Life (and sabbatical) is all about priorities, and the fewer the better

My husband, Trent, and I are taking a year-long sabbatical, and like good planners we have each defined our personal priorities for that year. I suppose this could have gone badly, but we actually came up with the same three priorities, in the same order.

  1. Us
  2. Body
  3. Mind

Perhaps it is not groundbreaking, but it was important for us to name these priorities, in this order, and to be really clear about them.

bluff-lake-selfie-2016My husband, Trent, states it nicely: “I have a limited amount of energy and ‘attention particles,’ and when I focus them on a critical few things, then I make a lot of progress fairly quickly. Whereas when I spread myself too thin, I don’t.”

So by getting down to three priorities we are empowered to get results because we see positive changes happening quickly, and that motivates us to keep going. A good strategic planner will tell you the same thing about your work goals.

Downsizing priorities and the way we think about them didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken a lot of soul searching and discipline, and we aren’t waiting until sabbatical to start shifting either.

My Process

  1. De-clutter my life (see my blog post on my experiment with minimalism)
  2. Re-evaluate my commitments and back off where needed (this was hard; it meant saying no to people and causes I cared about, but if the commitment didn’t line up with my changing priorities, I had to back away)
  3. Ask these questions before taking on new things:
    1. Will I strengthen my marriage?
    2. Will I be healthier ?
    3. Will I grow?
    4. Will I be more peaceful and/or happier?

If I can’t answer yes to at least two of those questions, then maybe it isn’t where I should be spending my time. Example: I would almost certainly learn and grow by joining a new board or taking on new professional endeavors, but it won’t help my marriage, it won’t make me healthier, and right now it won’t bring me peace, just angst because I’m already overcommitted. So, I’ve said no to a lot of solely career-oriented activities over the last year.

However, should I spend some of my valuable time building closer relationships with the people with whom I work? That gives me an opportunity to grow and learn from them AND it brings me a lot of peace. I thrive on authentic relationships, on knowing and understanding people, and on the friendships that develop from that openness. So, yes! I will spend my precious time developing deeper relationships with work colleagues because it makes me feel good. And as it happens, it’s not bad for my career either.

 Priority #1:  Us

First and foremost, we are focused on growing closer as life partners. What does that look like?

  • Spending more intentional time together
  • Having deeper discussions
  • Putting each other first more often
  • Listening without judging
  • More romance and intimacy

We are both career-driven people who have put our organizations and our work first too often over the years at the expense of time for each other. If we put the kind of time into our marriage that we have into our careers, there’s no telling how much stronger our connection will be. Now I’m not saying that we have a bad marriage, just that with some real care it could be even better.


Priority #2: Body

Where to begin? I have struggled with my weight my entire life. Thank you, genes. Thank you, growing up eating cheap processed food. Trent hasn’t struggled in that same way. He’s a runner and has a pretty normal metabolism. However, he’s fighting the mid-life slow down like many men do, and heart disease runs in his family, so he is also very focused on getting fit.

We both agree that taking this year to get physically healthy is our second-most important priority, after preserving the health of our marriage.

What does that mean?

  • Taking time to prepare & eat healthy meals nearly EVERY DAY! What a luxury! No more eating what’s convenient.
  • Exercising nearly EVERY DAY (hikes, workouts, walks with the dogs)
  • Meditating (however often I can stand it!) and otherwise feeding our souls 

All of these things depend on time. And we have made some poor choices not to invest the time we need to on our own health. However, on sabbatical, our priorities shift and we make time. We develop new habits and patterns. We’ve already started by intensifying our workout regimens and making healthier eating choices. More time will only make it easier, but without the commitment of the mind, time won’t matter.


Priority #3 Mind

Changing our mindset about what is possible in our lives is a big part of sabbatical for both of us. For me, that’s largely about conquering fear. For Trent, it’s largely about relaxing, slowing down and cultivating a deeper sense of peace.

So, what does taking care of my mind look like?

  • Expressing myself freely (e.g. writing this blog and maybe a book!)
  • Learning and reflecting
  • Being open to new ideas
  • Meeting new people
  • Trying new things


The Trifecta: Us, Body, Mind

The bottom line is that we have lived the last 20 years with a priority to establish our professional credentials and gain the skills and experience we need to get ahead in our respective careers, Trent in the corporate world and me in the nonprofit world. And we’ve been successful. But in the process we have often neglected other things that need our attention too, including each other.

We are allowing ourselves the time necessary to address these areas of our life that have been neglected, not because we didn’t value them, but because we’ve simply been too focused elsewhere.

I’m lucky enough to have a husband who is as excited about this journey as I am, and the fact that we came up with the same priorities for sabbatical reinforces for me that we are doing the right thing at the right time in our lives.

Bottom line: The choices you make every single day add up to your life. You decide what to prioritize and how to act on those priorities.

So, think about your priorities. Talk about them with your partner, and then consider if how you are living your life today reflects those priorities. Consider re-connecting with your values as they can help you to see more clearly if your life really reflects all of who you are.

If not, consider making some changes.


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