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 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 or volunteerism 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.