First Things First

A question I’ve been asking myself since deciding recently to proactively evoke change in my life is this:

What five things are the most important things in my life?

I’d been suspecting that part of why life seemed more complicated these past few years (ever since deciding to return to college and obtain a degree late in life, to be honest) was due in large part because I had lost my vision and purpose as I allowed myself to be distracted from the important things in life.  In a more “carefree time”, I was actually in debt up to my eyeballs, feeling like I was largely wasting my life away performing menial jobs with little or no higher thought required.  But, when you have nothing to lose you feel free to take risks — what did it matter if I added another couple of hundred dollars to my credit card? I already owed a debt in the teen thousand range, a few more hundred wouldn’t make any difference the way I saw it.  I could stay out all night — it wasn’t like my jobs required any heavy lifting with my brain.  Few responsibilities, hell bent on financial suicide (“can’t get blood from stones”)…. it sure seemed like bliss until the creditors call, when you wake up to that dead feeling you get inside when you finally realize your pissing your life away, and you ask if there isn’t something more than meeting up at the local Irish pub for more than a few pints.

So, I got the gumption to go back to school to learn something that would allow me to, at bare minimum, stimulate my brain and make me feel like I was something more than a wart on the face of humanity.  It didn’t hurt that there was a promise of more money and the hint that I might be able to get those creditors off my back.

Five years later, I’d managed to obtain not one, but two four year degrees and snag a job that paid triple what I’d been paid during those “salad days”.

However, I’d gotten so used to my time being booked nearly to the maximum with school, marriage and work, that I started to fill up that free time once occupied by schoolwork with any of other supposedly important endeavors.  Only, they weren’t very important in retrospect.  Hitting life’s reset button, I’ve sat down and contemplated what is important to me (not necessarily in any order): 1

  1. Immediate Family
  2. Cultivating Tao
  3. Simplifying my life/Decluttering/Creating a calming space in all aspects of my life
  4. Writing
  5. Giving back to the world

Immediate Family

I love my four girls2. I don’t always like them, but I do love them. Most of the time, however, instead of doing things with them, I tend to go off into my own space to relax and discharge all the tension I have built up throughout the day (or I resent not being able to chill out).  The last thing I want to do is…. well…. anything… when I get a moment to breathe.  It is my hope that by removing some of the physical clutter from my life, I can prune away those activities and tensions that drive me to seek solitude.  I’m not sure it is logical to think that way, but part of my brain seems convinced that the following formula will work:

Remove physical chaos ->

Mental and situational chaos will be more manageable ->

I’ll be less prone to hiding out in my “man cave” and less likely to bite hands off ->

I might even (gasp) want to focus more on family-oriented activities

I’m sure it will take more effort than throwing out old stereos, old DVD/VCR combos, selling off vast chunks of my library, etc., but I’m hoping that less clutter will allow me to focus more on spending time with my family.

Cultivating Tao

I’ve covered the bulk of my thinking in the post Rationale — Part I.

TL;DR: I’m jumping in feet first into this whole idea that I want to cultivate Tao in my life.  That is, jumping before I die instead of wishing I had on my death bed.

Simplifying my life/Decluttering/Creating a calming space in all aspects of my life

Also covered already in Rationale — Part II.

TL:DR: I’m a hoarder and want to stop. Our house is too small for five hoarders. Downsizing and adopting rational minimalism will help with reaching my goal.


I used to write. A lot. Poetry.  Haiku. Novels. Short fiction. Not all of it good, but some that I felt held promise with some TLC and editing.  A few pieces that I am proud to have written.  I don’t write very much any more, largely because I was utterly and completely turned off by the local fiction writing community during a few classes where I was trying to improve my writing skills by soliciting feedback.  Unfortunately, the class consisted of what I felt were people more interested in bringing each other down than in supporting each others’ works and development — including the instructor of one course.  Instead of walking away from discussions with a sense you had picked up some new tools or approaches to writing, everyone came out looking and (if they felt like me) feeling battered, worn out, ready to call it quits.  No one was given constructive criticism that I can recall from their peers or the instructor: it was all geared to making you feel like you couldn’t possibly be as grand as other writers, that you were a talent-less hack, and that you were lucky that these people told you how much work you needed to do in order to even become marginally readable (not that you could possibly improve, mind you).

It was exhausting.

Not to mention, the works that were held up as paragons of excellence were so raw, so fixated on sex, so fixated on hate and anger — so difficult to read in their darkness….  I threw up my arms in disgust and failed to see why I should aspire to be a writer if this was all that awaited me.  I’m not a person opposed to grit, to writing about difficult scenarios, to violence and mayhem in fiction. But the material was so beyond the pale that I found it disturbing (like someone telling you to watch this really good movie and finding out you are watching a snuff film within moments of the film starting and having no value beyond that).

So I stopped.

No more fiction, no more poetry, no more NaNoWriMo.  Nothing.

That was five or so years ago.  I think I’m over my disgust, so I want to try to build up my writing skills again.  The problem being is that I never seem to have time.

It’s not true. I have the time.  I just don’t prioritize my writing.

Time to change that.

Giving Back to the World

I talk big about wanting to give back to my community, but I rarely walk the talk. I could never seem to find the time (hmmm, seems there is an echo here).

Well… Now I don’t have an excuse; or shouldn’t allow myself excuses anyway.  Giving back has been realigned to place it as one of my “most important things”.

I’ve started looking for good volunteering opportunities for my eldest daughter and myself.  My eldest takes a lot of things for granted: she doesn’t want to see the less positive parts of life and, while she is a generous and loving person, she doesn’t really accept that others don’t have it as good as she does (she’s healthy, she has most everything she needs, she’s never gone hungry).  It’s kind of a bootstrap mentality: “Why don’t they just change things, dad?” She also thinks throwing money at problems will solve most issues.  To try and correct some of those misconceptions of hers and instill some compassion for others, our family is going to fundamentally change our level of volunteerism.  Hopefully this will put the twins on a better footing with compassion if we start these habits now.


Lots of big talk here, I am realizing.

Luckily I’m a really stubborn person who hates to go back on his word.  I’ll have to set a reminder to come back and visit these things next Juneto see how I am faring with fulfilling them and readjust as necessary to make sure I don’t give myself an easy out.


  1. Important does not include necessities like food and a roof over my head. Yes, it is important to eat and not sleep in a park but, for the sake of this evaluation, I assumed they are “necessities” and beyond important. 
  2. Okay, three girls and one woman.  But it sounds clumsy to say it that way, so hopefully I will be forgiven for referring to my wife as a girl.  I know she understands and is far from offended. 

One thought on “First Things First

  1. Nice post. It is a very engaging experience to do some introspection and ask yourself that serious questions: What is important to me? Then act in consequence, finding peace in the process. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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