Margins of Error

WARNING: Hopeless Optimism Ahead.

During a conversation with my husband last night, he introduced me to the idea of “planning for margins.” 

He’s reading a book about time management and being busy, and he said it forced him to examine how he prepares to leave the house. He calculates the latest possible minute he can leave and shoots for that, which leaves no room for error (i.e. lost keys, traffic, etc.). And then he’s late.

But he also translated this to life in general. When we don’t plan for margins in how an event will turn out or how another person will treat us or how a project will get completed, it’s easy to get upset. If things don’t go exactly as we’ve planned or expected, we are automatically disappointed. 

Not that we should prepare for disappointment, and not that we shouldn’t care when we are mistreated or bad things happen, but I think we should give our expectations a little “breathing room.” Big changes and surprises aren’t always totally welcome, but don’t some of life’s greatest rewards come from the unexpected?

Like when a prayer gets answered, but not the way you asked. I was devastated to leave my library job in Ohio when we relocated in 2019…but a museum job practically fell into my lap in our new town. Unexpected? Yes. Amazing? Also yes.

Or like our oldest daughter. Completely unexpected! But completely wonderful, and I grow prouder of her every single day.

Or like being inspired to write a historical novel about the Great Lakes shipping industry. What??? I never thought that touring an iron and steel freighter, four small children in tow, would turn into 97,000 words about people who worked on similar boats, and the greatest maritime disaster in Great Lakes history. I never thought that photos of freighters on Twitter and Instagram would garner heart-eyes reactions from me. And yet they do, daily.

The process of finding an agent for this novel has not gone how I had hoped. But even in the midst of unmet expectations, I choose to believe it’s because something even better will happen.

So giving our expectations room to breathe opens the door for so many joys, and it also closes the door on potential unhappiness. Obviously there are limits because sometimes things have to be a certain way or there are consequences. But for the things that can be fluid, let them be fluid, let them brighten your day, and let them even do something monumental like change the trajectory of your life. 

If you look at it the right way, it will almost always be a good thing.

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