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Why do I do what I do?

November 4, 2009

Ever had one of those days? When you did something and weren’t really sure why? Or when you skipped something, canceled something, or just missed it because you forgot, were too stressed, or just “didn’t feel like it”? Welcome to my life.

Here I am, 29 years old (in Korea, 27 in the US), about to be married, and I have a full schedule of things I feel obligated to do, a long list of things I want to do, and an even longer list of things that I just plain enjoy doing. How can all of these things possibly work together in harmony? Well, as of recently, they haven’t. It wasn’t until today that they all hit me like a ton of bricks and made me stop to think about what is truly important. Where do my priorities really lie? Where should they lie? And what if my priorities don’t match other people’s priorities (as they often seem not to)? How can I live in harmony with others who have a different set of priorities, and how can I set all my priorities in harmony with one another? Those questions are the goals of this meditation.

Let’s start with what I know and the obligations I feel I must meet (and guilty if I don’t meet them). Firstly, the obligations that often take a back seat to everything else surprisingly are the obligations that could potentially “make or break” me in the long run: health and exercise.

  1. I am a black belt in TaeKwonDo (no small feat I assure you), and my class meets only for one hour in the mornings, three days per week. Yet for that very small time commitment, it is often the first thing to be cut from my over booked schedule, and I regularly miss at least one class per week. However, I feel that TaeKwonDo is very healthy for me in that it helps keep my immune system functioning at a high level. Whenever I start to get sick, if I go to TaeKwonDo and work hard, I can recover much faster than if I just stay at home in my bed.
  2. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights and feeling my body get stronger, and I have a friend in town who is a personal trainer and usually (when I go) trains me individually for no charge around lunchtime. However, often feeling pressured by other obligations, the gym is easily the second thing to go, as I have a tendency to loop in it with TaeKwonDo – do one, do the other. Weights are important to me as I want to gain muscle and lose fat and enjoy a six-pack for my honeymoon (which is rapidly approaching).
  3. Nutrition has always fascinated me, and the different foods that affect our bodies in different ways. Additionally, I’m always fascinated by the fact that eating too many calories at once leaves me feeling slow, sluggish, and drowsy, while not enough makes me feel hungry and exhausted. It is always wonderful to find the perfect balance of nutrients and calories that rev my engine and give me high quality energy throughout the day – with no extreme peaks or valleys. However, feeling too busy for my own good, nutrition suffers as well. I often rush to a corner mart or fast food place for instant food and end up with something that no one would agree is “health food.” I’ve always read that abs are “made in the kitchen, not in the gym” and I think it is true. You are what you eat after all, so nutrition should take a higher priority in my life.
  4. My transportation to and from work and all around town is my bike, or my feet. I don’t have a car, and even if I did, driving in Korea is not relaxing. Besides, I can generally make 4 miles in town in almost the same time as a taxi can drive it. But for all that, if I’ve missed my other healthful activities during the day, and if I feel particularly pressed for time, I often choose the easy way out and take a taxi – even though I know I can make it downtown by bike in the same time.

Next, let’s look at the obligations that would incur dire consequences if I skipped them: those things absolutely set in stone.

  1. Work. Much as I may not like my schedule, or the tasks at hand, the work pays the bills. If I’m late for my shift (more than sometimes), I feel guilty (with due cause). Even though I’m supposed to be at work 2.5 hours early to “prepare” and I don’t actually teach for those hours, the guilt remains. If I don’t do the work I’m supposed to do at work, but spend all my time on the Internet, of course I also feel guilty. Thus far, there have been no consequences, but I would suffer quite a lot financially (and therefore life-wise) if I blew off the job as easily as I blow off my health.

Much as I should probably say that church and my relationship with my fiance are “set in stone” as well, the truth is that in my mind, they are not. In other words, no truly dire consequences will befall me for missing an obligation with one of them. The truth is that I would definitely disappoint (and probably upset) some people, but the fact is that I would still have money to buy clothes and food, and I would still have my health, and I’m sure that both of these would forgive me in the end. This is probably not the best way to look at things (that guaranteed forgiveness permits my perpetual canceling or skipping of meetings) and I’m not trying to use it as such. But the fact remains that a job is far less forgiving than your friends. Let’s break these down.

  1. God should take the first priority in my life as a Christian, and I have to say, as of recently, he has taken a front seat (in my airplane life of priorities and commitments). Although he may not enjoy the frontmost seat, the cockpit of my life, I am definitely learning to listen for his directions, and yell back questions from my cockpit. I’ve recently started a daily breakfast Bible study with my fiance that really helps us to put God up there in the front row of seats in the cabin of the airplane. It’s really been great to start our lives and mornings with God and talk to and think about him throughout the day. However, that still doesn’t give him a seat in the cockpit with me, or even the pilot’s seat, which I’m sure is what he wants most. I just have to ask him to come up front with me to share time with me personally through meditation and study of his Word in order let him have that seat in the cockpit. But with my busy-ness, it’s easy to just keep him sitting in the front row of my life, next to my fiance, rather than in the cockpit instructing me how to fly.
  2. My fiance already takes her seat up front in my life, next to God. I feel like I sacrifice a lot for her, and do a lot of what she asks me to do without complaining (much). It’s been a little difficult to adjust to life with her, and trying to meet her expectations (obviously I know that I cannot meet all of her expectations), but I feel that if I have peace with her at her home, then my life in the world can be much more peaceful. I dread to think of what it would be like to have anger, fear, or fights constantly plaguing the home, and then trying to go out into the world (which is much less forgiving). I cherish peace and harmony and unity in the home because I think it helps to allow me to live a better life away from the home.
  3. The church in Korea is a big deal. In fact, I would say that for many Koreans, it rivals God himself in priority. Many Korean Christians claim that they “put God first” and then go to every church service on Sunday, tithe the proper amount, participate in all church activities, and are very bright and cheerful on Sundays. None of this is wrong in and of itself, but the fact that some of them feel guilty about not going to every service, or the fact that they put priority on the church and church activities themselves rather than on God himself is not something to think about lightly. It is my own opinion that when I am with God, talk to him, meditate on his Word, apply it to my life, and share it with others, then God knows me and is pleased with me, and no amount of church service, or church services can please God any more than those things. So, it really frustrates me to no end when I do talk to God, meditate on his Word, apply it to my life, and give him my heart, and yet other people still say things like, “You aren’t going to that (umpteenth) Bible study? Do you really put God first in your life? Well, I chose my priorities! Hmmmph.” No amount of church services or Bible studies makes any difference if we don’t allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts, change us, and share his Truth with others.

Last, let me take a look at my other priorities that really come down more to a long list of “want-to-dos” rather than “must-dos.”

  1. Graphic design is wonderful, helps me make money (sometimes), helps me share myself, my life, my fiance, and God with others (through the “This Korean Life” publication), and helps me relieve my stress – so I often turn to it first when my life is incredibly stressful and busy. However, it also brings with it its own share of stresses. I’m a perfectionist and very picky by nature, so I can easily spend hours picking the right designs, the right colors, or tweaking things. And because graphic design always seems so urgent, and results are so instantaneous, it easily becomes a black hole of time suction. Sometimes I feel that in order to truly accomplish anything of value graphically, I must have at least 2-5 hours of unbroken time, and therefore I’ve stayed up for hours past my bedtime (also not “set in stone”) in order to accomplish a task and feel the rush of satisfaction at seeing the results of my effort.
  2. “This Korean Life” graphic design for our wedding is important to me and is the first priority as far as graphic design goes. However, I am pretty ambitious. I want to do the wedding invitations, a new magazine for winter (and one for spring after the honeymoon), and a newspaper/letter about the honeymoon, and a poster. On top of that there is another poster for church I need to make. Then I need to write the news articles to be used in the publications as well.
  3. Family and friends should probably have a larger place in my life, but with busy-ness, they often take a middle seat (still ahead of diet and exercise). I am horrible at emailing or Skyping my parents in America. I don’t really have any friends in Jeonju any more that I hang out with on a regular basis, most of them moved away, or are also busy. My fiance’s family and friends take priority to my own. As I put her in the front seat of my life (for perfectly understandable reasons), that means that I spend most of my time with her, so when she wants to meet her friends or family, she asks me to come along. I can’t do that so much to her because my family doesn’t live in Korea, and sometimes I enjoy just spending time with my guy friends. We do have plenty of couple friends together who we love to share time with, so my life is not completely friendless, but these reasons are why “family and friends” don’t enjoy a bigger priority in my life: I don’t really have a reason or time to make them such, unfortunately.
  4. Blogging is great for me. I have two: a computer/Korea blog and a Christian blog. However, with my perpetual busy-ness, it’s been months since I posted anything. Nevertheless, blogging helps me out a lot because I can collect my thoughts, ponder them, and write – in so doing also improve my English (which is my livelihood). Also, my Christian blog allows me to more fully meditate on God’s Word and integrate it into my life. Have you ever been really hungry and then had an incredibly satisfying meal? That’s how I feel after writing my Christian blog.
  5. Reading is also wonderful in that I get to gather new information and ideas and put those to good use. It also helps my English, and gives me new creative ways to write in my blogs.
  6. Improving my English is not something I often think about as I am an English teacher and feel that I have great English already. However, gaining a 120-hour TEFL certificate will improve my English, hireability (for new jobs), and pay grade. But, with busy-ness, my currently “in progress” TEFL has taken a back seat.
  7. I keep feeling like I want to do grad school online (or somehow else). I think that will give me more options in the future and when I’m young is the best time to do it (getting married, having a family, having a baby, and all those things don’t make like any simpler, just more complicated).
  8. Studying Korean should be more of a priority for me as my fiance and her friends (most), and her family are all Korean. However, I feel that I progress so slowly when I study that it is easy for my to give up. I have many books that I want to study, I just feel that I have no time in which to do it, and the effort involved in such study could be considerable.
  9. I have missed playing music as well. I used to play guitar at home, and was getting quite good (even writing my own songs) but I’ve not played for months because I’ve been so busy. I would love to pick it up again and play worship music. I also have a trumpet and played for 12 years in America. I’d love to play. I’m just thankful that I can play percussion at church, because it lets me play music and gives me joy.
  10. House cleaning is difficult, boring, and overwhelming, not to mention time-consuming.
  11. I need to pack up my stuff to move into Sarah’s house after our wedding, and I need to get rid of the things (sell) that we don’t want anymore.
  12. I should really burn some DVDs of the important data on my computer and Hard Drives. My computer has crashed two times over the past year and I’ve lost considerable amounts of data that I wished I hadn’t lost. Fortunately, I had backups of most of it on other drives, or in my email, but those experiences taught me how temporary it all is, and if I have something important to save for later, I’d better do it before a crash happens.
  13. I also need to transfer pictures from our old phones and ship those back to the company.
  14. I need to plan for my parents trip to Korea and our time in Seoul after our wedding. I love planning, but it is time-consuming.
  15. Running is fun for me as well, but I’ve not done it in a while. I live 3 miles from my school, so running is possible, however, I always sweat when I run, so it’s not nice to arrive at work sweaty. I could run home (and have) but that means taking a taxi to work, and carrying a bag on the way home.
  16. Need to fix my printer so that I can print my designs and study papers from home, instead of wait until work to do it.

Actually, those last ones ran more into a to-do list rather than a list of priorities, but that gives you an idea of how I think. Actually, much of this could be accomplished with just a little pre-planning and preparation. Much of the reason that I don’t do my exercise on a daily basis is that I like to loop it together, and if I’m not prepared for it from the morning, then I don’t feel like I can do it. If I could just prepare my whole day in advance, so that upon waking, everything was instant, habit, routine, rolling from one thing to the next…If I didn’t have to think about everything I had to do in advance, if it just came naturally, trained, like muscle-memory, then I think that all of these things could be accomplished in a reasonable manner.

Now, thinking back to the airplane analogy I used with God and my fiance, I plan to sketch out on an airplane floor-plan my current priorities, and where I’d like my priorities to be. I think part of my problem with task management in the past has been that I have concentrated more on the time itself rather than my priorities. When I focus on time itself, it is easy to get overwhelmed, and think that I just plain don’t have enough of it. However, if I can teach myself to think of time in terms of my priorities and use the time to match and meet my true priorities in the proper order, then I think I’ll have truly learned and accomplished something worthwhile. If I can now, before I get married and start a family, teach myself to think not of time first, but of priorities first, then I think my marriage and family life will be much better.

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