Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 11, titled, “Life Without Margin.” I often say that life and grief are two sides of the same coin. At some point, the coin flips for all of us. When it does, we must understand the value of margin or we will find ourselves falling apart and losing pieces of who we are.
Without margin, everything that happens around us is very compacted and close to the center of who we are, and what we are carrying. It can feel like we are constantly standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down, and wondering what next thing is coming to knock us off center and over the edge. So this week, we are going to hear a little bit of my vulnerable story of life without margin and hopefully, learn from my mistakes instead of yours. I’m glad you’re here.
By now, episode 11, you have gotten to know a little bit about me and the way that I move through the world. What you don’t know is I am constantly on the move. I do have margin, however I have a tendency to forget the value of it when my productivity and my effectiveness in the world around me is making a difference for others. This last week, I had the opportunity to share my story with a beautiful group of women in a town nearby. I spoke on the process and value of creating space for ourselves in grief and how to ensure that space is effective and intentional. The next day, my own life and lack of margin imploded upon me. I assure you, I am OK. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a really intense experience. I don’t think this is an issue of the experts not listening to their own advice. I think this is just a matter of how intensely we can live our lives without recognizing the intensity is getting out of hand.
One thing you may have realized is I tend to keep 15 balls in the air at once. As a mom, wife, speaker, author, coach, add whatever labels you think you need here to help, I am always on the go. I make time to workout, to eat healthy. I make time to see friends, and I sleep pretty well at night. However, that doesn’t mean I have margin. I tend to use a strategy I picked up from Dr. Sasha Shillcutt. Dr. Shillcutt is an anesthesiologist and the founder of Brave Enough, a women’s leadership organization designed to help high-achievers find balance with all the things we carry.
Her method is very simple. Each week, she reevaluates her calendar and looks for at least an hour a day that she needs to cancel an obligation or commitment to create margin. Not because she revels in disappointing anyone, although I will say our decisions to learn how to disappoint others without disrespect is one of the most valuable and beautiful gifts we can give ourselves. She makes margin because without it, she will perish. And this is a wonderful method of evaluating the things we have committed to and choosing to recommit once again to ourselves.
This matters in grief because it’s really easy to commit to everyone else and forget that we too have a need for margin and down time. When I first found her work, I cried and laughed back and forth for a few hours. You know how you can go through life believing something to be true, and yet it doesn’t take form and feel solid until you find someone else who believes the same thing as you? Well her work was one of those places for me. As I read her book, worked through her website and classes, I heard much of my own story and thoughts coming from her. Finding another human who knows the importance and weight of what we carry means we are on the right path to learning how to work through our story with intention.
When we are navigating the weight of grief, we need to know we are not wandering through things alone. That can lead us to over commit our time to others. And why not? Maybe we’re starting to feel more energetic again; more like ourselves. And I think that’s the problem. When we’ve experienced grief, we are no longer who we were. Losing sight of our newness and the shift in our lives means we’ve overlooked the insight available to us in the moment. Having energy doesn’t mean I owe it to everyone else to spend my energy on them. Even if I’ve been absent from my life and my commitments for months or years on end.
Learning to create margin in our lives as we grieve, and even as we emerge from that sense of a cocoon of grief around our lives, is a necessary step in the ongoing healing process. We may see that our lives have changed and even know that we need to make a shift in response to the losses and change we’ve experienced. But so many of us fail to take action, and this week, I think it manifested in my own life very plainly. Creating margin is the action we need to become capable of moving around our grief and our lives in a new way. Creating margin can take the form of canceling a commitment a week, or learning to hold strong to our no when someone repeatedly asks us for a yes. Maybe margin looks like adding a 20 minute coffee break for yourself before picking up the kids from school or lying down with headphones for 15 minutes behind a closed door.
This is the point in this conversation where many might be feeling a little bitter or cynical.
“Must be nice to have 20 minutes for a coffee break.”
“I’m so glad YOU can close your door for 15 minutes without an interruption, but that would never work for my life.”
Before I go further, I want to say that I am well aware that we spoke on privilege last week. There are circumstances in life that mean a 20 minute break isn’t always reasonable. However, I am very concerned about each one of us recognizing our inner cynic. The voice that dismisses this as simply an option afforded only to some. Here’s why.
I believe a self-care act must be accessible to everyone, or it’s not self-care. Does that mean we all need free massages? Yes. Yes it does. Someone, please create a foundation. In the meantime, I choose to pursue what self-care could mean if finances, location, accessibility, and physical limitations were not a concern. You know what that leaves me with? When I strip away anything I can buy or use as a tool to recover from my life, all I’m left with is myself, nature, and others.
In myself, I carry breath. I have a body that for the most part, does what I need it to every day. In that, I know I am beyond fortunate. I can look outside of my home and see nature – not everyone gets to live in the northwest, surrounded by trees. I know I am fortunate with my location, too. I can open my door and see my husband, my daughter, our puppy. I am fortunate with my family, as well.
When I consider the margin I need and the things I need to care for myself, what comes to mind is the simple things like this. It doesn’t mean I’ll turn down an all-expenses paid weekend escape, so if anyone is offering, I accept. It means that in recognizing my own fortune – the access to my body, my surroundings, and my family – I am awash with gratitude.
And quite frankly, gratitude makes my grief a little lighter. Gratitude in the wake of looking for self-care and moments to create margin means I can easily say no, without guilt, to the hours I have overcommitted to someone other than myself or my family.
I am a leader in my local community, a leader in the online grief community, and a committed companion in a lot of other relationships. Grief seems to derail those connections pretty easily, but even as I begin to emerge from the fog and find myself saying yes again, I owe it to my grief story and my full life story to remain aware of what space I deserve to occupy. We all deserve to move slowly through our stories, no matter the pace of life around us, and to find what in our body, mind, heart, and spirit needs margin. Because no matter how far out our grief event is, that margin could be just the thing that keeps us from dropping over the edge.
Thank you for listening to episode 11 of Restorative Grief. Talking about margin and the idea of moving differently through our grief stories is tender ground, and I am acutely aware of this each time I bring it up. The atmosphere of resistance manifests very clearly around the minds of people hearing me, because it’s a lot easier to just push back and say that margin is impossible.
We all have reasons why we simply could not cancel appointments or commitments. We are men and women leading ourselves and others into greatness! We are parents raising children, and spouses holding marriages together. But I believe it was the great Ferris Bueller however, who once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
When your grief and life make everything feel like a rollercoaster, pay attention. That moment of awareness is a great time to remember that no one can ride back-to-back rollercoasters without losing their lunch. Margin is created the moment you remember that you were designed to step off the ride, catch your breath, and drink some water before jumping back in line to ride again.
Thanks for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode:
- Dr. Sasha Shillcut’s Brave Enough for anyone needing a lesson in margin
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – a movie prescription to remember the beauty of friendship and slacking off
- Listen to this episode of Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart on Spotify
- Snag a copy of my book, Restorative Grief
- Connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @MandyCapehart
- Join The Restorative Grief Project, a private online grief coaching community