About a week ago, someone told me the importance of finding balance in life is to compare the stressful event of the moment against eternity. Is it worth it? Will this matter in the years to come? This question may be easy to accept but can be viciously difficult to live as you balance the multitude of roles you play in life. We all manage some complex relationship of roles, whether you are a parent, an entrepreneur, a spouse, a student, a manager. The list is endless, but the goal is balance among these roles.

Heather Woolwine gives voice to this balance, and shares with us the 5x5x5 rule. As a Communication graduate, she eloquently shares her insight of defining priorities each day.

In the months leading up to my graduation last month, several people asked me the following cliché: “Do you see the light at the end of the tunnel?” I’d respond that yes, indeed, I did. There were times, though, when I couldn’t tell if that light was sunlight or an oncoming train in my almost five year journey.

Don’t worry; you read that correctly. Almost FIVE years. What took me so long? I tried to always keep my passion alive and pay attention to work-life-school balance. I may not have always known what was ahead throughout my journey, but I did reach the end of the tunnel and found a way to “do it all” at the same time.

Heather and other Communication graduates at the December Commencement Ceremony

By the time I heard of the Communication Department’s graduate level curriculum at CofC, I had been working five years. I graduated in 2002 from the College with two degrees- psychology and corporate communications, and went straight to work in the PR department at the Medical University of South Carolina. I got married, had a child, and was raising an adopted daughter from my husband’s first marriage. Where some people might have seen a full plate, I thought there might be room for dessert.

Knowing the caliber of education I received as an undergrad, a great graduate education was not in question; what WAS in question was how I was going to do it all. In the early days of figuring out if a master’s degree was something for me and worrying about the HOW of all this, I had to think about WHY I wanted to do it. Was it because a master’s degree was going to make me more money as a PR practitioner? Sure, that might be at the end of the tunnel, but it certainly wasn’t a guarantee. Because I always said I would get a master’s one day? Again, nice to fulfill that goal, but not a good enough reason. Chipping away all the smaller reasons finally illuminated the big one- I love to learn. Sounds trite, but it’s the truth. I love listening to other points of view, I love to argue and debate ideas, and I love to challenge myself to become smarter than I thought I could be. Before my master’s degree, I was on the “right path” because that’s what society and my family groomed me for- you finished high school, went to a good college, and got a good job. Ok, check, check and check. What surprised the hell out of me was figuring out that learning more about communication and all its facets, theories, applications and arguments wasn’t just some thing to check off a list. I realized that no one was expecting it from me. I wanted to do this because it was simply something that I wanted for me, because I was passionate about it. It was that passion for an academic, communication environment that ultimately led me to sign up for the degree, and plow through years of challenges and triumphs. I’m happy to tell you that I graduated with a 4.0. But what does that really mean? Sure, it means I can study, take tests, write papers, and turn homework in. But do you know what else it means? It means that I loved the material (well, most of it anyway). Loving the material, being passionate about it- that’s what saw me through this program. I realize that now.

Heather and her family at her Commencement Ceremony

Don’t get me wrong, there were many, many late nights, many hours devoted to reading, reading, and more reading, and many missed parties or events because I needed to write or study. But looking back on it now, it feels like it was easy. How could I possibly feel that way?! While my passion for learning set me up for success, my early commitment to a good quality of life, a life with balance in my personal, professional and academic endeavors, also kept me in check. A wise faculty member at MUSC once shared with me a simple formula for prioritizing and balancing her time as a career and family person. She told me that she asks herself if something will matter in five minutes, five months, or five years; if it’s going to matter in five years, it’s best to handle it. If it won’t matter in five minutes, let it go. I can remember using this formula when making decisions about quality time with my kids, husband, family or friends; I used it when deciding if an “emergent” issue popping up in my email was really worth breaking my stride while writing a research paper late at night. No, it’s not fool-proof, and some decisions just can’t be simplified to this level. But it did help me manage things day-to-day, and it was a good barometer for how I really felt about something when I hadn’t previously put much thought into it. It made me realize early on that a lot of things that I thought were important and that I was stressing myself out about were in fact not important at all. No one was coming to give my house the “white-glove” inspection for cleanliness, you know?

Hindsight is one of my favorite vantage points. If my look back can offer any knowledge nuggets that will help you in figuring out your own journey, then I consider this limited analysis of my time at the College a success. If you take away anything from this post, let it be that 5X5X5 rule. That way, whatever you face as you make your way down your own tunnel, you have a little something to help you maintain your balance and keep you focused on your academic passion. It just might save you a little grief and sanity, too.

2 thoughts on “5x5x5

  1. Shelly McQuillin

    Very nice blog.
    More importantly, is seeing Heather, whom I have known since she was a child, blossom into a beautiful, intelligent, articulate woman, and wonderful mother. She has done this juggeling act well, which no easy task.
    Lesson to learn…the juggeling act is life long.
    We are proud of you Heather.
    Love, Shelly

  2. […] of maintaining balance as a graduate student is keeping a healthy lifestyle. The College of Charleston offers access to a […]

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