Restez hors des marges! (Stay out of the margins!) The eternal call of the school swimming teacher as he watched our little bodies squiggingly attempt a world record number of laps, or at least more than the new girl who seemed to have never before seen water in all of her entire little life.
Pull up a chair: this is my ode to margin.
Recently, I have found myself swimming a little too close to the margins. I have thoughtfully and carefully planned almost every part of my life, and my week, to get the most out of it and myself.
Make no mistake: I have filled my schedule with wonderful things. I totally love my job. I am very privileged to chair a board and sit on another. I have the time of my life running a creative business with my husband. But add to these my friendships with some of the world’s best people, my desire to grow personally and spiritually, my marriage and my never-ending and ever-zealous search for the perfect copper cushion, life is busy.
(Disclaimer: I am sure your life is also busy. It is very likely that it is busier than mine. Let’s not turn this into a competition…sounds fun, but at this rate I don’t think I can pencil it in earlier than next March.)
And so, as we begin this new year – I am still stuck academic term-time, having indeed left university 5 years ago, full of promise and fresh stationary – I am calling for margin.
Margin for you, and margin for me.
According to my calculations, margin takes intention. It does not simply appear when it is needed. Think of it this way: when filling a glass with water, it is easier to leave it not-quite-full than to ask the water to get out when it’s about to spill. I have tried to make this happen: when I am not sleeping enough, or feel my introversion calling me away for an afternoon of no talking, or when I realise it’s been a week since I checked in with my best friends. Margin needs to be planned. It wants to be invited.
Margin is necessary: in a time where ‘busy’ and ‘burn-out’ are worn as badges of honour, we need to learn the art of balance, and find the things that replenish us. Then we need to find a colour for Margin Time on our Google calendars and pencil – no, sharpie marker – it in.
For me, margin also means saying no to some things. This takes courage for people like me. I’ve been practising it. And I want to get good at it. Because, and this is a whole other topic, what we say no to directly impacts what we say yes to. I have found this too many times: when something unexpected calls for my attention and I haven’t factored in enough margin, leaving me gasping for air.
Margin means finding and doing things that restore me. Taking a walk, getting my camera out, listening to music, baking, exploring somewhere new. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this list because when you’re swimming fast, you have to remember to come up for air every once in a while.
And margin means giving myself permission to do those things – just because. To enjoy painting my nails not because it’s part of a global goal, but because I find it therapeutic. To take the time to listen to a good song and really enjoy it. To indulgently go on a date night with my husband, just because.
So, here’s to a new year. Consider this your permission: as you hear the leaves crunch under your feet and smell the magical four-spice mix in your seasonal coffee drink (this post isn’t sponsored…), may your tongue be well-rehearsed in the art of saying no. May your Google calendar feature more colour-coded breathing spaces than before. May you have the time to do what you do well. And may you remember the things that bring joy to your soul – and remember to do them too, just because.