Turning Off Some Burners :: Choosing My Priorities

Many years ago, I read “Laugh, Kookabura” by one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris. Of course, I found many things about that particular essay to be funny, but one portion of it has stuck with me all this time and has only recently become relevant in my life.

prioritiesIn the story, David meets a woman named Pat who asks him to picture a four-burner stove. She tells him, “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” She then goes on to tell him that you can only be successful if you turn off one of the burners, but to be really successful you have to turn off two burners. 

It’s been eight years since Sedaris published this, and I probably read it the year it was released – fresh out of college and kid free, unable to really and truly relate to this analogy. Today, however, I cannot stop thinking about it. 

As a mom, I feel like everything in my life right now is a juggling act – or let’s continue this stove metaphor. On my “burners” are my family, work/school, housework, my health, and my friends (I realize this is five … what can I say? I’m an overachieving chef!). Lately, I’ve felt behind in everything, which is just overwhelming. I want to spend quality time with my children before they go to bed, yet those three hours between the time I pick them up and the time they go to bed never seem like enough especially when the night time chores – cooking dinner, cleaning up, and getting everything ready for the next day – always seem to be such a pressing need. The stack of papers on my desk that need to be graded is endless, and often those papers take a “field trip” home with me only to be at the top of my priority list the following morning. On top of all this, I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time my husband and I went out on a date. 

So I’ve reflected on this stove analogy. While I cannot “turn off the burners” forever, I can put some things on simmer and focus on what’s really important. When I’m at work, the only burner that I will allow to be on is work. I will be efficient because I do not want to stay late, nor do I want to take work home with me. This, of course, will allow my “work” burner to be completely off when I’m at home and will allow me to focus on other, more important things. When I am at home, I have a choice – what’s important? The housework or my precious children? Spending quality time with my kids is ALWAYS going to win out over cleaning the toilet or cooking a four-course meal at the end of a long day (especially considering the mess that goes with that!). I’d much rather play with them at the park and eat sandwiches for dinner than stress about dinner and go to bed feeling like we didn’t spend any good quality time together at all that day.

For me, this means that I’m going to have to ignore the laundry that’s waiting to be folded or any other number of chores that aren’t being accomplished in the timely manner that I would like them to be. When my husband takes the kids out for a walk some evenings, that’s a good time for me to be busy and worry about those chores. But otherwise, I’m not worried about that burner. 

I have to say that I’m really grateful that this analogy randomly popped back into my head after all this time because it has encouraged me to be more deliberate in how I am spending my time. I’ve left school at a reasonable time every day since and made it a point to do something with my kids – whether it is playing at the park or playing with sidewalk chalk. Just knowing that I’m doing this deliberately has also been so relaxing because the time we are spending together is purposeful. When I look back on this time, these are things I want to remember. 

As I am looking into the future, my goal is to continue to be deliberate in what burners I am allowing to be on at one time.  My focus must be on those things that are the most important in life. I’m turning off some burners. 

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