That’s meant I’ve pushed people out of the roads that aren’t plowed. I’ve shoveled for neighbours that aren’t physically up to the task. I’ve been stuck working at home rather than my office because my road bicycle doesn’t operate in the snow.
Lucky for me all these distractions from ‘work’ haven’t really been that big a deal, because I’ve created a business and life with Margin.
Today we’re going to look at the book Margin, and how it teaches you how to build that space into your life.
Margin by Richard Swenson begins by defining the problem it’s supposed to solve right in the first few pages.
Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctors office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station and you forgot your wallet.
Margin, on the other hand is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.
To help us achieve that life of Margin, Swenson has divided his book up into three main sections. He starts by defining the problem (pain) of no margin in life. The second section covers the prescription, margin, and the third part is all about the prognosis, health. Yes, just from the section titles you can tell the author is a physician.
Inside each of these sections the author presents many axioms and prescriptions for you to take away. In many ways this is one of the big weaknesses of the book. So many of his axioms start with a general topic and he then presents five additional axioms and prescriptions, saying the same thing but applying it to a specific situation.
The second big hurdle for many readers in the book will be the faith of the author. I’m a church goer and I’d guess that my beliefs around faith would line up fairly closely with Swenson, but even with that common experience I continually found myself sighing as he brought faith into the mix. Where he was attempting to use faith to add weight to his argument, I felt it continually weakened the argument, especially for those that are turned off by faith.
Despite these two weaknesses, there is much to pull out of the book. Let’s look at some of the great takeaways in each section.
Margin has been stolen away, and progress was the thief. If we want margin back we will first have to do something about progress.
According to Swenson, progress always wants more from us faster and faster. Progress is continually putting us out in the world more and reducing our privacy and margin.
The manner in which progress evolves, therefore ALWAYS results in more and more of everything faster and faster. It is impossible for progress to give is less and less slower and slower.
While we could hope the companies that make our technological marvels will help us limit their use, the truth is that it isn’t in Facebook’s interest to encourage our offline friendships. It’s in Facebook's best interest to keep us scrolling through our feed.
While there are some people that feel Google, Twitter, Facebook, In..., I don’t believe that Swenson would put any stock in that actually happening.
It’s up to us to build the boundaries in our life so that we can participate with those around us, and not get sucked into the devices that give us a pale warm glow year round.
As we subjugate progress, we first make it subservient to our greater goals and needs, especially relationships.
Implementing these things in your life will build the Margin that we need, which means we’ll have space to be with our loved ones. The DON’T DO list will specifically help us deal with the continual addition of choices and detail in our life.
The spontaneous tendency of our culture is to inexorably add detail to our lives. One more option, one more commitment, one more expectation, one more purchase, one more debt, one more change, one more job, one more decision
We hear that everyone else is ‘busy’ and they wear it like some silly badge of pride, and we let that social pressure push us into being just as ‘busy’. As if having no margin is a thing we can win at, and that we should want to win at.
Instead, as Swenson says, we need to…
Each of us needs to seek his or her own level of involvement and not let the standard be mandated by the often exorbitant expectations of others.
I can do that because I have space between my load and my limits.
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.
We also had a death in the family two weeks before Christmas and had to fly my wife back across the country. We didn’t even have to think about the expense because of that same emergency fund.
To have that margin, I also rent an 1100 square foot townhouse and have three kids in it, plus the dog. Where many of our friends have much larger homes they also have much smaller margin, so every little bump in the road is actually a huge pothole that can barely be navigated, with teeth gritted.
Stop right now and look at your schedule. How full it is? How many events are you running between? Even if you want to go to them, are they really providing benefit to your life?
Swenson’s prescription is for margin in four areas: emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances. It may seem like a tall order to have margin in all of these areas at the same time, but without that margin we’re in for needlessly increased stress in our lives.
If that is too tall an order for you to start with Swenson says start with emotional energy.
Of the four margins -- emotional energy, physical energy, time, and finances -- margin in emotional energy is paramount. When we are emotionally resilient, we can confront our problems with a sense of hope and power.
I know on my end there are family members I avoid talking with because of the emotional energy required to even spend ten minutes with them. When the phone rings and they are on the other end I only pick up if I feel I have the required energy--energy I don't need to apply in other areas.
To achieve margin in these four areas Swenson provides us with many, many prescriptions (Rx in doctorese), which as I said in the beginning, are often redundant.
Some of the highlights are:
Rx: Cultivate Social Support
Whether family and friends or community and church, the existence of intact, functioning, healthy, nurturing systems of social support are as good a resource for replenishing depleted energy reserves as can be found.
…the heart of Principle 7 — that when we encounter an unexpected challenge or threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go. - The Happiness Advantage
Now that doesn’t mean we always spend time with people though.
Be with people and serve them. But be sure to get away and rest occasionally. Escape. Relax. Sleep in. Take a nap. Unplug the phone and turn off the beeper.
Rx: Take Personal Responsibility (for health)
Until we accept personal responsibility for our own health, the road to the future will remain paved with aches and adipose.
If you want to be healthy, make better choices about food. Take a walk or run or work out. Don’t jump on some magic diet, put together great processes to help you make better decisions. This could be your don’t do list that says you won’t order anything sweet when you’re eating out.
Rx: Value sleep
Don’t get caught in a web of shame spun by other people. A good night's sleep is not an embarrassment.
Despite our bounty, our list of economic woes is a long one. The ever-expanding invoice of problems requires an ever-expanding ocean of money, yet our government - along with a huge percentage of its citizens - is broke.
Instead we should be putting the fourth Financial Prescription into practice.
Rx: Live Within Your Harvest
As the proverb suggests, make do with what you have
Just because you get off the train of purchasing things doesn’t mean the world will come to an end.
The world does not stop nor the family fall apart when we unplug from the treadmill of consumerism.
Simplicity does not guarantee margin. But it is at least a step in the right direction.
Putting that aside, there are some great concepts in this section we should be putting into practice. Like partitioning our time.
Partitioning our time is probably the most important practical issue in achieving balanced living. Yet rationing it wisely presents a dilemma for each of us. How do we do it? First and most important, balance cannot be achieved unless we are willing to say No.
And really that’s it. Having margin in your life is all about consciously setting up those things that are good for you to do and saying no to those things that distract from your purpose.
Margin is about jumping off the bandwagon of purchasing more and more and deciding that your five-year-old computer still works just fine so you’ll keep using it.
It’s about only saying HELL YES to those things you can’t imagine not doing, and not getting caught up in keeping up with everything that those around you are doing.
It also suffers, especially in the third section, from a much too huge push for faith. If reading about how someone's faith (Christianity in particular) is intertwined in a book will put you off, then don’t bother.
If you’re looking for a reminder and some good tips to bring margin back in to your life then you should get Margin.
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