Life is tricky. Perhaps a more nuanced version of that is that adult life is tricky. As I have come into adulthood, I have learnt that there is a lot to think about. There are feelings to protect, one’s self to interrogate and relationships to preserve. The part about preserving relationships is a real art. I don’t mean the romantic relationships in the story books; I mean the real ones with friends, colleagues, and family. Remember when friendships were strengthened from a place of convenience (playing together at break time = BFF), when you were incredibly close to your aunts and cousins because you spent school holidays at your grans place, when your relationship with your parents was glorious because all it took to make you happy was a trip to the Rand Easter Show or that gift you’d been begging for? In those days, convenience was the commodity of happiness. It didn’t take much then because if it was all there, it was easy.
Oh but now.
People often say they’re happy with small friendship groups and limited human interactions overall. It’s not because they’re terrible people. It’s because managing people dynamics is difficult. The societal focus on relationships is towards romantic relationships but the truth is that there is a fragile relational element to everyone we factor into our lives. Every friend, every relative and every colleague. This reality isn’t overwhelming for everyone, but it certainly is for some of us.
I’ve struggled to juggle my life’s relationships. I’ve often had to ask myself how to ration my time to make everyone in my life feel valued, which has left me with little time for self. As I sat to journal about a month ago, I realised how much I’d been doing yet I couldn’t articulate most of it. It had been work, volunteering, birthdays, bridal showers and everything in between. So much had happened but my reflections of each of these events were at surface level to say the most. Thinking back at all of it, it was all NICE. Not life-changing, or eye-opening. Nope. It was nice.
NICE is not how my life should be. I don’t want to be the kind of person that is constantly busy and tired as a result yet left with an incredibly average description of my life’s experiences. So in that journaling session, I decided to think more deeply about what I want my life to look like.
I’ve baked over these thoughts for over a month now and the realisation is astounding. I’ve decided to split my life into two distinct sections:
Back when I was in school, the teachers would give us assignments to work on at home or during breaks. With every assignment that came, the teacher would have to disclose if it would be “for marks” or not. “For marks” meant that the particular task would count towards one’s overall term mark and “not-for-marks” meant it was beneficial to complete the task but it was unlikely to be graded. As such, students typically worked diligently to excel at the task that would be graded and relaxed on those that would not. We knew how to prioritise then.
So it follows that this elementary learning has informed my adult approach. I will apply myself fully to the things in my life that I consider to be for marks and unapologetically excuse myself from those that aren’t.
My mental health is for marks. I need to be mentally strong to make it through my days at work and as such I have decided to take the time to read and rest, even if that means missing a birthday party or bridal shower.
My friends and family are for marks. Supporting them through their achievements and shortcomings is important to me so I will be there when I feel I need to, even if that translates negatively into other departments of my life.
God is for marks. I need him to survive so I will prioritise my faith over a deadline because that is what is important to me.
Partners that require more than I’m able to give are not for marks. Family politics with origins that I was never party to are not for marks. Racists & misogynists are not for marks so I refuse to engage.
Splitting my life this way has saved me plenty of tears and time. I haven’t mastered the full art of these principles as I often learn when I have to stop myself midway through an engagement only to find that “it’s not for marks”. But I encourage you to stop and think about this question as you go along.