Media CenterCarolyn Woo's CNS Column: 'Balance Is Not a Clock Issue'

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
January 2013

With the New Year come the inevitable New Year’s resolutions.  Popular among these is the resolve to achieve more balance in one's life: balance in terms of time spent at work versus time for family, friends, exercise, leisure, community, prayer -- or simply time to finish thoughts and sentences. Balance is often approached as a problem of dividing limited resources of time and energy between competing goods, a classical zero-sum exercise. Numerous articles have been written proffering useful tactics along these lines:  setting priorities, jettisoning time-sinkers, carving inviolate spaces on calendars for vacations, getting help from spouses, outsourcing if you can afford to, and taking advantage of flex policies at work.

Over the decades, I have tried most of these. Some do work well, such as setting definite dates for family vacations, marking weekends for, and making commitments with, people you love, and avoiding emails an hour before going to bed.  But the steady rhythm and the clear demarcation between work and life eventually lose out to the onslaught of a few too many obligations (that seem manageable when one accepted them); unexpected problems (that announce themselves with no regard to the fact one has made no allowance for them); an energy-sapping cold that lasts too long; business trips that wreak havoc with exercise routines and good eating habits. Some days, the feeling I have first thing in the morning is that I have already fallen behind.

As I get older, having gone through many of these undulating cycles of having and losing balance, I have come believe that balance has to be more than a constant pitched battle between work and life or a begrudging capitulation of leisure to labor.  I have come to realize that work is life: it is not a time period or experiences bracketed from life. There is so much of me which has grown through work.  It is the place where I put my values to the test: Was I fair? Did I use my power appropriately? Did I help someone become better? Was I worthy of the trust put in me?  Did I pause to let grace have a chance? Work, after all, is not the curse humans are asked to bear.  Rather, it is God's invitation to us to build on His creation, to bring about the His bounty here and now!

Balance to me now, is first and foremost, a MINDSET.  It is a mindset of gratitude that wishes to return blessings in some small way; a mindset that seeks to love well and not look upon others as means, obstacles or rivals; a mindset that calls upon grace in everything we do and every encounter we have.  Ultimately, it is a mindset that recognizes God in our midst and the accompanying sacredness in all that we do when we acknowledges His presence.

From this mindset flows our actions: how we treat those in and out of the workplace, whether we strive to win or to contribute, whether we are driven by the fear of losing out or the desire to stretch and use our gifts; the degree to which we seek only to hold onto power and position or instead use these to fulfill the responsibilities we have accepted, the focus we place on own agenda or on others' welfare.  Balance is not a clock issue, it is a heart issue. It is not just a marking of spaces on the calendar, but cultivating our mindfulness for each other, for our family, for ourselves and for God.  Its fruits are recognizable in right relations with others, in peace and a sense of joy.  In God, we will find our balance.

Dr. Woo is president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.

Read Dr. Woo's previous columns.