Monday, June 25, 2012

The Joy of Margin

One of the things I am loving about being underemployed is that I have regained margin in my life. I have time for lots of people and even things I just love to do. The stress of an overscheduled life is less true of me today. My motto of "people over projects" is now more real to me than ever before.

Richard Swenson, M.D. describes margin like this in his terrific book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives:

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances. We don’t want to be under-achievers (heaven forbid!), so we fill our schedules uncritically. Options are as attractive as they are numerous, and we overbook.

If we were equipped with a flashing light to indicate “100 percent full,” we could better gauge our capacities. But we don’t have such an indicator light, and we don’t know when we have overextended until we feel the pain. As a result, many people commit to a 120 percent life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.

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