“But I would have you without carefulness…” —St. Paul

Being “careful” can save you a lot of grief. It can keep you from getting injured or heading the wrong direction or producing inferior work. But when wrongly focused, being “care–ful” (literally, “full” of “care”) can be a problem.

If you’re driving, being careful to watch the road is an important part of arriving safely. If you’re a surgeon, taking great care in what you do could sometimes be a matter of life or death. Being careful about what you eat, or who you spend time with, will have long-lasting effects. But you can also care about things that don’t matter all that much, investing a lot of mental or emotional capital into things that provide no return.

It’s one thing to care about improving the quality of your work; it’s another to waste time comparing yourself to others. It’s one thing to look both ways before crossing the street; it’s another to stay up worrying about scenarios that will likely never happen. It’s one thing to pay attention to the needs of those around you; it’s another to get caught up in trying to make sure everyone likes you.

When it comes to caring, we can either 1) care too much about things that don’t deserve our attention; or 2) care too little about things that do. Taking on unnecessary cares can weigh us down and steal our time and energy. But being careless at the wrong time can lead to suffering and even disaster. The challenge is to know how much care each thing deserves, and to care accordingly.

To be “careful” literally means to care, which can be a good thing. Just make sure you choose to care about things that are actually worth your attention.