Riding with the Divas

One of the things that has received lots of press coverage recently is the debate about whether women can achieve work-life balance. You can read of few of the many articles here, here, here and here. For a number of reasons I have come to think about this as well. I must tell you though, that my consideration of work-life balance came to the forefront of my thinking in a most circuitous route.


In a completely different context, I lamented to a church group, the fact that I missed the type of service I used to perform “in the old days.” It seemed to me that somehow a big gap developed between the things I cared about, and interacted with on a policy level, and the day to day work on the ground. Let me be clearer. As a junior faculty member, I used to work every other week at CEO, an assistance organization run by a collective of churches. There, I would bag groceries, and restock the shelves. It was tremendously rewarding to be in the back room, anonymously working away. Similarly, as the Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center was being created there were days of set up for events and photocopying. The rowdiest volunteering I did, though it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be that way, was with my friend Nettie working the Habitat for Humanity booth at Christmas time, in the mall. We always took a boom box (that tells you how long ago it was) loaded with soulful carols and sang, as we solicited donations and encouraged folks to buy “the gifts that keep giving” from our booth. We were invited back each year to work the booth because of our “fundraising prowess.” [OK, so about now gentle reader, you’re asking yourself, “Where the heck is this going?” Just hang with me a bit longer and it will come together.]


The point is, more recently, my service had come to feel formal and distant; giving speeches, donating money, serving on boards, being recognized. By the way, a big part of this discomfort was feeling as though the social distance  between me and groups folks I care about had increased. How much of it is ego driven, and how much is making a real difference in the lives of people? Just about this time (and this is how God works) Pastor posted on the topic of “The Struggle Against Poverty as an Object of Consumption.”

So these are the things I’d been thinking about while also asking, “How can one know what her best/greatest/most valuable  contribution is?” In the meantime, through conversations in the church group I mentioned-actually we’re called a huddle– my Eureka moment occurred. The problem was not in the ways I found to serve, the problem was a general the lack of balance. It wasn’t only the how of serving, but also the who of it. At no time in my ruminations had I intentionally factored in the time for, and importance of friends and family or even my own health and downtime.


Family Fun

Over time, and with more sharing and reflection, I’ve come to the realization that the issue is deeper than balance, it is integration. Coincidentally, I came across a helpful piece in Forbes by Kathy Caprino entitled, 10 Commitments of People Achieving Successful Work-Life Integration. I commend it to you, if you have been working through these issues. I especially like the 10 commitments she suggest we make to ourselves. They really framed the issues well for me.

On the Fayetteville Square with Tim Snively

On the Fayetteville Square with Tim Snively

Since working towards better integration I’ve spent more time with my nephews, volunteered to register voters on the Fayetteville square, helped serve and clean up after a community meal sponsored by our church,  and met friends for a manicure and pedicure, and to share a bottle of bubbly. I have also been a lot more focused during the time I spend with Mom, truly listening and being responsive to her, even when I’m not sure what the topic is. I’m working to be more intentionally present during our visits. I realize this is a journey of many steps, but I’m grateful for wise counsel and the time to be reflective about all this. The journey is for certain, marathon and not a sprint, but at least if feels as though I am making progress.

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Quiet Family Time