They say to stick to what’s important. In writing a plot, and in the plot of life.
But what happens when the “important things” in life are always changing? In middle school, the important thing was to have a lot of friends (and not be the last one to have a date to the dance). In high school, there were similar goals, alongside of being in tons of clubs and extracurricular activities in order to create a robust college application. Then college arrived, where priorities changed on a daily basis (do I want to go to this party, or do I want to finish this paper? Why don’t I do both at the same time?) After that came the real world where finding a job, not to mention one in your field that actually fulfills your wildest fantasies and satiates your passion, is paramount.
So, how do you focus on what’s important when the line blurs everyday? When our values change, and we have a hard time discerning permanence from instant gratification? I can assure you that the National Honor Society elections were incredibly critical for me about 5 years ago, but now I can assure you that my status as the president of the National Honor Society has never come up in conversation. (Yes, the president for NHS now runs a cheeky blog that complains and preaches a lot to strangers on the Internet.)
Truthfully, you simply need to accept the transient nature of goals and ideals. They are going to change as you reach them, or you are going to modify them to better fit your own needs. Once you recognize an accomplishment as signifying the very trophy you may have received for it (that is, a symbol of your hard work that is placed on a dusty shelf and revisited seldom), you will begin to free yourself up for the next one. Goals are meant to be reached and set aside so that new ones can crop up in their place.
What’s important in your life should never be considered a constant or a staple. What’s important is only important for a short amount of time. So, if you worry that your friends, family, or religion is not playing as big of a part in your life than it once did, it means that you are growing to fit new ideas. You need to wear your values as a second skin, that sloughs off cells and regrows new ones to fit the growing dimensions of you. Without doing that, you limit yourself tremendously.
So, go naked in your new skin. Be proud of what you value, but do not let it control or define you. What you believe in is as impermanent as your own short life. Don’t be fooled into thinking that what’s important is truly, after all, always important.