Monday, May 5, 2014

Priorities are like water jugs


Not long ago, I was watching a movie which suited my family of keen bird-watchers. It was 'The Big Year' with Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin. Each year, bird-watchers (or 'birders', as the serious professionals prefer to be called) have a contest to see who can record sightings and photos of most bird species by the end of the year. They embark on trips to the corners of the earth, madly studying almanacs to find out where and when the most rare species may be spotted. Needless to say, there is lots of animosity between the contenders, who all want to win. When you look at the main cast members, I'm sure you can see the scope for comedy. (See the end of this blog post for a funny story of our own.)

Yet there are some serious underlying messages. Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, current holder of the world title and desperately trying to defend it. His wife pleads with him to stay at home and leave the accolades for somebody else, for a change. They've agreed to start a family and she needs him to attend medical appointments at a fertility clinic with her. Although he fully intends to comply, the lure of potential rare sightings proves too great a temptation time and again, and he lets her down repeatedly.

I was thinking the same as many other women probably were; that he clearly got his priorities wrong. But did he? It really depends on what his priorities were. If they included being a loving and devoted family man, then it would be true, his priorities got totally skewed. But if his main aim was to retain his title of the world's best birder, then he definitely got his priorities right!

When you think about it, priorities are demanding things that can twist and tug a person until they don't know whether they are coming or going. Depending on the size of each, your life may be able to hold only a couple. If it's a big, grand one, there may be room for just one. I'd imagine if you want to be a world-renowned champion of anything, that priority will have to take first place. It's not surprising to hear about so many celebrity marriages crashing and burning. I feel for them, because it's easy to see why the demands of their occupations make it seem necessary to siphon quality time with their spouses away.

I'm thinking of priorities as several glass jugs, or beakers, of water lined up in a row. We have a set amount of time and energy per day, which represents the water. For example, I want to be a good mother, wife, homeschooler, writer, and Sunday School teacher, but realise what a balancing act it is. To devote time to one, you have to draw from the others. Stress happens when you are devoting a lot of time and energy to one jug, filling it to a healthy level, then looking up to see that the others have got so low, some are down to just a few drops.

I get worn out quickly. This picture analogy helps me see that sometimes, it is wise not to add any more jugs to the line, because too many empty ones break my enthusiasm and health. As I said, I'm sure famous people at the top of their fields must choose to focus all of their attention on just a single jug. I know great musicians keep practising, even when we wonder why they feel the need, since they are already brilliant. Renowned athletes do the same. I'm sure we've all heard stories of how people like Lleyton Hewitt and Tiger Woods have had that single-minded focus on tennis and golf respectively, since they were pre-schoolers. When you think about it, they've given their everything, their life's blood, for an inclusions in the history books. It's a high price to pay.

Rather than wanting to be great at something and then guilty for not making it, it is probably helpful to stay aware of how the world is set up. Keep the lines of glass jugs in mind. Teenage girls should know that the super-models they aspire to choose to forego the luxury (or priority) of having impulsive, tasty treats. Those who think it would be great to be on the Olympic Swimming team should consider that sleeping in at dawn is no longer a priority.  This all goes to show that instead of simply admiring heroes for the obvious reasons of their talent, we should spare a thought to acknowledge the sacrifices they've made. They've pared their lines of glass jars down to one. Some of the things they've chosen to give up to get their positions of apparent success are many times far too high a price for the rest of us to consider paying.

How many jugs, beakers and bottles do you have lined up. Are you racing about, madly trying to scoop water from one to another, so they're all pretty well even by the end of the day? Or are you single-mindedly pouring a neat, strong jet into one vessel, kicking the others aside until they smash. At present, I'm trying to focus on no more than about four or five, as it's easier to race between them, topping them up, than it is with 20+.


* OK, here's our funny true story about bird watching. My nephew and son were walking together through our adjacent wetlands on their way back from the bus stop. They saw a young, well-dressed bird-watcher, squatting in the long grass with a really beautiful, flash looking camera. Jarrad, who is the keen bird-watcher, commented to Logan, "I wish I had a camera like that." Suddenly, the young bird-watcher looked behind his shoulder, saw nobody but the two of them, then got really edgy. He packed his gear up quick smart and hurried away. It took the boys a moment to realise that the poor fellow might have thought the casual comment was meant in a threatening manner, as if they intended to mug him and steal it. And Logan said to Jarrad, "Maybe he thought we were doing the Big Year." I suppose you can't be too careful in a lonely spot. Our Laratinga wetlands at Mount Barker are the perfect place to do a bit of bird watching.

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