Who’s Watching the Margins?

The current economic status of most organizations and households has given a new perspective on the importance of margins. Barely a week goes by when a conversation doesn’t include some reference to how all of us are managing the new reality of lower margins. Therefore, we measure the margins, control the margins, manage the margins, hold people accountable to the margins, blah, blah, blah!

There is a margin few people talk about!

The margin of our time. That’s right; very rarely do we give any attention to the margins of our time.

What our culture celebrates, either consciously or subconsciously, are busy, jam-packed schedules. Calendars are full. We fall into bed exhausted or, in some cases, it begins on the couch the first time we sit down for the evening.  We wake up in the morning dreading the appointments, the practices, and the commitments that await us. Our life is so full there is little margin.

People tell me, “It’s just crazy!”

When I was in college and grad school I prided myself on my ability to manage margins. Every paper I wrote, and there were dozens, I became more skilled at making sure there were plenty of margins, with ALOT to spare; I would get maximum use out of the margins.

Upon graduation, I bought into the norm that margins were bad. Only lazy people had margins.

Hard-working, driven, career-minded professionals filled their margins. And so, I adapted by filling my margins.  I prided myself on my ability to have no space in my calendar: top, bottom, sides were full. It became my way of measuring usefulness; my margins were as full as, if not fuller than yours.

Over ten years ago someone introduced me to the writing of Richard Swenson and his book Restoring Margin to Overloaded Lives. Subsequently, he has written other books on margin. He actually called my lifestyle an “Overload Syndrome.” I didn’t know whether to be offended or complimented by his claim. That is, until I started studying his principles, “Margin is the amount available beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserves…” Uh?

I felt like I was entering a Twelve Step program for margin-less Addicts.

I had to work every step; the first was admitting that I had a problem with the whole concept of having reserves in my life that would create emotional and relational health.

After twelve years of confronting my overloaded life head-on and working the steps of recovery – yes, steps four and five were brutal as I had to confess to my family what my margin-less career life meant for them – I am learning the joy of having space. In fact, I’m learning that creating space is one of the best gifts I can give to myself and to others.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments when I look at my calendar and am tempted to think that my identity might have deeper meaning if only it were more full. Then I take a deep breath, pause, and remember that being overloaded is far from a badge of honor.