Meet me in the margin

While my baby isn’t due to arrive until the end of May, I’m closing up shop a whole month early, coaching folks through the end of this week—and that’s it until September.

A month or more ago, I realized that following through on this decision felt a bit challenging for me.

If the baby isn’t here yet, why shouldn’t I just keep working until the baby gets here?

I even caught myself saying to clients, “You never know—I might decide to push it a little further and hold sessions well into May,” and “End of April is only a loose plan at this point.” I was wishy-washy. Noncommittal. Hedging.

And I felt it. I felt sticky around this idea of turning off Working Helen to make way for a different Helen. A Transitional Helen. A Helen In-Between.

I realized that I felt a ton of resistance to the idea of stepping away from my business without a specific activity or role lined up, waiting for my attention.

Don't get me wrong; it's not like I'll be sitting around all day, every day, from May 1st to labor and delivery, eating bonbons (although...at nearly 36 weeks pregnant, that doesn't sound like a terrible idea). We've got a whole bunch to do to ready our home and our selves for this baby's birth day—but, somehow, taking an extended period of time to intentionally prepare for something not-yet-here is a foreign concept for me.

I realized that I was actually really uncomfortable with the idea of taking four weeks away from my work, to be spent in anticipation of this new little person’s arrival.

And just last week, I realized why this felt challenging for me. It’s something that a lot of us have in common:

We have a tendency to undervalue margin in our daily lives.

Are you often overly optimistic about the time it takes to complete certain tasks? To drive from Point A to Point B? To execute a project? To prepare yourself—physically, mentally, or both—for a transition or new chapter in your life?

I'm accustomed to cutting things close—to scooting in right before a deadline, leaving just enough time to travel somewhere, starting something new on the heels of whatever came before.

There are those of us who don't really like a lot of idle time (too much time to get in trouble with our thoughts!) and who mistakenly equate margin—the periphery around one thing or activity, or the border that separates activities—with idle time.

Because of this, what we wind up doing is denying ourselves any kind of buffer.

Maybe that doesn't sound horrible, but make no mistake: In regularly denying ourselves a buffer, we create a heart-in-throat feeling for ourselves. A sense of urgency and, on many occasions, despair—because our time and energy have been spent so thoroughly, right up to the edge of the next thing, with no moment, no pause, no reprieve for replenishment. And (somehow!) we get used to this dynamic. Which means we recreate it time and time again, even as we don't love the results we’re getting.

Just because it's become habitual doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion if we don't want it to be.

So, what do you do instead?

  1. Invite in some awareness. See the above statement about tending to undervalue margin. You’re not bad at carving out margin (remember, you’re not categorically “bad” at anything); you’ve tended to undervalue it, which is different. And not a fixed personality trait.

  2. Rethink your relationship to discomfort. Recognize that taking a different approach will, very likely, stir up some discomfort at first. This means nothing—except that there’s this one particular approach (not leaving room for margin), which is fabulously familiar and comfortable to you because of repetition…and a new approach simply isn’t. Discomfort isn’t necessarily a thing to be avoided.

  3. Be open to experimentation. Since you already know the outcome of your existing method (i.e. that heart-in-throat feeling, a sense of urgency, panic, despair, and an energetic deficit), there’s little to be learned from repeating it even one more time. Try something new and take note of what happens and how you feel. You can always return to your old standby, but maybe you’ll find that you like your new approach better.

As for me: I’ll be upstairs in the nursery, hanging pictures and folding tiny clothes, paging through a book on breastfeeding, and trying to pay attention to those practice contractions to see when they become the real thing.

In other words, acquainting myself with the margin.

See you back here in September.