Margin: Surviving school and illness
After a virus turned into bronchitis and coughing blood, today I was able to enjoy my first unlabored breaths in 11 days, and first day without any fever! Man, I still feel rough. But it’s more of a fell down the stairs rough, less hit by a Mack truck rough. The last time I was this kind of sick was when I caught the Bagram funk in Afghanistan nearly four years ago, I haven’t missed it.
Callee has been a trooper, I’ve been completely useless in the mornings and she let me sleep in so I could rest up enough to make it to school. So she’s handled the dog and getting herself and the baby out the door alone all week, and I woke up to a pack lunch bag for me. She’s an awesome lady.
The whole experience has affirmed something I consider extremely important, creating margin. I’ve found that my stress levels stay a lot lower and many crises are avoided by always keeping margin with my finances and my time. It’s a common principle that gets marketed (literally) under different names.
For me, it’s a buffer that creates options. For my finances, it means spending less than I earn and keeping enough savings to cover those irregular or unexpected expenses. The time side is a little trickier, time poverty is a real thing, especially in law school, particularly with a partner and kids.
Building margin in my time means reading for my classes that are days away, not for class tomorrow. It took me the first month of law school, but with the help of a few review days and the labor day holiday, I was able to get a week ahead in my reading. That has been invaluable.
Having a week buffer in my reading has allowed to overhaul how I manage reading for class. I’m no longer pressured to read for a day’s worth of class every day, now I just have to make sure the next week’s reading is done by the end of the week. I can focus one day to just one class’s reading for a week, which makes it faster because I can stay in one subject until it’s complete. It also means I have a flex day each week I can use to focus on special assignments, family, or myself.
The other awesome bonus to not having to do a day’s reading every day, is that during my four sickest days (two were school days) I did almost no homework and went to school late. That rest time has helped me get better so I could build my buffer back up, it’s Saturday and all of next week’s reading is done. Having margin let me be sick, take time to rest, and not fall behind.
That margin wasn’t free. It was there because I invested time making 100 freezer meals. I had it because when I could have come home early, or not done my 8pm-10pm reading, I did it anyway. I was able to do it because we’ve been able to strike a sustainable pace and I had margin with my energy and family.
About every really tough spot I’ve found myself in can be attributed to not fighting for margin, or a buffer, in some part of life. And every single time I’ve been able to power through a challenge without much notice or trouble, was because I had worked at gaining margin in that part of life. It’s one of the golden nuggets I hope I can pass to Bruce and Wayne.