The Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast: Episode 20
Rhonda: Welcome to the Bold & Courageous Leader podcast from rhondapeterson.com. This is Rhonda Peterson, your Bold & Courageous Leader coach, along with my co-host, Andee Marks.
You know Andee, when something is put in front of your face repeatedly from a lot of different places, it just seems like it's something you should pay attention to. For me recently, something that's been front and center in so many different ways is margin. Today, we're going to explore margin on the podcast.
Andee: Well let's begin with the question, what is margin? I think this concept has been around for a long time. I first heard the term probably ten years or so ago when I was introduced to a book by Richard Swenson entitled, 'Margin, How to Create the Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves You Need.' Even then the book, I think it was published originally in 1992, so it was close to ten years old even at that time. The concept has been around a while.
Rhonda: Absolutely, and it's been around even longer than that. It's been around since the beginning of time. If you think about in the creation story, it talks about God rested and he instituted the Sabbath. There have been more recent books than the one in margin, the book 'Essentialism', there's a book about 'The Best Yes'. That's just two of many that point to the concept of margin. Think of it this way; the white space in graphic design, which provides rest for the eyes, that's about margin. If your eyes need margin, that's just one example of where margin comes in in life.
Michael Hyatt speaks about margin in a podcast that he recently released and he talks about how the margin is an important thing in publishing. In the process of designing a book, they have to allow for the margin, again, for your eyes to rest. Of course, we all know that if you're really into a book that you're reading, there's a lot of us who will either stick a post-it note in the margin or actually, oh my goodness, write in the book in the margins. If there's no margin there, then where do we have to put our notes, our responses, or our insights about what it is that we've been reading?
Andee: That's a good point. I hadn't really thought about it from that perspective before. I used to do some publishing work and understood the importance of having white space on the page. Not so much for the purpose of writing notes, which is exactly what I do with the white space on my page, but from the standpoint of giving the eyes rest. Besides, from that perspective of reading, why do we need margin in our lives?
Rhonda: Margin is critical for productivity. I've experienced this just in the recent past. Actually for the last probably month, this has been something that has been, as I said, front and center. One of the reasons is because I've been actually in a schedule crunch, that's been a really positive schedule crunch in a lot of ways, but it's been constantly moving, we'll just phrase it that way. Before vacation, I was on hyper speed. I had a great deal on my plate and I really wasn't functioning at 100%. There was so much going in to the funnel at that point in time and I just didn't have enough bandwidth to support it all. Now, I have to own the fact that it's my own fault of all the things that were going into the funnel. I need to use the word 'no' more often. However, I had committed to all these things and I really wanted to accomplish them. I left on vacation without accomplishing all that I had wanted to get done by the time I walked out the door. There were things I knew I hadn't done, but eventually you have to move on.
I left and I went to the beach and I spent a week with my husband, my children, and my grandchildren and it was wonderful. I took my computer with me. Matter of fact, I had even told Dean that I was going to approve a podcast on Friday on the way down to the beach, but I did not do what I had committed to Dean that I was going to do. I didn't take that computer out of the bag one time. To be honest with you, I didn't have time to do that, nor did I have any desire to do that. My family kept me busy every minute. When you've got four little ones, five and under, that will happen. I walked on the beach every morning. That was such a blessing, to be able to do that and not have things hanging over my head that if I didn't do them, the world was going to come to an end.
I didn't come back with any major ah-hah from God, nor did I accomplish my "work" during my week away. What I did come back with was a refreshed attitude and the desire to move forward. I had that fresh start perspective that we talked about a couple of podcasts ago and I had the desire to push forward with my goals. Out of that, I learned the fact that margin provides us with three really important things. It provides us with rest. Our body and our mind need time to regroup, no two ways about that. Eventually, we must stop and let our body and mind catch up. It's been found that sleep is when the brain transfers information that we've taken in into our memory. It's when we process or it's when we put those things into a space.
It's almost like saving things on the computer, our brain transfers things into memory so that we can access them in the future. If we don't get that good sleep, that quality sleep, we're not able to think clearly enough to access that information. I don't know about you, but I've definitely experienced knowing that's in there, that some piece of information is in my brain, but I cannot get to it because I'm just too tired to think. Margin also provides us with creativity. We can't see solutions or new potential if we just keep slogging along. In this situation, we're defining margin as doing something different. It doesn't mean you are sleeping, though that's one option. It could be time spent with family, a walk on the beach, enjoying a hobby, just sitting.
A couple weeks ago, on a Saturday, I took the day, did some gardening things, froze some things, made a bunch of zucchini bread, and was just focused completely on things that had nothing to do with my work life. Doing that gave my brain something different to focus on. It allowed me to make some new connections because I can see things from a new perspective, after getting away from things and thinking about something totally different. This is one of the reasons that they say it's really helpful if you can get away from your desk and go to lunch in the middle of the day. You come back refreshed. Speaking of coming back refreshed, margin provides us with a fresh start point. We talked about fresh starts a couple weeks ago in a podcast also. Whether your margin is a lunch break, the weekend, a day out of the office, or a vacation, anytime you come back, you come back with a fresh start. Anytime we see that potential for a fresh start, we experience a new energy towards accomplishing our goals, toward getting things done.
Andee: I was reading yesterday from Eugene Peterson's book, ‘The Contemplative Pastor’, and he has one chapter in that book, he writes about a yearlong sabbatical that he took. It was interesting to me to read what prompted that. I'm just going to read a little bit from that book. He says, "The idea for a sabbatical developed from a two-pronged stimulus; fatigue and frustration. I was tired. That's hardly unusual in itself, but it was a tiredness that vacations weren't fixing. A tiredness in spirit and inner boredom. I sensed a spiritual core to my fatigue and was looking for a spiritual remedy." If you don't know, Eugene Peterson is a pastor. He pastors a church in Maryland I believe, but he is best known for his writing. He translated the Bible into a contemporary version called The Message. He's written just several, several books, so he has a very busy life. You kind of expect not to hear pastors suffering from spiritual fatigue and frustration, but that happens to all of us. There are times when we are just spiritually worn out and we need margin.
Rhonda: It's very true and the fact that Eugene Peterson, who is so well-known and has poured into so many people in his writings and in his encouragement through the message and through his writings for pastors, I think that speaks volumes. The fact that even someone who knows, he knows about the need for margin, the need for breaks in your work life. If he's suffering from that fatigue and frustration, that really underscores the reason why we need margin in our lives. My response to that is, we are not machines. We are human beings and we cannot keep that pace of perpetual motion if we want to make the best contribution in our work and in our family and our community.
Andee: If we know all of this, what keeps us from margin? What keeps us from doing what we know we need to do for ourselves?
Rhonda: That's a really great question. Especially that part about, if we know all this. Sometimes people don't know, they're not aware. Others are aware and we still can fall into the trap of believing that we have to keep going, we have to keep going, we have to keep up, and if we stop for even an instant, we will fall so far behind that we can't catch up. There's another way of looking at this. That is, that margin is critical to doing our best work. Margin only happens when we are very intentional and make it happen. Michael Hyatt says, "Margin doesn't just happen, you have to fight for it”. Boy, that is so true. Our culture really doesn't support margin despite all the books out there that address it. Our work, the needs we answer in support, whether they are our career, our family, our community, just keep coming. It can feel and it's often true that someone always wants something from us.
Andee: We are constantly and immediately accessible these days, via electronics. We don't want to get on a soapbox here, but we are hearing more and more talk about electronics and the impact that technology has on our lives right now. We are perpetually lured by social media. Our computers, we carry them around with us now in our pockets, so there's no excuse to not be perpetually productive. It really surprises me sometimes when I'm talking with younger people, to realize that they have no knowledge, no personal experience of a time when this was not the case. This was not how we lived our lives. Where the only way that we had to learn what was going on in the world was to read the newspaper, and that was delivered to our front door either in the morning or in the evening. Or we had to switch on the evening newscast, there was no such thing as breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it just didn't happen.
Our culture was a lot less stressful at that time. Not to say that those were the 'good ole days' or that everything was easy, it wasn't. We didn't have that constant bombardment of information and neither were we consistently accessible to anybody who wanted something from us. The only way I can experience that kind of... I'm old enough to remember those days, obviously. The only way that I can experience that anymore, is to go on a mission trip to an underdeveloped country. The lack of that instant information and that constant contact is a critical aspect of the culture shock that I experience every time I go on one of those trips.
Rhonda: It's interesting that you say that because I just finished listening to the book, 'The Poisonwood Bible' on Audible and that is a story about a family that moved to Africa. The dad was a missionary and so the family all picked up and moved to Africa; it talks about that transition. This book was written way before we had computers in our pockets, aka a smartphone. The culture shock then was radical. Now, it has to be even more radical. I remember you talking about that when you've come back from a couple of your trips, how different it is and how life, the perspective is very, very different. Culture shock is a really good word for that.
Andee: Let me just interject something here that most people are not aware of. I want to just offer a little... if you want to know how much you are impacted by the technology that you carry with you all the time, think about what happens when you leave the house and realize that you left your phone there. The level of anxiety that we experience is ridiculous. The last mission trip that I went on to Rwanda, the first two that I went on, I did not have a smartphone, so I had no access to my family back home, other than through somebody else, another team member who did have a smart phone. Even at that point, this has been several years ago when it was really expensive to call home from Africa.
The last time that I went, as we were going through the security at the airport, I misplaced my phone. I could not find it in my carry-on and I thought, what if I've left it there? I was so undone by the thought that I did not have my phone. I remember thinking, wait a minute, you've done this twice before with no phone whatsoever. In that five years, no more than five years, I had become so dependent upon having that phone with me, and it created so much anxiety. I determined right then, the thing to do was shut the silly thing off if I found it again and I should have left it at home to begin with. So try that experiment, leave it and go for a day and see if you can function without having a nervous breakdown, without having your telephone. See what happens.
Rhonda: You know, that's so very true. There are people that I have... I don't know anybody personally, or at least if I do know them, I don't know that they've done this fast, but I know that there are people who intentionally will set their phone and all technology aside for a day or an hour or an afternoon or on their vacation or for the weekend. To be honest with you, I admire them for doing that. The deeper that we get into technology, now of course everyone should definitely be listening to this podcast every time when it comes out.
Andee: Which is technology.
Rhonda: Yes, it is, I'm just saying. To be able to get to silence because of that, and we're going to talk about silence in a little bit, but to be able to have that margin because you're shutting things out. That's part of, that you have to fight for the margin, is really important. We talked about the fact that our culture doesn't support margin. Another impediment to this margin is simply the lack of energy to create and protect it. It's just human nature to cling to the status quo, especially when changing it requires a lot of thought and energy which is already in short supply. Ironically, as we are talking about the whole concept of how quickly our smartphone, which is essentially a computer in our pocket, has become part of our culture and our expectation, and our daily life.
I remember probably 10 or 15 years ago, when bag phones were big, so it might have been a little bit longer than that. I remember talking to someone about the fact that their son had gotten a phone and I just didn't see the point of such a thing. Now, that whole thing about walking out of the house without your phone, oh my gosh, if I walk out and I'm still in the driveway, I have to go back in and get my phone. It's a really rare thing that I walk out without it because it's almost, pick up your keys, pick up your phone, go out the door. That's become the pattern that is ingrained in me at this point in time.
What we have to remember is the only one who can make margin in our life is us, individually. It's a decision we must make to stop long enough to regroup, to refuel and to catch our breath. It's a decision to trust God with our provision long enough to be still. To be refreshed by stepping away from our responsibilities so that we can come back and be more productive than when we left. To be honest with you, that's something that we need to do for ourselves and we need to instill that as leaders also.
Andee: This is true. We really want to be able to hear God on the fly. We want to be able to discern his voice in the midst of a busy day or when we're faced with a critical decision that we need to make quickly. We first have to learn to hear him in the white space of silence. It is so important to create margin that is the white space of silence. The only way that we're going to be able to pick up God's voice out of the constant den in our noisy culture, is to learn to listen to him in solitude and silence. As an aside for anyone who wants to delve into this a little bit more, I want to recommend a couple of books by Ruth Haley Barton. The first is 'Invitation to Silence and Solitude' and the second one is 'Sacred Rhythms.' Both of these books are just excellent resources to explore how you can develop a hunger actually for silence and solitude if you don't already have it. Extroverts like Rhonda and I don't particularly have that built in and so we have to cultivate it. Anyway, those are two references that you might find helpful.
Rhonda: That's so true Andee. As you were talking about this, I was thinking back to the first time you sent me on a retreat because you told me I just plain needed... a personal retreat, not a retreat with a group of people, but you told me that, you had great wisdom in retrospect. I thought I was going to die though, because I was going away somewhere and I had no one I was going to be talking to, and I was going to spend the day all by myself and what in the heck was I going to do? It was going to be silence and solitude and I thought it was going to kill me.
It didn't and it was actually a very good experience in the long run, but wow. The process of, as an extrovert, thinking about that time can be overwhelming in the beginning, but it does have great value and there is a time when you do need to have that silence. It's so true that when you get away and experience that silence, it is important to hear God in that situation so that you can recognize him in the noisy culture. I love the fact that you shared that Andee, thank you so much. All this is really well and good and it sounds really great, but how do we build in margin?
Andee: You mentioned that one of the impediments to margin is simply the lack of energy to create and protect it. We need to be intentional in order to make margin happen in our lives. It's helpful to build margin into your day. You can do this in a variety of ways. Rhonda, you already mentioned taking a real lunch hour. Actually stepping away from your desk, change of scenery, leaving the office during your lunch break. Another method is to take a power nap. Some people have an easier time of that than others, but the early afternoon, we tend to have a decrease in our energy level. We tend to get sleepy and so if you can take a few minutes and just nap, that can be a way of building margin into your day.
Limit the amount of time you actually spend working. In other words, have a definite time that you're going to turn off the computer, that you're going to mentally disengage from your workday and focus on something else; your family, veg out in front of the TV, I don't think that's the greatest thing to do, but most of us choose that at some point in time or another. Read a book for pleasure, not for learning. Engage in a hobby that you enjoy doing. Every day, make some space to do something that relaxes you, that gets your mind off of productivity.
Rhonda: Productivity, 100% of the time is impossible. We need that space, that margin away from the productivity, so that we can come back and be more productive. There is one way of building margin into your day that is part of a healthy life, that is something that we all have to do, and that is sleep. The amount of sleep that you need is something that you can't control. We're learning more and more about how important sleep is in our life and how much sleep impacts our ability to be productive. There are a lot of people in this world who have the perception that if they need to get more done, they should just sleep less.
When my son was a teenager, there was somebody that he worked with who had the attitude of, 'You can sleep when you're dead'. I'm sure there are a lot of us who have heard that quote, 'You can sleep when you're dead,' and that is such a misnomer because it's true. You can sleep when you're dead, actually you will be sleeping when you're dead, that's a whole other conversation. Pushing off sleep and believing you can get it back at some point in the future is completely counterproductive.
Some of those people are that are really hard-driving and believe that you don't have to get that large amount of sleep or that you don't have to get as much sleep as everybody else because you're just special and you don't have to sleep, you don't require sleep, you're lying to yourself.
There's a story that Arianna Huffington was one of those frantic types who under slept and overworked. She was always busy; she didn't have time to sleep. She probably had that attitude of 'You can sleep when you're dead'. Eventually what happened was, she collapsed from exhaustion one afternoon. Because of this experience and recognizing the fact that that is not going to work and it's counterproductive, she now credits her success and well-being to the changes that she made in her sleep habits. She worked herself up from the small amount of sleep she was getting, building in 30 more minutes of sleep a night until eventually, she got to seven or eight hours.
That result has been transformational, is how she describes it. She says that all the science now demonstrates unequivocally that when we get enough sleep, everything is better; our health, our mental capacity and clarity, our joy in life, and our ability to live life without reacting to every bad thing that happens. Boy, isn't that the truth? When we're sleep deprived, we have no reserves to be able to roll with things, to be able to let things roll off our back, to be able to respond to things as opposed to react to them. Getting enough sleep is one way to build margin into your life, because you have better judgement when you're doing that. It's really an important part of it. Rest is part of margin. So Andee, we talked about building margin into our day, what about some other time frames where we might be looking at what is the way to build in some margin?
Andee: The next thing would be to look at how you build margin into your week. If you think of Sunday as a Sabbath day of rest, most of us do not take Sunday as a Sabbath anymore. We may go to church or we may sleep in that morning and have a leisurely breakfast, but then we get on with the business of the day, and I do mean business. In God's view, Sabbath was a day to worship and to spend time with family and friends to not even take on the normal labors of the day. Thinking about that from the aspects of an agrarian society, you didn't go out and work in the fields on Sunday. In a more modern day perspective and from a woman's perspective, not spending the day slaving over the stove. Unless that's something you really enjoy doing. You can tell I'm not a cook, I call it slaving over the stove, so it varies.
The idea is when you set aside one day a week, and it certainly does not have to be Sunday. For me, Sunday is not. There is an aspect of work to Sunday because I'm a pastor. In some respects, Sunday worship is my work, but I do make a point during the week of trying to disengage from everything and just relax and enjoy and spend time with my family and my friends. We talked earlier about turning off electronics. My daughter and son-in-law lived in Atlanta, Georgia for a while and there's a large Orthodox Jewish community there. My daughter made friends through that community and she began to develop an appreciation of some of those ancient Jewish practices that have continued on through the centuries, that are part of our Christian heritage as well.
One of the things that they do of course, is in the Orthodox Jewish community, they observe Sabbath. So sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday, they don't cook, they don't have their telephones on, they don't look at computers, they don't do television. In some homes, they don't even use electricity. She began to adapt some of those practices for their family and she found that it had made such a difference in the rest of their week because they took that one day and shut everything off; turned off the electronics and just focused on time together. We want to build margin into our week by having a regular day of rest. Thirdly, build margin into your year. Vacations are really important.
I remember in the early days of my marriage, my father-in-law used to always tell me husband, "You need to take your family and go on vacation". My husband talks about that. When he was a kid, he remembers every year, his dad took their family on vacation. We don't do that as regularly as we should now. We often find ourselves taking vacation, in other words, taking time off from our jobs so that we can get some stuff done at home. Well that's not a vacation. I love your comments about walking along the beach every morning and how restful that is. I can tell a difference in you since you got back from vacation. That that is a time that just recharges your batteries. For me, I like going to the mountains. I love the cool green, lush surroundings. That blesses me.
For some of us, it's just not financially feasible for us to take an extended vacation like that every year, and a lot of families have found themselves in that same position in recent years. There's been an awful lot of talk of staycations. You can Google it. I know my city has a whole website geared to staycations. What you can do in our city to enjoy a vacation economically without ever actually having to leave the city, but it's still a time of unplugging from productivity and enjoying what's right around us.
Rhonda: That's a great idea. I love that idea that your city, which is Lexington, Kentucky, has a staycation suggestions website. That is so awesome. We've talked about margin and how important it is to have margin in your life and some of the techniques and ways to think about getting margin in your life. I would like to invite you to another possibility for a place of margin. This fall, October 1st and 2nd, the Bold & Courageous Leader retreat is a possibility for you to create some margin in your life, to step away from productivity in your job and all the things that go with it, to come away and focus differently; to focus on where you're going, on what God's calling you to. We're going to spend some time listening to God and we're also going to spend some time reflecting and developing deeper self-awareness. We're inviting you today to pull away with us, to peel away all those things that are pressing in on you at the Bold & Courageous Leader retreat. For more information on that, you can check our website at rhondapeterson.com. There is a retreat section on the website where you can find out more about it and you can actually register.
To find out more about today’s topic, get downloads of our previous podcasts or to learn how you too can become a Bold & Courageous leader, visit rhondapeterson.com. Our ever-growing community is waiting for you. If you liked today’s show, there are three things you can do. You can subscribe to the podcasts on iTunes or Stitcher. You can give us a rating or a review on iTunes. The subscriptions and ratings help others to find us more easily. And you can help us get the word out by sharing the podcast with your friends. This is Rhonda Peterson, your Bold & Courageous Leader Coach. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you for the next Bold & Courageous Leader Podcast.