How to Reset and Reorganize Your Priorities

In my constant pursuit of being the best and most fulfilled woman I can be – a modern day Cleopatra –  I am many things to many people. I’m a single mother, sister, daughter, nurse, student, teacher, friend, lover and competitor. Day in and day out, I am defining, fulfilling and refining myself to achieve my goals and take care of my loved ones. It takes energy, focus, discipline, organization, and relentless determination.  Every day, I focus on my priorities and check things off my ever growing to-do list.

And I have a confession to make…. I’m tired.

Most of the time, I can be all versions of myself and take care of business pretty well. I can attend to my kids’ needs and be a great mom, be helpful and involved with my family, be an awesome nurse, study hard in school, stay in touch with friends, be present and attentive to my significant other, and train hard in the gym. Usually, not all of these things need my attention every day and therefore can be balanced accordingly, allowing me a bit of time each day all to myself.

Lately, that has NOT been the case at all. In the last few weeks, everyone and every responsibility needs my immediate attention and total focus. The kids are having trouble in school, my family needs my help, work is busy, one of my classes is very difficult, I haven’t had time for friends or my significant other, and I am skipping gym time; thus making me a less than stellar competitor. Right now, I feel like I am just running around putting out whatever fire is in front of me. It is full-on crisis management time.

So how does a Cleopatra overcome trying times such as these? How can we, as dynamic and powerful women, regain control over our situations? We can refer to a basic psychological principal called the “Hierarchy of Needs” by Abraham Maslow. Stay with me now, it’s not as complicated as you may think. I promise.

The hierarchy basically states that humans function in terms of need and can best be pictured as a pyramid. Once one level of need has been fulfilled, a person can move on to the next. Each level of need leads to a more developed self concept and therefore a more dynamic individual.

The same principal can be applied to life’s needs.

The first level is based on basic human biological needs: food, water, shelter, rest and stress relief. In order to survive in the basic modern sense, these needs are addressed before you can efficiently turn your attention to the others. Makes sense, right?

In my life, I focus on work to make money to afford at least a basic living for myself and my kids.  I cut off other activities and projects to hit the gym for an hour or so and then force myself to go to bed at a decent hour even if there are items left on my to-do list. When I have fulfilled these needs, I have the energy and security to move on to the other responsibilities.

Rule of thumb for level 1: If it doesn’t feed and shelter you or provide for your health, it isn’t a main priority. All the rest must wait.

The second level is based on safety – understanding that any obvious threats to your physical safety immediately become the main priority. This is safety in the sense that you are free from fear and worry and have comfort and peace.  Especially during stressful times, I have to cut out things or people that are a constant threat to my peace, make me worry, or cause me any fear. Although this may not be the easiest or most pleasant decision to make, there is simply no room for those hindrances to linger in my life.

Rule of thumb for level 2: Peace is a need, not a luxury. Remove anything or anyone that produces constant fear, worry or stress in your life.

The third level is the need for attachment. Once the basic human needs are met and our minds are at peace; we can turn our thoughts to bonding with others. With rare exception, most people need to share life and love with meaningful people in their lives.  Although some may judge my circle as  small, I am blessed to have many meaningful relationships in my life.  The love and acceptance I receive comes from my children, mother (who thinks I am the greatest thing since sliced bread), sister/best friend, my handful of very close friends, an amazing man, and those who have passed on with bonds that were never broken.  You may have more or less, but remember – it only takes one person and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Rule of thumb for level 3: Only give your time and attention to people that love and accept you for exactly who you are.

At this point, you are halfway up the pyramid. Once you have fulfilled these levels you can obtain the remaining three and live your most fulfilled life. Sadly, as these tasks become harder for some, they can also form a stopping point.

The fourth level is esteem. As humans, we need to have confidence and respect for ourselves and our abilities, no matter what those abilities are. Every person can do something well.

All my life I wanted to be an amazing mother. Some days I feel like I am, some days I fail miserably at it. So far, they are 15 and 9, have all their original appendages and most of the time say “please and thank you”. I consider that a fair indication that I am doing my best. Ask me again in 20 years and we will see.

I am however, a damn good nurse. I have been in labor and delivery for 7 years and have gained both the confidence and respect of my peers and patients.

Rule of thumb for level 4: Everyone can do something well. Find out what that something is, don’t give up – it’s not as hard as you think and usually leads you to other things you never thought of.

Level five is the level of self-actualization or the need to achieve your full potential and accomplish your goals. Obviously, one must have fulfilled all the prior needs to be able to create and accomplish your goals; one can hardly do so if they lack self-esteem or are cold and starving. Sadly, some people never fulfill this need and suffer from regret and disappointment as a result. Others achieve their goals and what they believe to be their full potential, only to experience a life change – this then causes them to set new goals and redefine themselves, therefore creating a need to fulfill again.

As a dynamic woman, I find myself to be the later so far. As I experience life, grow, and change; so do my goals. The only goal that hasn’t is to be an amazing mother – again I’ll be evaluating that in 20 years or so.

Rule of thumb for level 5: Set your goals for you, accomplish your goals for you, change your goals for you.

And finally, level six; the need of self-transcendence (feel free to picture a Buddist monk, I always do). Quite simply put, this is the need to do things for others, to see the world outside of yourself and attend to someone else’s needs. While you can and probably already do this at prior levels, this level is where someone else’s needs become the priority and focus of your life. After all, your needs are met. You are complete, you are free to shift energy outside of yourself.

Rule of thumb for level 6: Once you have your ducks in a row and have led them to the pond, go back and get more ducks.

As I struggle to balance all of the demands of my life, I occasionally have to stop and look at things in the terms of this six-level pyramid. Starting from the bottom and working my way up – anything that doesn’t meet my needs has to be changed or eliminated from my life. The rest becomes a draining distraction.

I’ve had to restart my climb up the pyramid a few times so far, a task others may find impossible. But I know this pyramid well and I will make it to the top because I AM CLEOPATRA.