Change the Way you View your Priorities

“He didn’t even have the courtesy to reply,” I muttered, “it’s not as if my fee is astronomical; what I quoted is a paltry sum compared to the brand new Mercedes he’s buying for his wife.”

I try to schedule my calendar to avoid free days. If I set aside time to wait for a potential client to start an engagement, I will be denying existing clients of my availability. Days spent waiting are days wasted.

My priority is to have as few of such days as possible. My prospect’s priority, however, seemed to be getting his wife her new luxury sedan; never mind the fact that his company’s operations desperately need a radical overhaul.

When I was in secondary one, there was once when we had to go out and raise funds on “Flag Day.” Typically held on Saturdays, Flag Days are days when students are each given a metal tin to collect donations from members of the public. Those who have donated would be given a little “flag” – basically a tiny piece of paper the size of a postage-stamp, and a pin. Donors are supposed to pin that little piece of paper on their clothing to signal to other collectors that they have already donated and are not to be asked again. (These days, little stickers are issued instead of papers and pins.)

My priority on Flag Day was to collect as much donation as I possibly could. The priority for most members of the public appeared to be to steer clear from students like us. In fact, the common reaction, when people saw us walking around with a tin was to walk away; they sure gave us a wide berth.

After a long period of unemployment, a friend finally landed a top job with a multinational corporation. It was a senior position and he did well initially but performance problems, poor judgment and personal indiscretion soon caused him to derail and the company engineered his dismissal. After a year of joblessness he became very bitter and angry and started to blame everyone but himself for his predicament. I advised him to seek career counseling but for reasons best known to himself, he refused to make such an attempt. Instead he still harbors grandiose fantasies about being either a guest lecturer, or corporate honcho at corporations.

My friend’s priority ought to be to look for a job, any job (he has already been evicted by his landlord, banks and credit card companies are threatening him with bankruptcy, etc); instead he would rather wait for (non-existent) clients to approach him and hand him lucrative lecturing contracts or for companies to make him some senior VP, which we all know is never going to happen, given his age, track record and reputation. (Meantime others I know who found themselves unemployed are now happily working; a few even became taxi drivers. The main thing is that they’ve grabbed the bull by the horns and took control of their lives. One ex-managing-director-turned taxi-driver, in his 60’s tells me he’s a much happier man now, plus the income’s not too bad.)

But my other friend would rather whine about how unlucky he is and how everyone – including God – is to be blamed for his plight.

It is often hard to comprehend how others prioritize their lives.

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. After his release, he wandered to the home of a bishop, who served Valjean a meal using his best silver and even gave him a warm bed for the night.

That evening, Valjean stole the bishop’s silver and was soon caught. Brought to the bishop by the gendarmes, he expected the worst, only to hear the bishop say, “I gave them to him. And Jean, you forgot to take the candlesticks.” Valjean’s life was changed due the bishop’s extraordinary kindness.

How many of us would be willing to trade our priceless silver plates and candlesticks for the joy of seeing a broken life restored?

The gendarmes’ priority was to put Valjean back to prison. The bishop’s priority was to touch a life.

The point here is about putting priority on things that really matter.

Shouldn’t my potential client concentrate on salvaging his business and re-learning the principles of stewardship? It would cost him much less than a new Mercedes! A company, well managed, would make him a real mensch, a decent and responsible businessman, a particularly good man of integrity and honor and a shining beacon for the inspiration of others instead of appearing Alzheimery, pusillanimous, rude and discourteous – in short, just another unprofessional Ah Beng.  Shouldn’t members of the public dispense with some spare change that can help the less fortunate? Shouldn’t the focus of my friend who lost his job be on being realistic and getting employed again? Surely he would find life a whole lot more meaningful if he will get his act together and become gainfully employed and fully engaged once more?

Here are some questions I often ask of senior executives I coach:

Are you willing to change the way you view your priorities?

Are you able to differentiate between your wants and your needs?

Are able to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Are you able to distinguish between reality and fantasy?

Are you willing to push yourself to overcome your fears and face your fears head-on?

Are you willing to be a conqueror or would you rather wallow in the victim’s comfort zone? (Steaks get cooked in their own juice!)

Are you a whiner or a winner?

Unfortunately, some things can’t be taught; they can only be learned.

And some people just have to learn the hard way.