Margins are buffers. They protect us against things we don’t want. We put them at the edge of our writing so words don’t run off the page. We use them to secure investments with a broker. We win by a margin. The difference between what a merchant buys something for and what he sells it for is a margin. Margins are useful and valuable to maintain. So, what about margins in your day-to-day life?
A luncheon with an associate a couple of months ago got me thinking about where I can apply margins to help develop calm and presence in my day-to-day existence. He mentioned three areas where “margin” has benefit:
I have always been a guy who tries to fit everything in. I can get three tasks done in the time it takes others to accomplish two. I can drive to Chicago (from St. Louis), have lunch, and get back in the same day. I have what psychologists call a “hurry up driver.” And actually, I’m damned proud of it. Time has always been mine to expand.
I do recognize, though, that as the clock is ticking on one of my hurry-up missions, my stress level can skyrocket. And I can get really upset if I don’t cross the finish line in my self-set time frame. My blood pressure goes up and relationships with those close by can suffer!
Attempting to be conscious about this trait, I have taken to putting “margins” on my projects and promises. I won’t, for example, attempt to drive to Wacker Drive and return the same day. I pretty much add 50% to my time estimates for almost anything I undertake. No one notices. It seems to make no difference to the world around me while making me a calmer, more present individual. Score one for margins.
Then there’s the money thing. Let’s face it. Our parents told us it was beneficial to squirrel money away “for a rainy day.” Through mid-life we have been persuaded to look ahead to the ultimate rainy day—retirement. Not developing money margins is what has the average household credit card debt in the U.S. approaching $16,000, and it’s climbing again since the 2008 recession.
Mama always told me “spend within your limits” along with “save for a rainy day.” Y’know… my folks keep appearing smarter and smarter as I age.
Setting margins around money is clearly another stress reliever. Like the time margin, the money margin contributes to a calm and presence of mind.
The money margin is developed by taking a disciplined approach to the need to satisfy a short-term emotional desire… food, cars, scotch, keeping up with the Joneses. Not spending in order to develop an adequate money margin can be tough. An old mentor of mine convinced me 50 years ago that “if money was the problem, then it’s not a problem, ’cuz you can always figure out a way to find more.” I’ve generally found that to be true. It’s been my Knower/Judger rule most of my adult life, and it’s served me well. So I really never concerned myself with the money margin.
Now that I approach a time in my life where inventing new ways or re-initiating old ways to make money is no longer attractive, the money margin seems very desirable.
A common notion is that we present ourselves as a composite of the five people we tend to associate with. I’ve found that to be accurate for me. And over the years that holy five has changed from time to time.
Relationships can lead to growth. We find someone new who has a presence about him or her, someone who has an attitude we admire, and we pull them into our close circle. Someone has to go so we’re still counting five, right?
That’s the tough part. My circle had grown to about 45. I’ve discovered I don’t have the resources and energy to intimately relate to 45 people. I need to trim back the number of folks that I believe should have a major influence over how I carry myself. This has had a very positive effect. The holy five know who they are and we’re all quite supportive of each other. And the others haven’t seen a major change in our relationship… the costs were all mine. When I could not make contact, call, reach out, etc., the disappointment was all mine, created and suffered by me.
Then there are the relationships between these margins.
I can usually trade time for money and vice versa… a little counterproductive when I want to create bigger margins in both of these areas. I feel good until I realize that growing one has shrunk the other. Arrrghhhh!
And when I create margins in relationships, it usually leads to the expansion of the money and time margins. Relationships consume both.
Think about it. Could expanded margins in time, money, or relationships serve you? Reduce stress? Impact the quality of your life? What can you do to create space and peace in these areas?