"Putting first things first" is a challenge for me, because, as noted in a previous reflection, life circumstances force us to have priorities that do not directly relate to our life's mission or they can feel like they are taking us away from our goals. For example, I am a mother of young and older children and when I made the decision to have them, I made a commitment to caring for them and doing everything I can to help them succeed and become happy, non-violent and productive members of society. I also am a daughter of a sick and disabled father and in Latin America we are taught to take care of our parents and I want to.
On the other end of the spectrum is my deep passion to nurture peace in the world so that I help leave this world a better place than when I found it, in part, with a deep regard for the children, those who will inherit it. Striking this balance was a challenge since I spent years working most evenings and weekends on peace work. This involved traveling away from home as part of my sustainable development work in Costa Rica, creating and managing Conexiones Institute, and studying to improve my skills and knowledge, which took me away from being with my children.
When Conexiones grew exponentially due to my dedication and the increased community demand for my work, I should have felt very successful, having accomplished and exceeded some of my goals and with lots of potential for immediate growth. I could have gone to weekend trainings to rewrite a business plan for scaling up, evaluated my curricula to make sure it was really an idea worth spreading, and looked for seed funding to transition into a larger entity with more impact. But at the pinnacle of my “success” with regards to a huge life goal, I was not happy and the idea of scaling up at that moment, with a 4 and 9 year old still to raise and an elderly father living alone, it did not sit well. I had already missed key moments of my other children’s lives, had missed countless family dinners and Sunday brunches, hardly saw my dad, and my own health was deteriorating.
I was slammed with the realization that my steadfast determination to be a force of good in this world had eclipsed many of the other areas of my life. I had not put first things first and, in the end, the big rock of “personal mission” had turned into thousands of small administrative and teacher prep tasks (pebbles) that consumed almost each waking moment and crowded out things that I should have tended to with as much dedication and love as I did for the vulnerable communities I worked with in Costa Rica or for my students at Conexiones, my expressions of peace work.
I had to "put first things first" and in my case, that meant putting my children, health, husband, and extended family relationships first after many years of semi-neglect. I proceeded to close Conexiones at the zenith of its growth and take an 18-month sabbatical to recalibrate and practice restorative justice after years of overly zealous proactivity and sometimes putting my life’s mission over personal, familial and community responsibilities and priorities. I realized that, in the end, there was not a HUGE rush on “saving the world,” as bad as things are out there, and that I can always come back to peace work and big visions later when my kids are older and there are different circumstances around me. And I could more clearly see there WAS an urgency to invest in those other “big rocks” that were time sensitive like my health, my parenting responsibilities, taking care of my elders, and my relationships.
A take-away for me is that proactivity and focus on the end result needs to be applied to many areas equally. I, and other aka-workaholics who focus too much on being proactive towards their work or mission-related goals, risk faltering in other areas, and missing out on the journey with those that are around us. I understand the argument that getting distracted or procrastinating by doing things for others can take us away from our personal goals, but what if our social responsibilities to our children, elders and community are priorities that cannot wait? I suppose the key is balance, something that is a constant in my life, especially at this stage. One thing I can commit to right away is to stop and take a break each day that my children come home from school. I started practicing this recently and it has been a wonderful beginning of a new tradition whereas we sit down and have a cup of tea or juice and a snack together and check in with each other.
I spoke to my family about this habit and they recognized that this is one of the most important habits and that the first two without this one can lead to imbalance. They added that there are many different personal goals to consider and it is OK to get passionate and intent on reaching a goal, but do not let it interfere with priorities that cannot wait. And in the end, as one of my son's said, peace begins at home and a full belly.
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