There's a disconnect between what most people say are their priorities, and what their priorities really are. Myself included.
Make a list of what your priorities are - in general, in life, for the future, however you want to frame it. Name just 5 - 10. And then look at your life. Look at how you spend time every day, every week. If you say your family is a priority, how much time have you spent with your family doing something this week - watching TV together NEVER counts, by the way. Don't be surprised if it turns out watching Netflix or playing on Facebook turn out to be the biggest priorities in your life. If you haven't done something every day or every week toward what you say is your priority, it's not really a priority.
My priorities right now are
- my marriage
- my dog
- finding a job
- making money despite not having a job, so that I can pay part of the family bills, pay into my retirement funds, not further deplete my savings and, most importantly, NOT go into debt
- NOT touching my retirement funds
- finding & making the time and money for travel
How I spend my day and weeks proves that those are my priorities. I look back on my day as I lay in bed at night and think about what I've done to contribute to those priorities. Sometimes, I realize I haven't gotten it right, and adjustments must be made. It's an ongoing exercise, truly.
There are your priorities, and then there are the things you dream about doing - but don't make a priority. If I had a dollar for every time I've said or written that I want to lose weight, I'd be a stick. But I never made it a priority. After YEARS of whining about it, I finally made losing weight a priority last year, and in six months, lost 30 pounds. Then I injured my shoulder. No more weight loss - but, hurrah, no weight gain. My shoulder is now well enough for me to work out. Time will tell if I make losing weight a priority again. It's up to me - no one else.
Since the 1990s, I've longed for a house. I have thought about what my front and back porches will look like, what my book shelves will look like, what my rainwater-catching system will look like, what my gardens will look like... but it wasn't a priority for many years. Then, in 1998, a couple of years after turning 30, I tried to make it a priority - and I started with my debt. I made getting rid of my debt a priority. I developed a five year savings plan. I changed how I lived and how I spent. The debt started shrinking. I was on my way. And then, I got a dream job - a job that changed everything. It moved me to Germany. I sold or gave away a lot of my things, put everything else in storage, severely downsized my home life, and lived car-less. And for the first time in my life, I earned a REAL income, in a job with REAL benefits. My debt was gone in a year, and for the next six years, I saved like a maniac, intent on buying a house when I moved back to the USA. I paid to attend graduate school, got my Master's degree, traveled around Europe with my boyfriend, got married, and still was able to save enough money to move back to the USA eventually, have a downpayment on a 15 year mortgage, and pay my expenses for six months while looking for a job. Buying a house was, at last, a real priority! It would happen as soon as I moved back to the USA!
Then two problems came up: I didn't know where I wanted to move in the USA, and work completely dried up. I didn't panic for the first year. I got a little worried the second year, but didn't let it change my priorities. I moved back to the USA with my husband, and still felt confident that we would find a place where we would want to live, we would get jobs, and at long last, I WOULD BUY A HOUSE.
It's three years after moving to the USA - and almost five years that I've been looking for full-time work. My husband did find full-time work once we moved to the USA - that's kept us paying bills and out of debt. But my house savings are gone. All gone.
But it's not just the money that's kept us out of a house of our own; we haven't found a home, a city or town where we want to live for several years. Despite that being a priority, no place has said, "Yes, here, this is where you need to live." And the result is that I'm 46 years old, and I'm still a renter, despite making having a house a priority for quite some time.
Where is my house... after making it a priority, and then failing to make it happen, that friend's comment makes me realize that maybe it's time to forget it. It's not going to happen. I have my doubts about ever working full-time again. And I have my doubts about the USA really being the place I need to live. The upside of the time that I really did make having a home a priority is that I got out of debt and I created a financial cushion that's helped me survive this long. Had I not made buying a house a priority, had I not gotten rid of my debt and saved up so much money, I would be in dire straits now.
When I start thinking of abandoning the dream of home ownership, a different idea emerges: maybe my husband should stay at his job for another year, I should keep my priorities as I have them, and maybe when my lovely senior dog passes away, probably in the next two years, we should sell or give away everything we can, like I did in 2000 - downsize to a small storage space - and then use our savings to take off on our motorcycles and realize our dream of long-term travel through the Americas, from Alaska to Southern Chile. And after a couple of years, go back to Germany - where no one will ever hire me, but I can use lots of completely valid excuses for no longer working, like, "I don't speak German" or "I'm too old to be hired as a new employee in Germany" (it's true - if you are looking for a job in Germany at 50, you are SO screwed). I'm sure I'd still find plenty to do. Indeed, ALL of the consulting work I've been able to cobble together since I returned could be done from Germany.
Maybe it's time for a new priority.