Why do we still prioritize like 5-year olds?

Posted on March 23, 2011 by

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Why do we still prioritize like 5-year olds?

I have found prioritizing a challenge for as long as I can remember. At around five years old, my parents decided to buy me the play baking set I had been asking for. Once we arrived at the store, the clerk advised that a small set was available, and that the large one would be delivered the following day.

My Daddy asked the child me “Michelle, do you want the small baking set today, or do you want the big one tomorrow”.

“I want that one today, TODAY” was my response.

I couldn’t see the benefit in waiting just 24 hours for a better, larger set. My priority was having any baking set, as long as I had it that same day.

Of course, I was a young child, every decision was based on the nafs, since my intellect was not developed yet. However, twenty something years on, my circumstances have changed, and my prioritizing challenges have changed, but have the underlying issues changed at all?

I was discussing some tasks a while ago with a co-worker and I began to enquire into why they were not fulfilling certain tasks that I had set. After some discussion, they stated that the tasks I had set should not be priorities, and I felt confused, because I could not see why they did not find the same things important that I did.

We debated this same topic a few times, and I eventually realised that they were right, and had been all along. They showed me how to prioritise properly by leading by example. After some serious reflection, I had to face the fact that my way of prioritizing had generally been based on:

  • what I enjoyed doing most
  • What I already knew how to do, or could work out fairly easily myself
  • What I gained most personal satisfaction from getting done

Now I see that it should be based on:

  • Sound judgement of immediate needs and longer term goals
  • Available resources including time and people

So, even when I had thought that I was effectively prioritizing, really I was putting my immediate and personal desires (nafs) first in one way or another. I’ve since wondered how many other times I’ve allowed my own nafs to taint an otherwise very positive, beneficial action. If I could see I think I’d be scared. Thinking of myself, my family and other people I have worked with, I have to say that I have found men to be better natural prioritizers than women (sorry girls, but it’s true). Could this make men more suited to the role of head of the household, and other leadership roles? Very possibly. If I made all the decisions, our car would be pink, for example.

The example above is about work, and I couldn’t help but consider how this relate to ones spiritual journey. It’s a burden on the heart to think about, as any genuine self-analysis is. I was sat in a group with a scholar not long ago, who was discussing prioritizing for Seekers of knowledge. He mentioned avoiding focusing on those things that we enjoyed, to the neglect of other things that are in reality, more important. I also remember another scholar saying that he would focus on those things that were in their “5-year plan”. If something wasn’t in the plan, as tempting as it may seem, it wasn’t pursued.

I remember thinking at the time how strong and focused a person must be to be able to turn down certain offers that weren’t in their plan, even when those offers in themselves were great. This reminded me of another important concept that I am learning in my spiritual journey, being that of all the infinite possibilities that are permissible, not all are necessarily beneficial for the Muslim, and of them, there are more praiseworthy actions and less praiseworthy. Ultimately, one must submit to the reality that we do not really know what is good for us and what is not, and that we must turn to God for that guidance. Our own whims and desires are not usually the best source of guidance, even if we like to consider them so.

Proper prioritization also prevents one from falling into the trap of being hasty, which can be dangerous ground. It’s taken me many years to realise and implement such truths, and there still exists my 5-year old self within me, screaming “today TODAY” every now and then. There are people around me who help to tame her, and provided we can take other’s genuine advice, whilst relying on God and no created being, we might just do okay, God willing.

Interesting link:
Listen to an interview on productivity conducted by Productive Muslim, with Sh. Faraz Rabbani, founder and educational director of SeekersGuidance.

Michelle Harmer is a British convert, who currently resides in Toronto, Canada. She serves as the education    manager for SeekersGuidance and runs Sister has Style.

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