6/100: On The Question of Priorities

Sometimes manic workdays provide the best opportunity to reflect: Why am I doing all this? 

Today is one of those, and I am pausing to write this post after a few crazy hours of clearing my inbox, so to say. In a few hours, I am off to catch a flight, in anticipation of a family event in Kolkata over the weekend, where I get to see almost everyone I call family (including some who I have not met since emigrating, though Facebook was handy). But, for that, I am squeezing in a week's worth of work in a day - and that brings out, in sharp relief, what I do and that my life has become way too complicated.

At this very point, as the diverse nature of today's work tells me, I am doing far too many things, for far too many reasons. The truth is, I already know this, and have started pulling out of activities. The first casualty of this quest of simple is a community event that I got interested in, and spent some time exploring. However, this realisation - that I am doing far too many things - came early, and I have now completely pulled out of this. And, this is an useful model for me to follow. I did spend considerable amount of time trying to pull the event together, and even when it became obvious that the event, if staged, would never be anything close to the idea I initially had, I dithered about pulling out just because of all that invested time, effort and ego in it. But, then, the penny dropped - it was obvious that staying in and continuing what I was doing is no solution - and I was out of it completely.

For some, this is plain prioritisation, but I have never been very good at it. Just as I am now taking time to write this post, I spend time without necessarily prioritising on the basis of my own good. Therefore, I fall behind on many essential tasks - expense claims are one good example - but have time to pursue conversations if it interests me, write this blog, read books, and make many serendipitous connections. And, I have no desire to change this and become a priority-bound businessperson: That is simply not who I am, or will be - and such 'good practices' would make me a bit more mediocre and a lot less effective in things that I do.

So, here is the dilemma - I complain as multiple things claim my attention this morning and yet, I do not really want to change my ways and do things almost everyone else does! That I just need to prioritise - for example, not write this post and get going on things that have to be done - is just one, conventional, and in my view, unimaginative answer. If I remain true to my other quest, being authentic to myself and not try to live someone else's life, I can indeed write this post and not to things which would be more beneficial to myself. I am only being conventional - following an order of priority - with the exception that I define that priority in terms of authenticity, what my heart tells me to do, rather than conventional wisdom, what everyone else thinks I should do.

However, days like this also help distill those ideas on what is expendable and what is not, and what I should be doing more of and where I should cut and run. It is clear to me that my most promising idea is the one about creating a Liberal Learning institution, something I worked for several years now, to bring together a multidisciplinary environment for education, enterprise and research. This was the 'big' project that I conceived when I decided to walk away from my earlier business, and while I made compromises along the way and took on other jobs, this remained my idea of the new, new thing that I shall do next. The problem that I have right now is not fragmentation of my current commitments - I have always been doing different things - but the fragmentation of how I see my own future. And, this, rather than computation of present and clear advantages, should be the basis of prioritisation for me, one that allows the best use of my time as well as enabling those serendipity and chance connections that make me.

My thinking this moment is like this: Which, of all these competing demands on my time, moves me forward to my goal of being able to create that Liberal Learning institution, which will encourage studies and research of human sciences (I have borrowed the term from Quentin Skinner) but within a contemporary, practical life perspective? If something, even in a roundabout way, contribute to that end goal, it is worth spending my time on. If it is not, I would rather give up that opportunity and move on. Applying this test, one of my endeavours - talking to a big company which has been courting me for a job - is completely without merit, and needs to be abandoned. And, so is my various efforts to remain involved in my previous business that other people have already taken over; while I am happy to advice and help for the sake of friendship and past connections, this is one I should be drawing a line on and exclude from the priorities that drive my life. 


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