Confessions of a Tired Over-Achiever


“I knew about margin in my head, but I hadn’t learned it in my heart.”
Nov_DianaBy Diana Trautwein | Twitter: @drgtrautwein

Can I tell you a secret? I am a very slow learner.

I am also a quick study—which is not the same thing at all. I can gather facts, read articles, enjoy rich and satisfying discussions, even occasionally try out a practical application of whatever it is I’m studying.

But to truly, deeply learn something? It seems to take me a lifetime.

A case in point: over a decade ago, I actually preached an entire sermon on the topic of margin, creating white space at the edges of life, space for breathing and listening and looking. I read a book on the topic. In fact, I read two books on the topic, I wrote a decent sermon about it and I prepared a series of lessons, which I offered in several different settings over the next year or so.

And I meant every word, too. I believed then—and I believe now—that busyness is the biggest single scourge of the last 100 years. Over-scheduling, unrealistic expectations, the constant addition of just one more thing to an already well-scribbled calendar—these are the things that lead to death. Like a farmer’s field that is never allowed to lie fallow, a life lived without margin leads to total depletion of the good things that replenish the soil/soul.

Preach it, sister!

And I did.

But somehow, I didn’t manage to live it very well. Too many days pushed right to the edge, too many notes jotted on the calendar, too many obligations, expectations, commitments and appointments. Slowly but surely—and with alarming regularity!—that necessary white space began to shrink. And I began to fumble and flail, and eventually, to crash and burn. Instead of a calendar and a life lived in balance, with sufficient margin for stillness, silence, gentle community with loved ones, reading, writing, bird-watching, sitting at the beach. . . whatever might help me create room for that margin of fallowness, I lived my life at full tilt pretty much 24/7.

I knew about margin in my head, but I hadn’t learned it in my heart.

Then retirement happened. And here’s another small secret: retirement is disorienting. It’s hard to find terra firma. It is tough to know how to steward the time when the structure of the day dissolves, so I sometimes find myself feeling fumbly, unsettled, unsure. And if I’m not careful, I run from that place of discomfort rather than pausing to learn from it, even to savor it. Too often, I begin to feel a little green around the gills from what I can only describe as a lack-of-motion sickness.

And my lifetime fall-back position when feeling such queasiness? To fill up that white space and keep busy. Just this week, three full years into the new rhythms of this retirement life, I landed in bed with the mother of all head colds, snuffling and sneezing and needing long naps. Why? I didn’t protect the margins, I resisted the call to lie fallow each week, I leaned away from the discomfort of un-busyness rather than leaning into it.

For me, this truly does begin and end with the small calendar I carry in my purse. A quick glance can tell me if I’m leaving enough room for my soul-soil to breathe. Some of what my calendar tells me cannot be changed. I have an elderly mother who needs regular time with me; I have directees to meet with once each month; I need to talk with my own director; I have made a few commitments to other family members and at our church.

And, of course, there are the demands of life—groceries to be bought, gasoline to be pumped, bills to be paid. And a long life of habitually paying attention to all of the things out there that contend for my time and energy has meant that I have had to learn how to intentionally carve out time and space for what is going on in here, in the center of who I am.

This is a lesson I am so very slow to learn, even though I know its truth and have experienced its power. And right here, right now, my calendar—like every one of yours, I am sure—is beginning to look like a maze, with holiday prep and year-end details looming. Somewhere in all of it, I must put some protective borders around the field that is me, I must leave some chunks of white space, some regularly scheduled margin, some space to b-r-e-a-t-h-e.

How do you leave space at the edge of your days? Where are you finding margin as the shadows lengthen this fall?


About Diana:

DianaMarried to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect … but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?