Today is Flash Friday – when 40:20 Vision tackles an issue from both the 40-something and 20-something perspective. Joining me on this mission is Molly Ford of Smart Pretty and Awkward. Today’s topic is priorities: how do we decide what to prioritize and does it change as we get older? Is there a difference from day-to-day to more long term priorities?
The 20-Something View
By Molly Ford
Day-to-day priorities can be different than monthly or annual priorities, and they often shift as we get older. How do 20-somethings decide what in their lives to prioritize, and what do they wish they prioritized more?
Meg, a 20-something marketer, writes this about her priorities:
“I try to build my priorities around my goals, which I loosely set weekly. If I set a goal to finish all my homework (I’m in grad school at night) by the end of the week, then my priority each night of the week is to work on schoolwork. Other weeks, if I feel my relationship with my boyfriend is slipping, I make it a goal to be more attentive to him, and date night becomes a higher priority than working late or relaxing in front of the TV. By setting goals on a weekly schedule, I can adjust my daily priorities for the week to fit those goals.”
Ramona, a 20-something law student, lists her day-to-day priorities as:
1. Eating things that help my body, like spinach and fruit
2. Using lotion on my legs and elbows
4. Emailing my mom once a day.
“Unfortunately, as a law student I have to live day-to-day mostly because my time is very limited and I am spread very thin. Monthly priorities have totally gone out the window, except for paying rent. Annual isn’t really a priority either with the exception of doing well in school and keeping my eye on the post-JD-employment prize!”
20-something Ashley judges her success with her priorities by her emotional scale at the end of the day, writing “My priorities are trying to make it through the day, period. School, work, sleep. If I feel content by the end of the day, it is a successful day.”
Taylor, a 20-something customer service rep, also has a daily priority that is measured by emotion. Taylor says, “My day-to-day priorities are to make it through the day as happy as possible and trying to have a good outlook on the day every morning when I wake up. If I can be optimistic about the day when I wake up, then it gives me a better shot of having a successful day.”
On a monthly scale, however, Taylor is more quantitative saying:
“When I think about the month as a whole, I try to save a bit of my monthly income, whether that means eating in a few more nights a week to save money if I have spent a little extra on extraneous things. As I get older I see the importance of saving money and in general being more responsible with it. I also wish that I prioritized staying in touch with some secondary relatives in my family more often (cousins, aunts, grandparents). It’s easy to get lost in your own life and distance yourself from the strong relationships you once had when you were younger.”
For many 20-somethings, who can get hyper-focused on their career and getting ahead, it’s keeping up with relationships, whether old friendships or new romantic ones, they wish they prioritized more. Ramona, the law student, says “I have been trying to fit dating into my life, but that is taking a ton of work on my end since I need a guy who is both flexible and willing to meet during my free time.
It seems 20-somethings are focusing more on daily events than the long-term. 40-somethings, what and how do you prioritize differently in your 40’s than in your 20’s? What do you wish you had prioritized more when you were younger?
The 40-Something View
By Christina Vuleta
Prioritizing is different than time management. It’s not about how to get things done, it’s figuring out what you want to get done.
In your twenties, you’re consumed with figuring out what you want to get done. There is a lot of mental energy that goes into this developmental task. You are creating a picture in your mind of what the perfect path for you may be and then trying to go about coloring it in, perhaps taking pains to color within in the lines.
In your 40s, the picture may have changed a few times – you have gone outside the lines. In fact, you’ve thrown out the picture and drawn your own lines. The mental energy goes into getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t help you get it done.
Of course the tangible day-to-day priorities change as you gain more responsibility with job and family.
“When I was in my twenties, I didn’t have a husband, a house or a child. My priorities were self-centered (as they should be), focused on work, looks and social life. In my forties, I still focus on those things, but add in the financial responsibility of a home, a business, taxes and a car. I also have a child – which changes the whole game. She is my priority always, her safety, education and happiness.” – 40-something, fashion designer, new business owner, wife and mom
Many women deal with all these new pieces fitting into one pie dish by adopting the “good enough” principle. It’s not giving up one piece altogether but figuring out the essence of each piece that is most important. Good enough may sound negative, but it’s just recognizing what’s not worth wasting time on so you can enjoy what you love.
For some it’s the shift from prioritizing career success to a more flexible, if lower paying job, in order to spend time with family or for personal fulfillment. For others it’s making an effort to connect with your partner every night even if that means foregoing checking emails.
For this woman, it’s prioritizing time to recharge:
“In my twenties had unlimited energy. It was go, go, go. Now I still have energy but I have to pick and choose what I focus on. For me it’s become important to recharge whether through nature, solitude or yoga.” – 40-something, international business and strategy
For many working women it’s prioritizing fulfilling your dream even if it means complicating your life:
“I started my own business at 40. At first I worried that I was short-changing my family by doing something so time consuming and potentially financially risky. But I found it forced me to focus on what’s important. I don’t cook every night because I’m not good at it and it’s not a good use of my time. But music is important to my family so I always am at home for my daughter’s piano lessons. It gives me a chance to know what is going on and then our ‘together’ time is around practicing and doing other things. It’s picking your shots…knowing what you are committed to and committing to it.” – 40-something, entrepreneur, wife, mom
For this woman it’s de-prioritizing the need to control everything so she can control her bottom line:
“I gave up the need to have everything look perfect. I had a photo shoot in my studio the other day and it was a complete mess. I could have spent time cleaning and making it look perfect, and I would have in the past, but that would mean less time creating and building a business that also allows me to spend time with my son.” – former graphic designer cum owner of design business.
The point is…you stop trying to prioritize things you can’t control and start prioritizing things you can:
“Control what you can control. Let the rest of it go. I don’t ever really sweat if things don’t happen the way I want them to. There’s nothing you can do. I think you have to make yourself happy on a daily basis, figure out what’s important and go with it. – 40-something, working mom
The one thing many 40-somethings wish they had planned for and prioritize more now is money:
“I wish I had approached saving for the “future” more seriously in my twenties. Sure I contributed to a 401k program, but I didn’t even attempt to understand investments for long-term growth. Consider a financial adviser. Keep a “five year financial plan” of what you would like to accomplish and what priorities that involves. It can be flexible, but should have general goals, such as ‘hope to own my own car’ and ‘hope to make x amount of money in 3 years’. – 40-something, fashion designer, new business owner, wife, mom
“I WISH I had prioritized saving money and being more savvy financially. There are a lot of smart things I could have done that would have paid of very well. It’s like on Sex in the City when Carrie realizes that she owns about $40,000 in shoes Manolos but doesn’t have a down-payment for her apartment!” – 40-something, real estate advisor
Many 40-something’s could relate to that!