Do You Have Margin in the Important Areas of Your Life?

If Not, It is Time to Think About Building Margins before you are Marginless

We live life now, at the margin between the past and the future.  What we do at this margin impacts our futures.  What we have done or have not done in the past influences, or creates, the options we have now in our lives, or at the margins.

In other words, the margins that we create in various areas of our lives impact or influence what we can, will, or won’t do each day.

Begin to Explore Margin

Margin is a concept I have thought about a great deal over the years.  I realized early on that there are many definitions of margin.  However, I also realized that the kind of margin that I think about mostly has little to do with any of the dictionary definitions.  For example,  margin is defined in Your Dictionary as (a noun):

  1. An edge and the area immediately adjacent to it; a border. See Synonyms at border.
  2. The blank space bordering the written or printed area on a page.
  3. A limit in a condition or process, beyond or below which something is no longer possible or acceptable: the margin of reality; has crossed the margin of civilized behavior.
  4. An amount allowed beyond what is needed: a small margin of safety. See Synonyms at room.
  5. A measure, quantity, or degree of difference: a margin of 500 votes.
  6. Economics
    a. The minimum return that an enterprise may earn and still pay for itself.
    b. The difference between the cost and the selling price of securities or commodities.
    c. The difference between the market value of collateral and the face value of a loan.
  7. An amount in money, or represented by securities, deposited by a customer with a broker as a provision against loss on transactions made on account.
  8. Botany The border of a leaf.

The fourth definition touches on margin as I know it by introducing the idea of a margin of safety.  As we focus on the idea of margin, the other definitions have some relevance.

In 2004, Richard A Swenson, M.D., wrote a book titled Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.  The book takes paths that relate the Dr. Swenson’s concept of margin to Christianity, which, to my thinking, is not a bad thing.  My use of the book has been as a springboard to think about the concept of margin in our lives.

Margin vs. Marginlessness

Dr. Swenson begins his book without defining margin, but after his short introduction, readers have a pretty good idea of what he means by margin as well as what he means about marginless.  He begins the book as follows:

The conditions of modern-day living devour margin.  If you are homeless, we send you to a shelter.  If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps.  If you are breathless, we connect you to oxygen.  But if you are marginless, we give you yet one more thing to do.

Marginless is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station – and you forgot your wallet.

Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.

Marginless is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time; margin is Grandma taking the baby for the afternoon.  Marginless is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift; margin is a friend to carry half the burden.  Marginless is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.

Marginless is fatigue; margin is energy.

Marginless is red ink; margin is black ink.

Marginless is hurry; margin is calm.

Marginless is anxiety; margin is security.

Marginless is culture; margin is counterculture.

Marginless is the disease of the new millennium; margin is its cure.

Questions for Us All

After reading Dr. Swenson’s introduction to his book, Margin, we have some idea of what he means by margin.  We also have an idea of what he means by marginless.

Over a short series of posts, we will address a number of questions regarding margin, including:

  1. What does it mean to have margin in our lives?
  2. What is being marginless and how does it feel?
  3. In what areas of life is it important to develop margin?
  4. How can we think about the idea of building margin?
  5. Why is the idea of margin so inextricably intertwined with time and money?
  6. Have you ever thought about (or lived) life, even if briefly, in a marginless state?
  7. If marginless is a bad thing, how can we assure, as best as possible, that we don’t find ourselves in that state?
  8. How do we learn to build or to create margin in our lives?
  9. What are some good ways to think about developing margin in our lives?
  10. Who taught you about developing margin in your life?

Margin.  Such a simple, six-letter word.  But this simple word is fraught with importance in your life and mine.  I’ll look forward to exploring the word over the near future.

In the meantime, take a look at the Ownership Transition Bundle, consisting of my books, Unlocking Private Company Wealth and Buy-Sell Agreements for Closely Held and Family Business Owners.  These books just might help you develop some margin in your personal, business, and financial lives.

Be well,



My two most recent books are available in an Ownership Transition Bundle.  The bundle, priced at $35 plus s/h, has been attractive for many business owners, appraisers and attorneys.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Do You Have Margin in the Important Areas of Your Life?

  1. I appreciated your thoughtful comments on margin and I read the blog with interest. As you know I specialize in the area of helping organizations overcome conflict and enhancing effectiveness. With my career in the private sector this started with the IRS, but now encompasses a wide range of venues. To help others focus on de-escalation as a starting point, I share with them elements related to centering oneself first. This involves labeling their feelings and helping them work through them so that we can eventually focus on their concern.

    Over time I have learned to use mindfulness. I recommend the Greater Good at the U of CA Berkeley for lay readers like us. Now I start each day with stretching, meditation and exercise and end each day with mindfulness, prayer and reflection. It takes away so much tension and stress for me.

    I am simply offering this as a suggestion. There is a lot of research in this area and whether it be reducing suspensions in public schools by 90%, the marines reducing PTSD in combat units, or improved health and lower blood pressure for individuals there are proven scientific benefits to these processes. This may explain why maintaining margins as defined by Dr. Swenson makes sense.

    Live below your means, make time for the important things in your life, maintain balance and letting your stresses go on a daily basis can significantly increase your margin. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks for this blog! As a solo practitioner working from a home-based office, I am constantly faced with these issues. I think that the term “margins” is a perfect fit.
    The lack of margins is exacerbated by email, texts, cell phones, etc.
    Michael, I appreciate what you added to this also. I am working towards those goals.