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Priorities: You Should Be At The Top Of Your List

True Stories: (Note: Names have been changed.)

Allison from California announced, “I haven’t had a vacation in nine years.” Barbara (43 years old) from Texas responded, “I haven’t had a real vacation ever.”

Cindy from Illinois shared that she has not seen her best friend in three years because of work commitments.

Debbie from New Jersey paid for my workshop and for the night’s stay at the hotel even though it was a legitimate training expense that was reimbursable. After the workshop, Debbie decided to tell her manager about the workshop and asked for reimbursement. He didn’t hesitate and said “yes.” He also asked that the next time she would like to take a workshop, he preferred to be asked ahead of time.

Ellen from London commented that she hadn’t had a physical check-up in over two years.

Why? What exactly is stopping us from taking a vacation, enjoying our friends, asking our managers to support our professional development, and taking care of our health? After all, it’s our choice. Isn’t it?

Of course, what these stories have in common is an age-old elephant in the room. In a profession that is over 95 percent female, women rarely put themselves at the top of their priority lists. We permit fear to stop us from doing and saying what we know is right. In our non-stop virtual world on steroids, with pressures coming at us from all directions, it is important to take a fresh look at how we are using our time.

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wrote a ground-breaking new book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. In her recent book, she reports that more women than ever before are in the work force.
We are a new generation and we need a new approach,” writer Sandberg.

That approach includes encouraging women to “lean in” to discussions about issues that matter to us. It includes being respected and supported for making our needs, both at work and at home, a priority. The book is making serious waves—and serious sense—because Sandberg is identifying the ways in which the working world is shifting for women, and also for men.
On a recent flight from Dallas, I heard the announcement that I’ve heard so many other times. “In case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first and then assist the person next to you.” I realized that this message applies to life and certainly not only to emergencies. The fact is that we can best help others when we are at our full physical and emotional health, strength, and effectiveness.

The answer to this dilemma has much to do with the way women are socialized from the time we are young. We are trained and supported to be selfless caregivers and nurturers. We are not encouraged to feel entitled to ask for what we need. As we get older, we are uncomfortable breaking the old familiar patterns even as we defer happiness again and again. We choose to put ourselves low on our To-Do Lists even if no one is telling us to do it.

I can relate to this all too well. For too many years, I deferred vacations and time with my family and friends. I allowed medical appointments to become a low priority until I developed double pneumonia. Life has a way of stopping you and teaching important lessons. I also pushed away my annual physical, dental exams, and even my friends. And how about my guitar that is collecting dust in the corner of my office?

I can remember coming up with very rational and reasonable sounding excuses for all of these behaviors. And then one day I woke up and I was 45 years old. I felt shocked by how fast the past 10 years had flown. Shouldn’t I only be 35? Seriously. How about you?

If any of this is resonating with you, I strongly suggest making a new list called “Me.” Make a list of all the goals you have that are going to be made a priority. Talk to your spouse, partner, family, friends, and even your manager and co-workers about your list and they may just surprise you with their full support and encouragement. They will root you on to go for it, whatever “it” is. They may even have additional helpful ideas for you.


What We Defer                                          What We Tell Ourselves                         The Reality


I’ll wait till a better time.”

There is no better time. The world and your office will still be there when we get back. Humans, like computers, need to be recharged.

Overdue difficult conversation with manager or co-worker

I hate confrontation. I’ll just be quiet and maybe the problem will go away or maybe I’ll quit.”

Suffering in silence is not the answer. The tension and stress is not worth it. Say, “Can we talk?”

Doctors’ Appointments

“I’ll do it next week. It’s too busy in the office. It’s too hard to get an appointment.”

It won’t happen without a plan. Start with the most important appointments first. It’s not about if, it’s about when.

Professional Development Classes and Conferences

“I don’t have time. I’m afraid to ask my manager. I don’t want to appear like I don’t know something.”

To stay valuable and marketable in today’s workplace, training classes in both soft and hard skills are a necessity, not a luxury. Submit a reasonable proposal to your manager and have the conversation.

Time with Family and Friends

“I’ll get to it soon.”

Time is flying. Make yourself a priority.


“Next week.”

Start small. The older we get, the less we need to eat to maintain the same weight!


Taking the risk to let other people in on your goals is very important. It makes them more real simply by discussing them with others.

A career coach shared this idea to post a large laminated year-at-a-glance calendar on your wall at home. Fill in the big events of your life not only for you to see, but for everyone to see. Involving the people of your life with your plans is a great strategy to gain their enthusiastic support.

Putting yourself at the top of your list will feel uncomfortable – at first. Lean in and be an active participant in your 24/7. Investing time, money, energy, and focus on your own personal and professional goals is an important use of your resources. You are worth it. It’s time to put your mask on first.

(Best-selling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant, A Celebrity Assistant’s Secrets To Working With Any High-powered Employer, Bonnie Low-Kramen worked for 25 years as the Personal Assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis. A long-time IAAP member, her passion is about improving the American workplace through the training of assistants. Web: www.bonnielowkramen.com Twitter: @BonnieLowKramen)