How to Make Margin and Live the Life You Want

This was the title of my talk at the 2023 North Coast Leadership Conference here in sunny San Diego. I love this conference for many reasons, but what gets me is the core of the conference: a place where leaders can engage other leaders on similar paths as they are. And every once in a while, I get to speak into their lives. That's what happened this year, and that's what's still on my mind today (that and the talk I gave at the 2023 UMC General Conference). Read on if you want to see what the talk was all about and then reply if you ever want to have a conversation about it.

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How to Make Margin and Live the Life You Want

Your life is too important to let it control you. In this talk you will learn how to live the life you want by taking control of your finances, relationships, and time. Take control back and walk free. Let your family be proud of you. Sleep better. Play harder. And smile a whole heck of a lot more. It's possible, but you've got to put in the work. Let me show you how.

My life is principled around three margins: financial, relationships, and time.

I grew up in a venture capital home and while I could have chosen that for my life and career, I chose to keep it simple and allow margin to maintain my life. Because of that, I have all the time I want to coach sports for my kids, be present in all family activities, and give back to my community. It was not easy, but I have figured out a framework that allows me to just be, and that's all my kids and wife want from me.

This all started almost eight years ago. Life was full–too full–and there were no signs of it slowing down. I was leading a small organization, one that some would say was consuming too much of my time, and at that time, it was growing more demanding every day. I knew it wasn't sustainable, but the "man" inside of me would not let it fail. Sometimes that "man" really isn't me though; it's my pride. We all struggle with it, some better than others. Well, my pride would not let me fail, so my body started telling me it would.
As I was working in my office one day after having had multiple cups of coffee not good enough to touch my lips today, my wife came in and told me it was time to leave. Leave? Truly, I had no idea what she meant, nor did I have time to leave for anything at that moment. But here's the thing: when someone who loves you comes in and tells you it's time to leave, maybe it's time to leave. That day I discovered that the ocean is my center and calms me to my core.
I got up from my desk, put on my Olukai, and drove to the beach with her. As we made our way to Carlsbad, I could not shake the thought that I had things to do and this was not one of them. I argued with her as politely as I could and continued to drive.

Sometimes short drives just feel long, and sometimes these drives help you learn large truths.

  • Like, your wife has your best interest in mind.
  • Like, your wife wants to live a long life with you.
  • Like, your wife knows that if you continue at this pace, nothing you are working on right now matters.

As I stepped out of the car and onto the sand, it all melted. The stress, the focused mind at work, the thoughts that I just had to keep working through the day to make what I was doing matter; it all melted. I was at the beach with my wife, and that was the thing that mattered most.

While you won't always have someone to tell it's time to reset, you can be proactive about creating healthy space for yourself.

Practicing presence was never my forte. I have always been a tad scattered, partly because that is how my brain works best, but also because I have this drive within me to keep pressing forward. Forte or not, practicing presence is what my wife needed then and frankly, what my body needed most. But this presence would need to be my focus in this season of life, or the life I was living would not be worth living at all.

Once I understood how much my body was keeping score, I knew what I had to do: I had to focus on making margin in my life so the important was never crowded out by the urgent.

There's a massive difference between a season of stress and a new normal. I needed the season to be over and a new normal to win out for my family. As I leaned more and more into creating margin, the red hot pulsing feeling that used to flow through my body as I got stressed would grow less and less every day, and was soon replaced with a sort of calm that could only come from knowing myself and the knowledge that what I was doing now mattered more than any kind of work I could produce.

The path from knowing to doing didn't take long.

Maybe it's because I am a driven person, or maybe it's because I have an amazing spouse who wants nothing but my success, in life and in business. Either way, these changes resulted in a happier family, a wife who felt more seen and heard, kids who respected me more not because I demanded it, but because I earned it, and a business that was booming. Maybe, just maybe, running yourself ragged every day isn't the right way forward. Maybe.

Less stress, more focus, and a calmer body results in a more productive mind and work product.

Relational Margin

Invest in relationships that grow both and dump the rest.

Find your People

  • Find your people
    • Who brings you peace?
    • Who knots your stomach?
  • Most of us are pastors here, or serve in a high capacity ministry field.
    • Pastors have been told they have to be friends to all or at minimum, friendly to all
    • In reality, this isn't life and it certainly isn't sustainable
    • What is reality is that there are people who bring us joy and people who bring us angst
    • What we need to figure out is how to do life with both
      • Those that bring us joy
      • Surround yourself with the joy bringers
    • Who are your "three we need?"
      • Paul: someone who pours joy into you
      • Timothy: someone you pour joy into
      • Barnabas: someone who pours joy alongside you
    • 8:1 Law
      • You need 8 encouragements to 1 discouragement
      • Who are the people who help you become balanced again?
      • Those that bring us angst
      • It's a lie that you need to be friends with everyone
        • There are people you just will never get, like, love, or even want in your church
        • And while you don't need to be friends with them, you need to figure out how to do life
    • Set clear boundaries: more on this in the next principle
      • Learn how to say no: I need to go, I cannot do that, I do not have the time
      • How they handle it is not your baggage to carry
      • Even though you feel the weight of it, it gets lighter over time
      • That's a part of becoming healthy

If a relational margin helps you establish clear boundaries for self and others and you're not using it, who exactly are you protecting?

Financial Margin

Spend less than you earn.

Fund your People

  • This is close to how we do things in our family
    • 10% give away - tithe, non-profits, care projects; things you believe in
    • 10% save for later - CDs, savings accounts, 401k, etc...
    • 80% expenses, save for "x", and play
  • My daughter is going away to college and we want to provide her a hand-up not a hand-out
    • Putting her in a better position to succeed than I was
    • Her hard work opens the doors; I am just helping her walk through them
    • As parents, we should want broad shoulders for our kids to stand on
  • Principles to live by:
    • When you earn more, don't spend more; save more.
    • Living within your means, means living consistently at or below your means
    • This is a monthly habit that you grow into
      • Smaller house
      • Further from the beach
      • Smaller cars, better on gas (unless it's our Expedition XL), skip the luxury
      • Small sacrifices return large dividends
        • This is descriptive, not prescriptive
        • If you can afford it, enjoy it
        • Live it up, but understand the dynamic at play
      • Life tip: Fund others so they can fund their people too
        • I invest in every student athlete I coach
        • This investment is not limited to the sports field
        • After they graduate high school, I make them this offer: complete your career path at a college or trade school or prove yourself as an apprentice, and I will personally invest in you as you create your own company.
        • This can be a loan, an angel investment, or equity in return. They get to choose. But they all get the offer.
        • This allows them a choice most have never been offered before: a chance at success without strings attached by someone with a proven track record of investment, in people and products.
          • Remember: we are elevating others, not expecting something from them.

If a financial margin helps you to save now and spend later and you're not using it, where exactly is your money going and who does it benefit?

Time Margin

Learn how to say no (easiest way to protect yourself and your people).

Fight for your People

  • Protect your people ("fend" your people - fight for your people)
    • Learning how to say no was a blessing in my early marriage and parental journey, but it was hard
    • But if learning how to say no was hard, learning how to say no consistently was more difficult
  • Naturally, most of us are to some degree, people pleasers
    • We like to make others happy, even to our detriment
    • We can even become addicted to it, because their joy is our morphine
    • But... drugs are bad, especially when they're designed to negate your identity
  • Saying no:
    • Establishes clear boundaries for those who demand your time
    • It shows your family where your priorities lay
    • Acknowledges that you are in control of your calendar, and life
    • Frees you to accept what brings you joy and say no to the things that drain your soul
    • Allows you to become a specialist in a field instead of a generalist who's out of time
  • My kids are both in high school.
    • I know my exclusive time with them is limited to the next 1-4 years, respectively.
    • It's limited, and I understand this. It breaks my heart, but I get it.
    • So it's up to me to make the time for them
    • When my daughter took up lacrosse eight years ago, I made the decision to learn the game
      • I didn't know the game
      • I only played baseball and soccer throughout college
      • Lacrosse was the one sport I had no clue about
      • Fast-forward to two years ago, and I coached while she started the LAX team at school
      • This would be my time with them: coaching lacrosse so I could be present
      • If I could give them one gift during the most difficult season of their lives, it would be my time
      • The past two years I have carved out my afternoons exclusively for my kids
      • The past two years I have said no to meetings
      • The past two years I have said no to too many clients
      • No to extra money that would take time away from family
      • No to anything that took me away from an opportunity to be around my kids
      • Do they like it? Yeah, and those drives to practices are some of the best ever
      • Do I know this is an extreme privilege? Totally. It's beyond measure
      • But do I also know it's limited? I am reminded of this daily.

If a time margin helps you protect your people and you're not using one, what exactly are you protecting?