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Professors typically require that our term paper margins be only one-inch wide, yet no one dictates what our margins should be when it comes to writing our own life story.

In fact, while we’re finding ways to expand the margins on our class assignments, we’re simultaneously finding ways to decrease the margins in our daily life — often to our own detriment, destruction, and demise.

According to his book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives,” Richard Swenson, M.D. writes, “Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. It’s something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations.”

With a little self-reflection these past few weeks, I have made a novel discovery: My life margins are shrinking. Chances are, yours are, too. Americans, in particular, seem to be plagued with an epidemic of overload.

Margin-less living is not genetic. It’s not contracted from others. It seems, rather, to be something we assimilate on this increasingly crowded journey of life as we all march forward towards the goal of “progress.”

Although no one seems to know what exactly we are all progressing toward, we still trudge through our days, pointing ourselves in the general direction of diplomas, six-figure jobs and comfortable homes, filling every second, minute, hour, with doing “things” while our emotional, physical and financial reserves become more and more depleted.

We have so many technological gadgets that save us time; you would think our life’s margins would be so wide we could just live the dream. Not. Instead, these “time savers” drain us by adding more things to the pages of our lives. Pretty soon, our life stories will be impossible to read, with the margins steadily decreasing till our dreams bleed right off the page.

Setting limits or boundaries for our time, our finances, our physical bodies and our emotions isn’t easy. In my first attempts to create margin, I thought I was going through an identity crisis — who was I if I wasn’t doing something productive for the upward drive of progress? Finally after battling those mental torments, I was able to relax and enjoy writing that letter to my friend, calling my faraway sister and finally reading that novel on my desk that had become a dust collector. Although saying “no” to invitations and opportunities isn’t always easy, it’s necessary for our survival, our health and our happiness. And most importantly, it’s important for our relationships.

In the words of Swenson, “Jobs are only jobs … cars are only organized piles of metal, and … houses will one day fall down,” so we should practice the economics of our daily lives “as if people mattered.”

People — not things — are immortal. And they’re the ones, as a wise Oxford professor, C.S. Lewis, once said; we “joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”

So, while we’re completing those beloved term papers for the semester, keep track of your life story margins, too. You want other people to give you some space? Give yourself a little, too.

Reach Catherine at

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