Priority vs. Ability

I have been pondering priorities a lot lately. And after a conversation with a good friend over coffee, I have finally made it a priority to sit down and write this piece. Just as a heads up, it may read more like a rambling stream of consciousness rather than a cohesive story, so if that’s not what you’re looking for right now, head on over to my last piece, The Pass.

The topic of priorities has been on my mind for months. Since moving to Denver, I have created a new lifestyle for myself – one that is very different from what I’ve been used to over the last 3 years. Travel and outdoor activity has temporarily taken a back seat to career development and long term goal chasing. I gave up the 25-hour sporadic workweek with fluctuating cash flow for a steady full-time gig that gives me the necessary work experience to get into my current career path. I gave up the flexibility of theoretically endless time off for less freedom and more routine. That is all to say that my priorities have changed.

Sure, I could make all of these things a priority if I wanted to. I suppose I could juggle weekend warrior trips and after work hikes with online classes and an 8-5 job. But I’d rather not.

This all was catalyzed by a very simple question my friend asked me when we met for coffee. The question that triggered the existential quandary leading to this diatribe you are so graciously reading right now?

“Do you ski?”

Yes, I do ski. Well actually I snowboard. But I didn’t buy a pass this year.

“Oh, why not?”

Now, this is where many people, myself included in previous years, would give the generic and blasé answer, I just couldn’t afford it. Passes are so expensive these days!

A valid response for some, sure, but for many people that use this excuse, it’s utter bullshit.

How much were passes selling for back in August or whatever when they were cheapest? 500, 600 bucks? Maybe 1,600 if you buy the Super-Radical-Awesome-Mountain-Shred-Collective Pass that gets you unlimited days in all the Colorado resorts PLUS a few days in Cali and Vermont and New Zealand and Antarctica? Yeah, $1600 is a ton of cash to shell out all at once for an elective hobby you may or may not participate in as much as you expect to, but $1600 isn’t going to bankrupt a lot of people that use this excuse – and I fall into that category. I probably spend way more than $1600 on going out to eat during the year. And I definitely spend more than $500 on Coors Banquet and other libations throughout the year. If I gave either of those up, I could just channel that money toward my ski pass fund and I’d easily be able to budget for it. But I don’t. Why? It’s just not a priority of mine these days.

This is exactly the train of thought that led me to my current response to the question that gets asked on a weekly basis this time of year in Colorado; let’s try this again.

“Oh, you ski? Nice! What pass did you get this year?”

I actually didn’t get one this year. I just didn’t really want to pay money for a pass.

Boom, simple answer! Notice the change in verbiage? I didn’t want to get a pass. I could afford it if I made it a priority, but since it’s not, I chose to forego buying a pass this season. I was completely capable of purchasing a ski pass had I prioritized my spending habits to pay for one instead of spending an absurd amount of money on 211 burritos. But I chose not to, which is completely fine!

This, however, is a very different mind-frame from labeling myself as incapable. Jumping straight to the false claim that I just couldn’t afford it this year is an easy one to make – relatable too! But it implies that I have absolutely no ability to even pay for a ski pass because the prices are just too high. It relinquishes all personal responsibility I have for myself and goes directly to placing the blame on those greedy old business moguls who charge 7 dollars for a cup of coffee, 17 for a burger, and 150 for only six hours of time on the actual slopes.

With the simple change in phrasing, I go from zero sense of personal responsibility and autonomy, to a well-informed and calculated decision not to participate in said activity.

Now extrapolate this concept to other areas of life in which priorities are often misidentified as inabilities:

  1. I can’t eat pizza – it’s not on my diet.
  2. I’m trying not to eat pizza right now because I’m on a diet.

 

  1. I get off work too late to go work out afterwards.
  2. I get out of work so late that I really just don’t feel like working out once I’m home.

 

  1. I can’t quit my job, it has too good of benefits.
  2. The benefits I get at this job are too important for me to leave it right now.

 

  1. I don’t have time for ____.
  2. I’m really busy right now and haven’t been making time for ____.

As someone who made it a priority to travel and spend a lot of time outdoors doing things that I love over the last few years, there’s a series of phrases I get quite often that can be really frustrating to hear.

“Wow, I wish I could travel like that!”

“I wish I had time to go on a trip/hike/camp.”

And the absolute WORST… “You’re so lucky that you get to ____!”

There is a common link in all these phrases that elicits the recoil in my gut and rising of my hackles when I hear them: the lack of autonomy assumed in the way they are presented. Saying you “wish” you could do something absolves you of all personal responsibility to actually achieve that goal. It implies that you are completely incapable and that the goal or activity, whatever it is, is impossible, entirely out of reach. And someone telling me that I am “lucky” to be able to go on that trip or live that lifestyle completely undermines the hard work, planning, and decision process I consciously and electively made in order to make it work.

Alas, we are to the source of my ponderings and the root of my frustration.

Why don’t we try using this type of decision-based phrasing more often? I know that a lot of it is just because it’s colloquial to say, “I don’t have time for…” or “I wish I could…” It’s the conversational thing to respond, I get that. But what if it wasn’t? What if instead of those phrases that excuse us from all personal responsibility and control, we intentionally change our language to reflect the autonomy we are so fortunate* to have as human beings?

“I haven’t made it a priority to travel like that before, but I would really like to one day!”

“I need to make more time to go on a trip/hike/camp.”

“You must have really made it a priority to be able to ____!”

Doesn’t that sound a little cleaner, more deliberate? It acknowledges one’s ability to create the outcome they desire. It places responsibility on your self, not blame on those damn ski-business tycoons.

So no, I did not buy a ski pass because I didn’t want to pay for one. And no, I’m not traveling as much this year because other things are a bit more important to me right now. And yes, I am ABSOLUTELY going to pour myself a massive bowl of Cocoa Puffs and watch Netflix for the next three hours instead of going to the gym because that’s damn well what I feel like doing and what I am CHOOSING to do.

Priorities, man. Get ‘em straight… Or at least start acknowledging their existence.

 

 

*I see you noticed my ironic use of the term “fortunate” after just berating the use of the term “lucky”. Interesting choice, huh? Well, here’s my reasoning, if you care.

I want to acknowledge that there are some privileges that I, and many others, have because it is truly just fortune (or luck). The fact that I am a human in general? Cool, I have a brain that allows conscious and intentional thought! That’s some good fortune right there! The fact that I happened to be born in the US where I can freely write my own thoughts and share them on a social platform? Dope, how lucky am I?! The fact that I have a supportive family and a solid education and live in a relatively economically stable time – those are just a few of many things that make me super fortunate (and also grateful). I understand this contradicts some of what I wrote. I get it. Good for you for catching on to the fallacy. But hey, I’ll save that conversation for another post down the line.

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