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The Solution is the Problem

October 30, 2014

I saw this as an opportunity. He saw the opportunity as one more burden.

We saw it as a helpful partnership. He saw it as one more more meeting.

We saw it as a task we each had the ability and skills to do. He saw it as one more thing he felt guilty for not doing better and he felt ill-prepared for.

We all knew it could be the most time-consuming and potentially draining aspects of the role, yet also agreed it could make the other mundane tasks truly meaningful.

As I reflected on why this one individual, John* felt so negatively and only saw the challenges involved while myself (and others) looked so positively on the opportunities, it really boiled down to one issue: margin. In this person’s life, there was minimal “margin.” John had little time, energy, or social/emotional space in his life.

There is much good research on the importance of margin (eg. Dr Richard Swenson’s 2004) and how to increase your personal margin. Yet hilariously ironically the individuals who most need to read these books or learn the principles, are the least likely to be able to gain the necessary skills precisely because of the issue.

A lawyer in our group freely shared how he tries to work smart by making the most of “in passing” conversations.

The medical doctor resisted the temptation to share his schedule, though he too affirmed John’s ability to do the tasks if he could find the space.

I remained silent (this time!) realizing the blessing I have been given of physical limitations. I was forced me from childhood to learn ways to build margin into my life whether in terms of physical energy, additional time for getting to places or doing tasks, time in between to restore physical resources (eg. food, drink, oxygen), or accounting for “unexpected,” though predictable, delays. I was still willing to work hard, but I had no choice but to learn how to work smart because I lived with limited physical resources.

So while I have a little sympathy for John feeling he has no margin to take on this new task, I have little to offer in terms of experiential change. There is no room to gain the perspective and learn the skills necessary to create the necessary margin. Now I am beginning to understand his frustration with our well-intentioned request.

*John is a pseudonym.

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