How to Let Others Know When Your Priorities Shift

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Doctor Neha: Hello and welcome. Today, we have special guest Shaheen. She’s a brave soul willing to ask her questions so that all of you can learn as she does. Welcome.

Shaheen: Thank you, Neha.

Doctor Neha: So what are you thinking about?

Shaheen: I know I’m not alone in this and so I hope it helps a lot of professional women in the same situation. I have two young children, 3 ½ and 2 years old. I work full time, and I’m very social. I have a number of friends whom I really enjoy and love. My family is nearby, and I have a husband. So my question is about balance. Since getting married and having my kids, which all happened very quickly within the last three to four years, I’m finding some difficulty in striking a balance between work, play, family, and friends. Some friends have reached out to me and said, “Hey, where are you? We don’t see you anymore”—which is nice. It’s nice to be loved and missed.

At the same time, I find myself with no time, like a lot of professional moms. For example, when I talked to you, I talked to you from my car. If I talk to friends, it’s on my way to work or on my way coming home. When I’m home, my time is all with my children. When they go to sleep, I have a little bit of time with my husband or catching up on things. I want to find the time to see friends and talk to friends and with other family, but I’m emotionally spent and physically exhausted.

So my question is how do I communicate with love and compassion that maybe right now I won’t have as much time to spend with friends even though I want to? There are only so many hours in the day and how to not compromise those relationships because, you know me, personal relationships with friends, with family, with everybody are important.

Doctor Neha: That’s a big one. The question really doesn’t have to do with that. The question is, with all of this going on, how are you taking care of you? Everything you told me is all outward, so before we get to the conversation about them, tell me about your own self-care. How are you doing?

Shaheen: Overall I’m generally in a good place. I have everything that I’ve always wanted. I have the career that I want. I have children, which I can’t imagine my life without children. I have a good partner. I have a loving community. I mean I don’t have time to go to the gym anymore, which I like to do. What I have started doing is at day’s end, every night, I try to exercise a little bit after the kids go to sleep because it makes me feel good. It’s something my husband and I can do together, and it was a big part of my life before children. Physical fitness made me feel emotionally stable and grounded and measured. So I’m making the space for that, which again doesn’t give me time to talk on the phone or check in or meet someone for drinks after work.

Doctor Neha: So let’s start with the self-care. Self-care on a physical level is about fitness and how we nourish ourselves, our energy levels, and our sleep. As physicians, we never spent learning about any of those things.

Shaheen: Yeah, we really didn’t know.

Doctor Neha: So that was something I had to learn about after I burned out. As physicians as well, it’s easy for us to push through our own physical symptoms in order to care for others. On top of that, you’re a woman. So by nature, oxytocin and the way we form relationships with hormones running through us to tend and befriend, we take care of others. Right? So we’ve got a lot of things going here for you to be outwardly focused. So before we get to this conversation you need to have with other people, we need to address self-care. And one thing I know that I can hear in the way you’re speaking is your social circle recharges you.

Doctor Neha: So one thing that I want to make sure is that not only do you need self-care on a physical level, but it’s also on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. It sounds like you’re really connected to your work and the meaning of your work. It sounds like you really love and are enjoying your family. That gives you purpose. It sounds like you’re just starting to reconnect to the self-care piece for you. So now what is your ideal outcome? Because sometimes at certain points in our lives, priorities shift in certain arenas. That’s how it is, right? Like when we were studying in med school, we might not have had as much time to travel—and we knew that was for a short period of time in our lives. So right now, what would your ideal situation look like with your friends? How would you want it to be?

Shaheen: I think I would just ask for some grace, nicely and politely. Maybe just point out that right now because my children are so small that they’re going to take up the majority of my free time.

Doctor Neha: What are you afraid of here? Because you’re saying you want to be nice and polite, and you’re being very soft in your voice.

Shaheen: I guess number one is that I’m afraid because I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings because it’s all coming from a good place. It’s nice to be missed and wanted, and it’s nice that people want to spend time with me, so I want that. I don’t want to be hurtful and say, “You’re not my priority right now because that’s not true.” My friends and my family are my priorities. My priority right now…

Doctor Neha: Your family depends on you. You’re right. It is true that your friends aren’t your priority right now. I think what you might be mistaking is the fact that right now your focus and attention needed to go on your family, your children, your own self-care, and your partner, but that doesn’t mean that somehow other people are less important.

Shaheen: Yes, they’re not less important.

Doctor Neha: In fact, you love them and they are important. For this period in time, you have to shift your focus to growing this area of your life that is really important to you. Right? How confident are you that if friends are upset or disappointed when you have the conversation that you can remain open, curious and open to their disappointment? Don’t try to change it; don’t try to fix it. They miss you.

Have you ever been disappointed by somebody having different priorities or not being able to spend time with you? Did you get over it?

Shaheen: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: So don’t try to save them. You don’t need to save them from whatever they feel. You need to trust that they’re strong, they’re whole, they’re capable, and they’re resourceful. And they miss you. How wonderful! And if you have to disappoint them short term so that you can take care of what is your top priority, be open to their experiences. And let them know that when you do have time, you’ll see them. But right now it’s not personal. It’s nothing that anyone did wrong; you don’t have to be delicate and polite. You definitely want to be compassionate and open, but as soon as you find yourself starting to like tiptoe around, trying to be really polite and nice, you’re really trying to control the outcome of somebody else’s reaction instead of just being authentically you.

If it were me and you, I’d say something like, “I wanted to talk to you. We got to hang out so much a few years ago. And I want you to know how special you are to me and how special that time is to me. Now after having a few kids, I really wanted to check in with you. I know we don’t get to see each other as often, and I never said no to you before when you’d call to ask me to grab a drink with you. Part of me feels a little lame because when I’m with you I recharge. And another part of me realizes that this is a precious and special time in my children’s life that I want to be there for. So I want you to know that when you call and you miss me and you ask me to do things, even when I say no, I still get this little hit of love and attention. I’m so glad you think of me. right now, until my kids are in school, though, it’s too much of an energy output to hang out. I need to focus on home and spend a little time rejuvenating myself. When I do have time again, I promise you will be one of my first phone calls. So I want you to know I’m putting us on snooze, but don’t think that it has anything to do with you. It’s literally because I have to shift my focus right now. I’m looking forward to a time when my kids are a little more independent and we get to do this again.” How was that?

Shaheen: I love it. That’s a beautiful spirit.

Doctor Neha: And it doesn’t take a long time. It just clears things up so you don’t feel that weirdness. You name the issue and say it.

Shaheen: Yeah, so the weirdness isn’t there. Some of these friends don’t have kids. So I think it’s kind of hard when I’m not the same situation.

Doctor Neha: What were your takeaways?

Shaheen: The biggest thing is that if sometimes people get disappointed when I speak my truth, it’s OK. As long as they show up with love and compassion things will work out eventually, and maybe an uncomfortable conversation now would lead to a long-term benefit.

Doctor Neha: And the truth is sometimes you outgrow relationship. It’s true that sometimes your life changes and a friend’s life doesn’t change and you grow apart. Honor that and just show up as who you are. Don’t tiptoe. Be the woman you are and becoming. Trust that everybody else can be strong and resourceful. And if you do grow apart, honor the time you’ve spent together and look forward to the new places that you’re creating in your life. Thank you so much for asking your question.

If any of you out there know that you struggle not only to take care of yourself but also to handle all the hats you wear—a good worker, partner, mother, sister, daughter—and you struggle in multiple roles, the first thing is to do an inventory. Start with how you are taking care of yourself and then your top three priorities of where you want to engage and spend your time. Then you want to also look at what inspires you, what gives you energy, and what drains you of energy. As you start to notice the things that give you energy and inspire you, the things that drain you of energy may feel more like obligations. Sometimes you have to do the obligations, but you want to stay aware of how often you are saying yes to the obligations. But when something inspires you and it’s your focus right now, the answer is yes. Thank you, Shaheen for joining us.

Awareness Prescription

Addressing Changing Priorities

  1. What used to be your top three priorities?

  2. Express gratitude to friends or loved ones for their role in your life up to now.

  3. What are your top three priorities right now?

  4. Communicate how your priorities have changed.

  5. Breathe as others may express their disappointment, and be grateful for how much they cherish you.

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