Years ago I heard a church sermon that captured my attention like none before it and certainly none since. Julie and I were traveling with the kids to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with and learn more about the John C. Maxwell team. Maxwell is famous for his branding on leadership values and raising up leaders in communities, churches, and businesses.
I met with some of his team, but we weren’t just exploring a career Opportunity. We were looking for a home community. So we looked at some homes in gated communities around Alpharetta, Georgia, many with horse trails and stalls—a unique and new concept for us. It was a fun beautiful experience.What do crocodiles have to do with living a great life pushed to the limit? Click To Tweet
Maxwell’s church happened to be the mega church of Andy Stanley. Being an active leader in church at the time, I knew much about Andy so I was excited to hear him live. And he did not disappoint.
He Had Me At Hello
The sermon had me hooked simply by the title, “Take It To the Limit” which was also a top hit song for the Eagles in 1976. That was also and still is one of my favorite songs of all time. I can still hear a local cover band playing it in the bar my mother waitressed in. Being seven years old in a bar for adults-only was a bit risqué, so that’s probably why the song stuck in my brain.
This sermon series went on for several more weeks—long after we returned home. I was so hooked I waited patiently and ordered the DVD they produced afterwards.
But the best part of the sermon was opening day, that day we were there. In that opening, I sat with somewhere around a thousand other people gripped by his self-deprecating, unpretentious, “aww-shucks” style. And he asked us all if we’d seen those nature and oceanic shows on television, the one’s where some daredevil is doing the unthinkable. His example was of a crocodile hunter with a nervous, unsuspecting woman geared up in SCUBA equipment and floating together in a muddy river of sorts. It was there they discovered and hovered around a sleeping croc and the hunter went into his routine.
“Ay, all you have to do is slip your hand under the croc’s chin and watch this!” he exclaimed as he slowly raised up the fast asleep croc off the river bed—with a single hand. As he laid the croc back down to rest on the river bed, he turned and encouraged the woman to repeat his action.
It’s at this point, Andy held the audience in his own hand as we could all so vividly visualize the experience as if watching it ourselves. Our adrenaline was pumping, awaiting for the plot to thicken or some kind of drama and that is when Andy sprung back to his lively self and proclaimed, “Why?! Why do we watch this stuff, people?”
“Most of us would never dream of doing that for real. And yet, we watch it.” he said as we all nodded in agreement. And he’s right, humans are drawn to drama, but specifically, OTHER people’s drama. It’s why a car accident on a major divided roadway stops traffic—in BOTH directions. One side is stopped, trying to navigate around the accident and surely, slowed by all of the rubberneckers trying to take a quick peak at the human drama that unfolded to delay them to their destination.
Then there is the other side. Also bottlenecked and slowing down, with nothing blocking their roadway. It’s at that point I reach the accident, realize that rubberneckers caused an unnecessary slow down for our side, I take a “quick” look over myself (oops), and I move on my merry way.
The Moral of the Story
Andy’s lesson that day and for the series was that taking life to the limit—it’s not fun. It’s full of drama, stress, anxiety and it’s not the moments in life we cherish. So why do we do it then?
It was then that Andy injected a word into my vocabulary that, to this day, I still love and toss around in my lessons. Margins.
Margins, as found in a book. The books and magazines we read, this article, all have margins—space between the words and the edge of the page. The less margins a book has, the more intense it feels. Did you know that a publisher can influence how you feel about a book just by the amount of margins they place in a book?
His lesson was as captivating as it was funny. And it was simply, like a book, when we have few or no margins in our life, we invite stress, anxiety, drama, and chaos. And while it’s fun to watch on reality and dramatic television shows, it’s not fun in real life. So the key then to sustaining happiness is living within and building up your margins.
Margins in life equate to:
- physical margins — not taking unnecessary risks with your health and livelihood, keeping your body sharp so that it doesn’t bring you down,
- emotional margins — establishing and maintaining boundaries to avoid other people’s unnecessary dramas, avoiding zero-sum relationships and investing instead, in cooperative ones,
- financial margins — building up enough resources that you can handle emergencies, but more importantly, enough that you can avoid them and enjoy life, each day.
The Song Says It All
Ironically, the song of the same name is about living life without those margins and trying to find the strength, the courage to “take it to the limit, one more time”. Making that the battle cry of each day. Because when you live without margins, that is what it takes, a constant need to push yourself just to get by. And that is just not sustainable.
While I still love the song, I long ago decided that I didn’t want to live each day to the limit. I learned it’s far better to build up margins, and each day leave a little left in the tank for tomorrow. When you do that, it’s more fun to wake up, easier to get going, and damnit, it’s easier to sleep and get a good night’s rest.
And the great thing is, you can take life to the limit, when you stop taking each day to the limit and stop living without Margins.
- Stop to reflect on the Margins you are living with in life.
- If you haven't already, take the IRS (Identity Gap) assessment. This quick tool will help you to measure and visualize your Margins in life, where Identity and Support represent your physical and emotional Margins, and Resources represents your financial Margins.
- If you have already taken it, check out your results more thoroughly. If any one of the three charts has only gray, no color, then you have a Gap in that area. If you have a color bar in any of the charts, then those are areas where you are strong and living with Margins.
- Mouseover the charts with ONLY gray bars, if you have 4 or 5 score there, don't worry, your mentor can work with you to bridge those Gaps in a reasonable time. If you have 3 or less, then that's still ok, we've all been there, it will just take a little more work and focus to bring you up in that area.