“Action expresses priorities.”
– Mohandas Gandhi

I started spending time with someone who I often have thought-provoking conversations with – the kind of discussions that force you to really understand exactly why you believe what you do. While we have generically discussed many of the topics that you’re supposed to avoid while getting to know someone (religion, the concept of marriage and fidelity, kids and families), one of our recent conversations struck a chord with me – while it was initially about relationships, it brought to light ideas about priorities in life.

My stance was that while it is important to have your own set of priorities and to respect the other person’s priorities, there is a distinct difference between putting someone second as opposed to fifth or eighth. Here goes nothing – each and every minute of our lives is a competition for what’s most important. Hence, prioritizing is something we do 24-7, whether we acknowledge it as such or not.

You know that (for most people), you are going to work five days a week. For most of us, that schedule isn’t clearly defined as 9-6, Monday through Friday. We’re going to find ourselves at our computers certain late nights, on our BlackBerries Sunday mornings and on conference calls with other countries on holidays. Many of us travel for work and sometimes don’t know what that schedule is until a day before. Some people don’t work the traditional weekday/day schedule – my ex was a police officer who worked 12-hour night shifts. Eventually, I adjusted to random phone calls at 3 a.m. when his night was slow and that first night he was off when he was barely awake.

Aside from work, we try to balance a litany of responsibilities and activities in a week’s worth of time. Whether it is time with our family, going to the gym, catching up with a friend for drinks or enjoying downtime with a book or the DVR, it never seems like there are truly 168 hours in a week. So where does dating, and eventually, being married (and even more eventually, having a family) fit into all of this?

It all comes down to priorities.

In the midst of this conversation, he posed an interesting question – is it selfish to put your job first?

At the time, I responded with what I said earlier. Everyone has a responsibility to his/her career, especially at a time like this when we are all grateful to be employed. The hope is that also many of us are doing work that we find rewarding (whether for financial or other reasons). I felt that beyond that, if you really want to be with someone, you (consciously or subconsciously) shift your remaining priorities. Once again, there is a difference between knowing that you’re on the higher end of someone’s list, rather than the lower end.

I started thinking about this conversation again this morning – do New Yorkers put too much emphasis on careers? Are we so embedded in the workaholic/competitive/24-7 mindset that we forgot that work shouldn’t always come first?

I still have yet to come up with an answer that I am 100% sure about. Much like everything else, it seems to be shades of gray. Can you have a functional relationship/marriage/family if you are someone who always puts work first, or do priorities have to change as your life evolves?