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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Living Your Priorities

A common theme in Bruce Springsteen's music is living your dreams. But its not just rainbows and pots of gold and star gazing--He takes a dream and gives it wheels. He talks about the grease and spare parts you're going to need when you really put the rubber to the road. As a guy who grew up in a very anti-musical environment to become a leader in one of the world's most competitive professions of music, he may know something about this.

Having a dream is one thing. Having a plan is totally another.

A good exercise in self-honesty is the following: Make a list of all your priorities in life, including everything from the most mundane to your guiding life's ambition. Put a value to them. Number them 1-10 or rate them somehow.

Next, map out where you spend your time. Take an average week and figure out how many hours you spend doing each task and for what purpose you are ultimately spending the time. Okay, most of us work 40 hrs/week. Next, take the hours you spend working and associate those hours to what you spend your money on. For example, if you bring home $1500/month and your rent is $500, then your rent would account for 33% of your money and approx. 13 hours at work (plus whatever time and money you spend cleaning the place, fixing it up, decorating, etc). Got it?

If it gets confusing, divide this up into two sections: A breakdown of how you spend your time and another of how you spend your money.

Finally, compare your list of priorities to your list of weekly activities and spending habits. Do they match? Are you spending more time and resources on your #1 priority than anything else? If not, why not?

I know a guy whose goal is finding a woman to marry. However, look at his life situation: He works 40 hours at a job with (virtually) no single co-workers. When you consider all the time he spends in the morning getting ready for work, commuting to work, and decompressing after a long day, his job accounts for probably 50% of his waking hours. He lives in a neighborhood of families, so odds are slim he'll bump into a datable neighbor while cutting the grass. In his free time, he is involved with sports activities that also contain (virtually) no single people. Living by himself means cooking, grocery shopping, etc., by himself. When you factor in the time he has available to really meet single people and spend quality time with them, you are looking at maybe a couple of hours each week at best. Estimating that you are awake 112 hours each week, that means he is giving his #1 priority in life only 1-2% of his time!

How many future artists are spending maybe a couple hours on the weekend working on their craft . . . maybe, if they have the time. If not, maybe they'll get around to it next weekend. They just can't imagine driving a beat up car or not wearing some modicum of fashion. I'm all for cleanliness, but when you don't have any time for your life's ambition because you need to wash the car every weekend and you are working to support a fashion habit, well, in the words of Jeff Foxworthy, you may be avoiding your life ambition. Or maybe living a middle-class lifestyle really is your #1 priority.

We all make excuses: "Well, I need insurance, and I need a roof over my head, and I need a "safety net", etc." Bruce Springsteen lived in an abandoned surfboard factory and didn't own an automobile during the years he was working to make it big--and you can imagine how important cars are to him. Only you can know what the circumstances of your life will allow, but most of us have more wiggle room in our schedules then we allow ourselves to believe. I think Oscar Romero said something like, 'we are not afraid that we are powerless; we are afraid that we are powerful beyond measure.' Sometimes we would rather convince ourselves that we just "can't" do it rather that put our heart on the line and give it a try. Fear. Resistance.

Dreams are Divine. The world we live in is human, though. The Incarnation of your dreams is critical. When you begin work toward your dreams, sometimes it may not be as pretty as you imagined it. There may be some real grease and muscle needed. It may feel like compromise, which is the last thing you ever want to do with your dreams. Just don't confuse the grit and gristle of hard work with watering down your dreams--those are two very different things. There is a huge difference between making mature compromises along the way and compromising your dreams by selling out. In any case, giving your dreams a plan is a lot better than the biggest compromise: Not giving your dreams a chance at all.

I'm not suggesting this is a road map for everyone. Some people meander through life and sometimes stumble into greatness (or not) and wouldn't have it any other way. But if you spend more time star-gazing and not much time getting your hands dirty, this post may be for you. A time will come when you have to face the harsh reality that your dreams most likely won't come true without more sweat on your side. Even worse, maybe you are trying but spinning your wheels, and when you look at how you spend your energy you aren't putting anywhere near the time into it that you thought. That can be depressing news, but it can also be empowering.

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