One of the great tragedies in life is that what’s important to you and what’s important to others will never align perfectly. As humans, we’re not great at wrapping our heads around that fact and acting accordingly, no matter how much we accept the truth of it. We think that if something is important to us, naturally it must be important to other people. And we think that if something is important to other people, naturally it must be important to us.

Neither is true. At least, not automatically.

Let’s define our terms a bit here. What does “important” even mean? This trips people up right from the start, because things can’t even be “important.” They only be more or less important than something else. It’s a relative term. Once you grok that, it becomes easier to see why the level of importance something has for you can’t possibly be universal.

For instance, you can (and should!) consider your own emotional state and level of general happiness to be important. Meaning you should prioritize that over a lot of other things! But you can’t prioritize everyone’s happiness, which means no one else can prioritize yours, which means your level of happiness will (and should!) be more important to you than it is to anyone else.

But when you don’t get your head around that, you do silly things like assume your happiness increasing is a reason for anyone else to do something, when of course it isn’t. I see it in job interviews – candidates using the fact that they’d really really love the job as a reason to hire them. Look, you might be happier if I hired you! But I’m not prioritizing your happiness with this hire; I’m prioritizing a whole lot of other things.

What’s important to you isn’t always important to other people. It’s not that they want the opposite or they want to act against it – it’s just that importance is a relative ranking of prioritization, and your happiness is a lower priority for me than a lot of other stuff.

Really, this means you should act differently in at least two ways. One, you should expect other people to act in ways that boost your personal priorities a lot less (trust me, you’ll be a lot less disappointed in life if you do this). And two, you should expect yourself to act on behalf of your priorities a lot more. No one else is going to!

Don’t internalize the priorities of others. Recognize that they have their place and might be perfectly logical from where the other person is sitting, but that doesn’t mean you should act in accordance with those priorities. You should align to them when you’re looking for win/win scenarios, sure. But for your own long term health, success, and happiness – only you know what’s important and can act accordingly.

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