The Focus Course

Four Myths Regarding Margin

As we’ve facilitated more live workshops, we have gotten more and more questions surrounding the topic of margin.

My hunch is that living in a marginless society have caused many to ask harder questions related to what is and is not sustainable living. As such, margin is in the crosshairs of this conversation.

We have met or exceeded limits in scores of areas but don’t know how to pull back. How do you slow a careening world when the throttle is stuck wide open? From Margin by Richard Swenson

It’s no secret that the pace of society will run you ragged if you let it. For some reason, many resist the idea of embracing margin due to misconceptions about what it is.

Let’s talk about a few myths surrounding the topic of margin.

1. Margin is for the Financially Independent

One of the first objections to embracing margin is related to financial resources. If you have margin, then surely you must be a trust-fund baby that inherited financial security.

How is it then that while Americans are among the wealthiest individuals on the planet, they are also among the most indebted?

Living with margin does not require a minimum salary. If anything, the more resource you have the more intentionality it requires to maintain a life of margin.

Credit cards give the perception of prosperity but the reality of impoverishment… We can be poor because of the things we have. From Margin by Richard Swenson

While finances is one of the categories of margin, an abundance or lack of financial resources does not equate to margin. You could make well above a six-figure annual salary and lack financial margin.

Financial wealth is a tool that can be leveraged to help restore margin in different areas of your life, but it is not the only tool.

2. Margin Equates to Laziness

For many, the idea of margin invokes imagery of laying in a hammock all day sipping margaritas while getting nothing done. In short, it has been equated to laziness.

Why would I want to sit around all day when there’s work to be done? Agreed, there is always work to be done. Margin is less about what you’re doing and more about your being.

If margin can be defined as “the space between our load and our limit,” then it’s not about spending your life doing nothing — it’s about recognizing our built-in limitations as humans.

At what point do you sacrifice your health on the altar of productivity? At what point is enough enough?

Constant activity is a characteristic of our age. If we are not active, we feel slothful. If we are not productive, we feel guilty…. It comes from a cultural value system that idolizes productivity. I am not saying that productivity is wrong. I am only saying that it must not be idolized. From Margin by Richard Swenson

For many, the definition of laziness has been defined as anything less than redlining it. Tell me, is your car meant to run at the highest possible RPM every time you drive it? Would your car be considered “lazy” for keeping the RPMs down in a more manageable or sustainable range?

The human body and mind is not meant to live in a perpetual state of maximum output. Eventually, things start to break.

Much in the same way that athletes must take care of their bodies outside of their training sessions, you’ll struggle to achieve the deepest levels of concentration if you spend the rest of your time fleeing the slightest hint of boredom. From Deep Work by Cal Newport

Our addiction to always be “doing” something inevitably leads to burn out. Margin is learning how to embrace boredom and pursue health, contrasted with maximizing every waking moment in the name of being productive.

3. A Life with Margin is the Easy Life

In addition to being seen as unproductive or lazy, margin can also be alluded to as the easy life.

Let me be frank — having margin in your life does not make life any less challenging. Margin does not equate to blissful days of nothingness where things get done on their own and life is free of conflict.

Margin simply gives you the breathing room to absorb life as it comes and not be in a constant state of exhaustion bordering on burnout.

Some days, margin looks like walking in the door from work to share a meal with your family to immediately take the kids to after school programs. Margin could look like sneaking in 10 minutes with your spouse on the couch before heading off to work.

Margin gives you a buffer for the unexpected events of life, which are sure to come.

The only thing we can expect (with any great certainty) is the unexpected. Therefore, we can either wait for the moment and react to it or we can prepare. We can create a buffer. A “buffer” can be defined literally as something that prevents two things from coming into contact and harming each other. From Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Living with margin is in no way equal to living an easy life. But, if margin is helping you focus on the things that are of true value and importance, then you could say margin is part of the good life.

Obtaining and maintaining Margin is a constant fight where the default will be a overpacked life plummeting at terminal velocity.

4. Arrive at Margin

Related to the myth of margin only being available to the financially independent is this idea that one day we will simply arrive at margin.

“If I hustle now, then one day my life will be filled with margin.”

The truth is, apart from retirement, you’re never going to find margin appearing in your life. There will always be demands for your time, money, and emotions. These demands will change with the landscape of your life, but I can assure you this, you will not find margin one day knocking on your door.

Margin is a muscle that must be worked. It takes practice and intentionality.

* * *

Margin is for everyone and is a necessary component for living a focused life. It’s not reserved for the financially independent. Margin is not embracing laziness, and you will certainly not find yourself coming into margin by accident one day. Margin is a daily choice that requires a great deal of intentionality, which isn’t easy but rather fuels a fulfilled life.

Let’s talk about Margin… We’ve got a new course in the works all about reclaiming margin. Margin is essential to living a meaningful and fulfilled life. And chances are good you could use some breathing room in your days. If you’d like to be kept in the loop just let us know.


Photo by Siarhei Plashchynski via Unsplash

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