I recently had to attend an important meeting where I had not left myself enough time (margin) to deal with some traffic issues. Therefore, I was stressing out while sitting in traffic knowing others were sitting around waiting on me. I also find myself in an airport about 5 times a month for work. I have learned that adding in extra time (margin), makes the entire process so much easier to tolerate.
Like these examples much of talk around margin and stress is time related. However, that is the easiest margin to fix. Proactively adding time to your daily calendar of events builds in margin and reduces stress. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “I love a broad margin to my life”, when he so famously lived at Walden Pond and spent countless hours enjoying the silence and solitude of the woods.
There are more significant areas in life than ‘time’, where lack of margin can create issues and require intentional effort to resolve.
Early in my days of coaching high school football we had a young coach, fresh out of college, who would pull a player out of a game any time he made a mistake. The result was a fearful group of 15-17-year-old boys, who played tentatively and with a lack of confidence. We struggled as a team and rarely played to our potential.
I have seen too many teenaged students stressed to the point of unhealthiness with the forced need to be perfect in grades, athletics, looks, etc. The need to meet a parent’s expectation of straight A’s or a GPA that merits getting into a certain school. Where getting a B+ is unacceptable.
Even an inanimate object, like a piece of manufacturing equipment, can be stressed beyond an acceptable point due to constant use with no margin allowed for preventative maintenance. Earthquakes are caused by geological stress when there is a lack of margin between tectonic plates when they shift.
Who is responsible for the lack of margin in our lives? There are situations where we need to take responsibility for it being self-inflicted. In other situations, it is an outcome from a spouse, coach, parent, boss or even society. As parents, we took the word ‘perfect’ out of our vocabulary when talking with our kids as they grew up. We recognized the pressure that can come along with the perception of needing to be perfect when we also knew that was impossible.
Margin must be cultivated. It does not happen on its own accord. Individuals need to create margin in their own lives, a parent in their child’s life. A coach can ask a player a non-sports related question to show that player that he/she is more than a player but a person; a boss can do the same with an employee. I have had the experience of a coach and a boss that cared for me as a person. In those cases, I always felt the need to honor that devotion by doing my part at the highest level.
Margin is a powerful concept. Margin is the space between breathing freely and suffocating. It is the space needed to think, pray, relax, meditate, and grow. Margin is what allows you to invest time working on your business instead of always working in your business. Margin in business creates greater profits. Margin in family creates greater memories. Margin in our personal finances creates greater opportunities. Margin in our lives overall creates greater options. Options to pursue dreams, and ultimately live life more fully. Leaders need to create moments of margin in the culture of the team and team members. It can be something as simple as a personal story shared with the team, stopping by someone’s cubicle, or inquiring about how their kids are doing.
Lack of margin drives us towards the most available options, but many times not the best option. Lack of margin leads to forced and shallow relationships.
Jesus’s benchmark of love creates unending room for margin:
- Love of spouse creates room in a marriage
- Love of player/athlete creates room in a team
- Love of child creates room in a family
- Love of employee creates room in a business
Reclaim peace, creativity and calmness in your life and take your business to the next level by nurturing margin in your life and not just by adding time to events on your calendar.