important to you and your life, but not to try to impose those beliefs on others.


The key to the entire process of setting priorities in your life is to give you a basis for making good decisions in your life. Everyone prioritizes their life, whether they think about it in those terms or not. Every time you make a decision about something, you are doing so based on your own internal set of priorities. The people who have trouble making decisions or make poor choices in life are people who do not have a good set of priorities, or violate them.

In the grand scheme of things, everything that happens to us (baring accident or acts of nature) and everything that we have in our lives are a function of the decisions we make. Itís not always possible to see the bad outcomes of a decision, but if you make those decisions based on supporting the priorities in your life, then youíll make the best choices for your life possible.

By: James Whitaker

Posted:  2004-02-22  2:58:12 PM

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