Leave Yourself Space for Success

Leave Yourself Space for Success

By Dr. Nancy Champion Cartwright
Course Mentor, Teacher Education

At WGU, each student is assigned a personal faculty member to work with them as a mentor throughout their time at WGU. Additionally, each course has its own course mentors, subject-matter experts who are available to help students get through course material. Advice from your mentors is invaluable as you make your way through your online degree program. But we also want you to benefit from the wisdom of mentors not necessarily assigned to you, so occasionally, The Night Owl features advice from WGU mentors in colleges throughout the university.

Judy Brown reminds us about the importance of spaces in her poem, "Fire."

What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

As adult learners and in our professional lives, finding that space to let our creativity and passion for excellence burn bright requires purposeful work on making space. Howard McCluskey, a Professor of Educational Psychology and Community Adult Education at the University of Michigan until his death in 1982, developed a down-to-earth theory about margin, or that positive space needed by adults to experience satisfaction or joy in their work and learning.

So here is the margin formula; it is pretty simple:

P – L = M.

P (power) is the abilities, possessions, position, allies, etc. that a person can command in coping with their load. Realistically determining the skills needed to meet the challenges posed in your job or education is a start. Do you need to improve your technology skills? How about deepening your knowledge of the course content?


L (load) is the self-imposed, social, and work demands required by a person to maintain a minimal level of autonomous load of living and work demands. Do you need to ask your family for help to lessen the load and meet the special initiative demands that require you to work at supper time? Do you need to cut your "shoulders," or tasks you carry on your shoulders, in half? What is really necessary?

= (equals)

M (margin) is the resulting the opportunities for learning and joy in one's work. Positive margin is joy. Negative margin will cause any system to collapse or reorganize into something different in order to carry the load. Are you happy with the person who looks at you in the mirror? Or are you reorganizing into some other being you don't recognize? Only you can decide if your margin will be negative or positive.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire grows
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.

Regaining Personal Financial Balance

Dr. Nancy Champion Cartwright holds current certifications as a K-12 teacher and administrator. She was a teacher and school district administrator for over 25 years before moving to higher education. Dr. Cartwright served as the National Christa McAuliffe Fellow for Washington State and Distinguished Chair in Education at West Texas A & M University. Her terminal degree is a Ph.D. from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, where she lives with her husband and two cats.

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