PEMDAS. We all learned it in math class as kids, but how do you apply it to your adult life? Prioritizing the various stressors in my life has always posed a challenge for me. I tend to get very down on myself if I cannot handle Every. Single. Thing. on my own, so being organized and being able to see the game plan helps to alleviate some of that. When I think about prioritizing my loyalties, that has never been an issue. Not ever. But what happens when those two things overlap?
My first loyalty has always been to family. No exceptions. But lately, I have had to make some very hard decisions in order to protect not just myself, but my own kids as well. In doing so, I had to face an enormous amount of guilt and some pain, too, in knowing that the people I once put above all else no longer deserved to be there. I gave second chances, I let stuff go, I ignored behaviors, and I made excuses. The end result, though, was that none of it worked. The problems didn’t miraculously go away, and I had to take a step back to realize that Stephen Covey has a very good point. “You cannot change someone else’s behavior; you can only change your reaction to it.” He offers up a concept he calls a “sphere of control” that made a lot of sense. Part of our stress and our worry comes from trying to control things outside of that sphere. If it is not in your power to control it, and you waste time and energy fighting that, you risk losing the more important aspects in your life in the process. Instead, figure out what in the situation you can control, and do that. Then step back. When things hit, you have a choice in how you react. Yes, it is still your own choice, your own responsibility. But you choose the reaction, and you own the ensuing processes.
I tried to put this theory into practice, but that guilt I mentioned was pretty strong. It wove its way into my heart, making it heavy with sorrow and with loss. “You’re the one giving up here, Mick. You’re the one bailing, not having faith.” And the worst one was, “You are being disloyal. This is family you’re talking about here.” Loyalty is so very important to me, as I’ve had it betrayed on numerous occasions by those I thought were trustworthy. So the insidious little voices of guilt knew exactly which button would get me to second guess myself. And trust me, I did so. Repeatedly.
But that’s where the prioritization comes into play. No matter how much we might like to say that we love and value people equally, that’s a big ol’ steaming crock of…well, you get my drift. The fact is that different people are ranked in different ways in our heads, our hearts, and our lives. What I had to do was own that, admit it to myself, and then act on it. There were no big announcements, no banners on Facebook, no overt actions. None of that was necessary. What was necessary was the way I approached things on a day to day basis, the way I considered my own actions in response to those of others.
The bottom line, for me, is that there is no one that will ever come before the Scientist, the Professor, the Artist, and the Ambassador. No one. And if I do not prioritize them, and make it clear that my first loyalty will always be to them, then not only do I damage them, but I destroy myself. In being true to them, I am true to myself.
This isn’t to say that the broken bonds don’t bleed. They do. They leave behind a great deal of sorrow and loss, as an open wound that will take a long time to scar over. But at the end of the day, I know that I am doing the Right Thing, and I know that the people who matter are better for it.