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Yes, responsibilities. And, relationships.
Why spending time with people may be the most important item on our list of responsibilities.
“I have too many responsibilities to spend time with my friends right now.”
Have you ever felt this way before? I have, too. Here’s the tricky part: sometimes, it’s easy for me to use it as an excuse to not invest in the people in my life. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning in the last year, and I’ve still got a long way to go.
Ten months ago, I found those words in my internal dialogue more often than not. I listened to it. I would look at my to-do list, briefly think about my friends, and sit down with the to-do list. I felt this pressure to get all my responsibilities done, and while I usually did, I failed to realize how my relationships were a responsibility, too. In my pursuit getting important things done, I missed perhaps the most important thing of all: people.
This summer, a mentor and I sat down for ice cream together and I will never forget the advice she gave me. As I stressed out about my list of responsibilities and how I felt like I didn’t have enough time in the day to do everything, let alone spend more spontaneous time with people, she simply remarked I could add spending time with people to my list. As someone who finds perhaps too much joy and fulfillment in making and checking things off of lists, this resonated with me. I started doing it, too, and let me tell you, it’s made a difference.
Where do you find yourself spending your time? Do you often lean towards checking things off the lists, or do you procrastinate on your responsibilities by spending time with people? Either can become a weakness. I tend towards worrying about the responsibilities first and relationships second, but leaning too heavily in the other direction can be counterproductive; if we never complete our responsibilities, we’re likely letting down some relationships. The key, as usual, is found in the balance. Our relationships are a responsibility, but our responsibilities can strengthen our relationships.
Recently I found myself visiting a group of friends in New Mexico and Texas. I spent an entire week simply living life with them, going to the gym, eating dinner, playing card games, and getting coffee together. One afternoon, I carved out a few hours to sit down in a coffeeshop and I found myself journaling about this very idea of relationships and responsibilities. As I wrote about how meaningful the week had been, it hit me how this was an illustration of the idea that relationships can be a responsibility, in the best way. Spending time with people worth investing in, and who invest in us, is productive. It’s one of the best ways to show love to people, it often gives us a plethora of worthwhile conversations which may give us clarity in our own lives, and it is often how our souls are lifted and we find more joy when it’s time to tackle that to-do list. My friends knew this. It was such a meaningful week largely because I finally realized the balance of people and productivity is absolutely critical.
Do you tend to worry about productivity too much and forget relationships can be productive, too? Maybe it’s time to add some relationship productivity to your to-do list: get coffee with a friend, call a mentor, or text someone when you think of them. Perhaps you lean the other direction and have a hard time saying no to spending time with people when you know you have work to do. Simply be open with your friends about how you have other people relying on you to complete those other tasks; your sincerity will serve you well.
I’ve spent too much of my life pursuing the “most productive person” accolade when all along I should have been focused on making others’ lives more meaningful through both the relationships I foster and the responsibilities I complete. How will you choose to spend your time? I hope it’s in both building meaningful relationships and completing meaningful responsibilities.