I shut the car door, turned the key, and tried to relax. Our trunk was full of bags, my wife sat beside me, and the kids commandeered the snacks in the back seat. My thoughts were all a jumble. Did we forget something? If so, the time for remembering had passed. I sighed and backed out of the garage, the anxiety building to a foreboding refrain within my soul. That was not a good sign- especially since I had yet to even pull out of Reverse. A few years ago, when reading my blood pressure, a nurse had told me to relax my muscles, breathe in through my nose, and out through my mouth if I was ever anxious. Sitting in my car, I followed her instructions to the letter. Either she was wrong or I was doing it wrong. Either way, we were heading out for a week-long Christmas vacation with family and I should have been leaping for joy, not stressed out of my mind.
We got on the road and I spent the next couple of days completely distracted. It was our first vacation away from home since starting our first business and I couldn’t help but wonder if the trip would grind the gears of growth to a halt. Although the business was less than a year old, I had quickly found myself in a mind-numbing routine of 24/7 hustle to grow and sustain it. Months later, it was a runaway train on the short track to success. By December, my greatest fear was tapping the brakes and slowing its progress. Besides, who needs a break when you’re cruising toward success? And don't people say that it’s not really work if you’re doing what you love? Despite all of that, I was tired, stressed, detached, empty, and simply not myself. Even still, my preeminent thought was how much the trip would set us back. Therefore, I spent the first couple days of vacation in a ruthless tug of war, with stillness on one side and stress on the other. How's that for Christmas spirit?
As the week progressed, the moments of stillness increased. Rest brought focus and renewal. Sparks of life returned. Silence brought a clarity I had missed and longed for. I could hear passion whisper once again. When I dared to lean in and listen, two distinct voices named themselves: Charity and Cause. Hearing their names, I was more confused than anything else. While I had a recent desire to invest my time and self into something bigger than the grind of business-building, I failed to see how that could ever happen. Over the previous year, I had designed a life with no free time to spare.
That’s when it hit me. One of the reasons I had become an entrepreneur was the promise of freedom the lifestyle offered. But what good is a promise of freedom if it’s neglected by locking yourself in a cage? That’s exactly what I had done. When we got home from Christmas vacation, one of the first things we did was reset our frenetic work schedule. This included taking one day off per week and absolutely no evenings grinding it out until 10PM. Consciously adding space along the edges with nothing in that void but emptiness. It was tough, but doable with practice and devotion.
Three years have passed since this realization dawned upon me. Since then, I’ve come to learn the name of this freeing principle:
Simply put, margin is space along the edges. A cushion of sorts. In the case of a word processing document or book, it’s that border of nothingness that protects the important content on all four sides. And how’s this for a fascinating historical fact: margins first appeared in ancient Egypt after repeated complaints of reading fatigue arose. Egyptian scrolls could extend up to one hundred feet in length with no breaks between text or thought, much less along the edges of the papyrus. Because of this, reading was difficult, unenjoyable, and confusing. The lack of margins around the important parts assured all joy was removed from an act that should have have brought pleasure to readers. Once margins were added, the reading/writing world was flipped on its head. Alexandria, Egypt soon boasted the world’s largest library and margins became standard format in every printed method since.
But margin isn’t just for paper. Without margin in our finances, how does one pay for an unexpected car repair or surprise root canal? Without margin in our schedules, how do we take a real day of rest without thinking about work? How can I incorporate acts of service orvolunteerism that speak to my heart if my calendar is full with no cushion along the edges?
Margin allowed us to slow down, reset, and evaluate what was truly important for our family. It allowed joy to return to our lives. It's what led me to NeighborLink. It’s the reason most volunteers have time to reap the reward for actively participating in life-changing acts of kindness. Margin allows volunteers to balance home, family, abad, hobbies, and everything in between without it becoming a heavy burden. Margin brings freedom. It allows the planting of seeds that will eventually become forests. It's space and freedom along the edges, a means to vanquish the villain of busyness.
Is the clutter of life stealing your joy? Take a lesson from Egyptian scribes and add some margin along the edges to protect your greatest asset: yourself. It’s the space along the sides that offers relief, renewal, joy, and newfound purpose.
This week's blog emphasized the phenomenon of "missing middle housing," or in other words, why are there no duplexes anymore? Watch below to learn why!
This week I had the privilege of diving into the concept of story branding. This is a practice that centers on adapting any business or non-profit's work into the "hero's journey" framework. It might sound odd, but this is an incredibly effective way of discerning just how your business or non-profit is adding value to others and how to explain that value to them.
The key in the story brand model is that the hero is not the business or non-profit: it is the customer/client. The business or non-profit is the customer's guide. We show the customer how they can get what they want or need through our services. This helps to direct marketing efforts because we have a clear sense of our own offerings and we see how to encourage people to choose to their own benefit. For more information about the story brand process you can read more at storybrand.com or at crownjewelmarketing.com.
Beyond just learning the tools of story branding, the seminar was awesome since there was a variety of community representatives and we all shared how our missions fit into the story brand model. No matter if we were representing a school, a dance group or a trail making collective - we all were helping someone get to something they wanted and needed. It reminded me that there is no one entity to provide everything the community needs. A healthy community has a diverse network of entities bringing about vibrant opportunities for all.
I relish opportunities like the branding seminar because I love hearing about all the amazing groups in Fort Wayne that are working to make the community better. I also feel this whenever I attend the Complete Count Committee. Getting involved helps you see where people are already improving and contributing to the community! It helps prevent duplication of efforts and it is encouraging that so many people are in the community serving others.
On the research front, this week was about narrowing down options that are actionable in each neighborhood to make sure we do not get stuck in the information gathering phase. It was also the week where I found out a grant request I had written was denied. While I do think my idea was good, I understand that grant making institutions are trying to fund all of the amazing efforts that are present throughout the community. Even if my plan wasn't funded, I have seen the other non-profits at work here and I know that I was competing against excellent ideas. We are all working for a better, stronger community and I am glad I can contribute even a small part.
I recently read through the book of Genesis, which is an origin story of sorts. Written a few thousand years ago, you could say it’s a wild ride from start to finish. The book begins with wonder (creation) and ends on another high note (redemption). Everything in between is a mixed bag of sorts but mostly involves people messing up and trying to figure out life before Google gave any hints.
The beginning of the book takes place in a garden, with much of its early pages focused on calling and purpose. In its first story, humans were called to cultivate the earth; to not just work it, but to build culture, communities, and civilization where none previously existed. Even in paradise - before war, politics, or consumerism had yet to enter the story - work had a crucial role to play. Not so sure about that? If you dig into the original language, a certain word shows up in the opening paragraphs and is repeatedly mentioned from that point forward:
Abad was the ancient Hebrew word for “to work” or “to labor.” For example, a gardener would “Abad the earth.” This wasn’t a bad thing. It was just part of the calling of humans- to build and create.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The further into the story you go, the more abad shifts into a much broader concept. It is then also translated as “to serve.” Therefore, by working the earth, a gardener was also serving the earth. In other words, working and serving became the exact same thing, with no distinction or subtlety between them. Two sides of the same coin, so to speak.
Let’s fast forward to today. Are you a police officer? What you do is also abad. Teacher? Abad. Janitor? Abad. Lawyer, line chef, construction worker, dentist, artisan, flight attendant, journalist, politician, stay-at-home parent, nurse, small business owner, professional dog walker? If done with the right intention (the only caveat), each and every one of those professions is not just work, but abad.
Now, we could stop right there and glean an entire world of insight from the fascinating interplay between working and serving, but then we would miss out on the most enlightening plot twist of them all. As the story unfolds, so does abad. It grows, shifts, and morphs into an even grander idea: something entirely new, which gives it so much more depth than what we’ve already talked about. Abad also becomes the Hebrew word for “to worship.”
Working, serving, worshipping. Each existing as as single, fluid concept.
A = B = C
Now jump back a couple of paragraphs and look at that list of professions one more time. Add your own to the list if it’s not already there. Do you see yourself serving and worshipping at your job each day you show up to work? Well, you can! How incredible is that?
One of the issues with our modern Western society is the belief that “work” is a means to an end. We do the whole Monday to Friday thing with a singular goal in mind: to fuel our weekends, vacations, and spending sprees before hitting the repeat button ad nauseam. By doing so, we fail to realize how much our abad can add to our lives and the lives of others.
If work equates to serving, which also equates to worshipping… shouldn’t it take on a whole new meaning for us?
How much more so in our moments of sacrificial time-giving and volunteerism?
I tagged along with NeighborLink’s Director of Mobilization, Jeff Shatto, a couple of weeks ago. My goal was to experience what his abad - and the abad of all volunteers - looked like in realtime. It was an incredible sight to behold and I encourage you to check out the short video recap of the day here.
Much of Jeff’s time is spent outside of the office. He does a lot of driving from project site to project site with quick stops to Home Depot and the NeighborLink tool shed in between. I don’t know how many phone calls he took that day, but there were more than I would ever be comfortable taking in a week, much less one day. Despite the “workload,” I could tell that Jeff loves his abad. Through it, he finds purpose and joy. Why? Because it’s more than a job, paycheck, or work. It’s abad.
As we pulled up to each project site, one thing was unmistakeable: each volunteer was deep in their abad of helping others in need. Each homeowner was drastically benefitting from the time each volunteer invested. And although the weather outside - and the temperature inside of each house undergoing furnace work - was cold, each volunteer laughed, smiled, and joked as if the weight of their abad was no heavier than a blanket draped across their shoulders. I believe it was because each person knew they were not just working for the weekend ahead, but dwelling in the mysterious abad of work, service, and worship on behalf of a neighbor in need.
I returned home that day with a newfound respect and understanding of the ancient word abad. No longer was it a foreign, outdated term with no place in our fast-paced society. Instead, it is a valuable worldview with as much significance today as it had a few thousand years ago in an uncultivated garden just waiting to be explored.
How about you? Are you ready to exchange a life of labor for the revelation of abad?