“Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”- Mark Twain
In an effort to find one specific Twain quote, which I have yet to find, I came across this one above. This sentence has so much in it, so much to unpack and discuss. People could spend sessions and sessions in therapy analyzing this quote and what it means in their lives. There’s also a great deal of nuance, because priority and option are words with subjective meaning. The application of those words looks different from person to person. For example, some might say that I don’t consider my family a priority, because I’ll choose writing over cleaning most of the time. Another might say that family is my priority, because I write instead of cleaning. Writing gives me hope that cleaning does not, and hope helps me live and be available to my family. Cleaning just gives us all a cleaner house, but it doesn’t give my husband his wife or my kids their mom. On the other hand, a dear friend of mine does clean, because a clean house gives her the emotional space to be a wife and mom. Our priorities look very different on the outside, but they come from the same place. She and I know what we need to survive a day.
I’ve struggled with giving other people priority in my life they shouldn’t have, both professionally and personally. In that effort to please, I’ve let boundaries move, worked hours beyond my pay, agreed to tasks that weren’t in my job description, looked the other way when I’ve been verbally assaulted, and didn’t report inappropriate behavior to human resources when I really should have. I’ve made many jobs a priority in my life, when the supervisors above me saw me as an option. Away from paychecks, I’ve apologized for the actions of others, blamed myself for abuse I received, was emotionally vulnerable with those who repeatedly emptied my bucket and didn’t refill it, and didn’t leave relationships when they became toxic. I’ve made people a priority in my life, when they saw me, my needs, my wants, my life as an option.
A harsher truth that Twain evoked is the discernment that not only have I allowed others to have my attention while not giving me theirs, I’ve treated myself as an option too. I do know how to survive a day, but I don’t know how to thrive. When you’re constantly trying to please everyone else, make sure no one is upset with you, no one has reason to doubt you or be disappointed, there isn’t much room to please yourself. I am moving towards making myself less of an option and more of a priority. I have left education for the time being, left the church that raised me and broke me, and began writing, despite knowing that someone, somewhere will be miffed by my words. The openness of knowing there is more of me than I’ve allowed is intimidating. The comprehension that valuing myself as irreplaceable leads to even greater things is exhilarating. If my life so far looks like it does when I’ve seen myself as an option, what will it look like when I see myself as a priority?