Bill Smith sits down to his most dreaded chore—paying bills. Every month it’s the same story: pay the most urgent and leave the rest. There’s never enough money, no matter how hard he works.
Jane Miller flies into the school office frazzled and 30 minutes late because she was 20 minutes late getting out of the dentist’s office because she was 15 minutes late to her appointment. How will she ever get the kids home, homework started, dinner on the table, and be back out the door in time to chair the PTA meeting that evening?
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Tom Johnson gets up every morning at 4:30 to make the 5:30 train for his 90-minute commute into the city. He crams during every spare minute for the classes he’s taking at night. Getting his degree is no longer something Tom can put off.
It’s been weeks since Tom’s made it home for dinner. But what’s he to do? Without a promotion they will never make it on a single salary. His ever-growing student debt will come due whether he graduates or not. Quitting is out of the question. Most days it is all Tom can do to just keep going.
Bill’s, Jane’s and Tom’s situations could not be more different. Yet, they share the same problem. They are stretched to the limit.
Bill is living beyond 120 percent of his income, Jane is presuming upon more than 120 percent of her time and Tom is requiring more than 120 percent of his energy. All are overspent and overloaded and perfect candidates for all kinds of stress-related maladies.
Richard A. Swenson, M.D. author of Margin, explains, “Margin is that space between us and our limits. It’s something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. As a society, we’ve forgotten what margin is. In the push for progress, margin has been devoured. We are besieged by anxiety, stress and fatigue. Our relationships suffer. We have unexplained aches and pains. The flood of daily events seems beyond our control. We are overloaded!”
Most people regularly commit to a 120-percent life. It’s rare these days to see a life prescheduled to only 80 percent, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected, says Dr. Swenson.
Pain characterizes the marginless life. Physical, emotional and spiritual pain is manifested in many different ways such as increased blood pressure, chest pain, arrhythmias, hyperacidity, ulcers, back pain, headaches, fatigue, depression, withdrawal, confusion, worry, teeth grinding, jaw-clenching, compulsive shopping, hostility, paranoia, insomnia, burnout, breakdown, addictions—need I go on?
The way to build margin into our lives is to simplify. That means downscaling, dejunking, reducing expenses and choosing to say no so we can give ourselves the gift of margin.
Life is too short to live stretched beyond the limit. If you yearn for relief from the pain and pressure of overload, Dr. Swenson suggests a daily dose of margin. The benefits of good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, peace and joy are what you can expect for your efforts.