We Need Margin

Jim Hinshaw
Contributing Writer
Improvement Professional, President & Sales

Just finished a book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Richard Swenson.  Our pastor quoted form this book a couple of weeks ago, he used it to challenge us to look at our lives in detail.  The author, Richard, is a doctor who has practiced all over the world, actually lived on an island called Carriacou, on the north side of South America, part of Granada. The doctor ran a clinic for some time there, it was a third world clinic. No MRI or X-Ray machines, no high-tech labs to do analysis, very little tools to fight infection and treat injuries. Yet he was amazingly happy  there, in fact he remembers that time as the only time that he was able to tuck both his sons in bed at night and say prayers with them. Every night. They ate each meal together, went swimming together, it was a good time of life. It was a time when he had margin in his life. Margin, as Richard puts it, is the space that exists between ourselves and our limits. He writes about margin (or the lack thereof) in four key areas of our lives: emotional, physical, financial and time.

It was an interesting read, he shares how his medical business has changed in the last couple of decades.  He shared 4 calls from a typical Monday, where he treated a broken arm, post-partum exam, pregnancy exam, and contraceptive counseling.  Here is how it plays out these days.  The broken arm came from a woman who reported her husband to the police for dealing drugs, she fell running from him, broke her arm.  She was twenty-one, her mom died when she was three from a heroin overdose, her father was shot to death by his girlfriend.  The six-week postpartum exam was for a twenty-one-year-old mother of three, she left her husband at age sixteen, but has not divorced him yet.  Her current boyfriend smokes marijuana on a regular basis.   The pregnancy exam was on a twenty-year-old unwed woman about to deliver her first baby, she has a history of sexually transmitted diseases which complicate the pregnancy.  Finally, a twenty-eight-year-old woman who wanted birth control pills even though she did not have a partner at the time.  In the last year she stabbed herself in the abdomen trying to commit suicide. Bottom line, the doctor’s job today is much more involved in issues that he didn’t see or imagine a couple of decades ago.

Maybe this is specific to his type of work, but he builds a strong case that we are all pulled in new directions these days, our lives are much more complicated, we are more rushed in our businesses and families than ever before.  Richard builds a case that our society is headed for a breakdown, we simply have no resources to match the opportunities we are faced with.  He paints a gloomy picture on the subject of stress.  He does note that stress can be good (buying a home, planning a wedding) or negative, what is important is how stress affects us.  Three stress factors that mark this age as a difficult one are as follows: first, because of the huge increase in violent crime, we are more afraid.  Second, because of highly advanced technology and how that affects our jobs, we are insecure in our professions.  Finally, because of the widespread problems of marriages and divorces, we are more alone.  The big difference from the past is that physical labor does not absorb a lot of our attention, but mental work requires us to fully concentrate on the project.  Which, if it does not go well, creates stress in our lives.

Back to margin: we have always had to handle changes in our lives and jobs, but in the past we had time and ability to handle the changes.  Not so today, we are facing critical deadlines, budget cuts, lack of manpower and resources, all of which contribute to us having full plates, some cases overflowing.

Is there a positive message in the book?  Yes, he paints a picture with solutions for our overbooked lives.  For emotional margin, he talks about rest, laughing and crying, reconcile relationships, get involved in service to others, 14 ideas in all.  For physical margin, he first talks about the things that are killing us, diet, alcohol, drugs and not enough rest.  He has 29 ways to improve margin in our physical lives, such as eat a balanced diet, get enough rest (including naps), take personal responsibility for your lives, include exercise as a habit right up to the end and lots more.  To increase margin in time, he gives the following ideas.  Don’t overcommit, learn to say no, expect the unexpected, plan on interruptions, unplug that TV (OK, so maybe trim down the watching time), plan for free time.  16 ideas in all.  Finally, he gives help for our finances.  Trim debt, set up savings, pay yourself first, cut up those credit cards, plan on what you need to buy before you go shopping, give freely to those in need.  Some of the advice is what we have heard before, but that does not mean it is not important to see it again.  Another 16 ideas.

His take on our lives?  We can improve our health from being content, from simplifying our lives, improve the balance in our lives, getting more exercise and more rest.  Seems simple but not easy.  Just to be clear, the author shares a strong Christian slant to life in general, trust me, there are some great ideas no matter what your feelings are about this life.  But what is your health worth?  Priceless!

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