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Book Review: The Overload Syndrome, by Richard A Swenson

by Bryan Miller, BMSG Partner

God built us for load but also with limits.

Read more about learning how to develop healthy boundaries. In one of the early years of my fourteen years as a Christian School leader, I attended an ACSI Leadership conference. The keynote speaker, Richard Swenson spoke from his book, The Overload Syndrome. I was just far enough into my time as a school leader that his keynote presentation(s) hit me “right where I was living.” Amazing how the Holy Spirit has a way of doing just that!

The impact led me to purchase the book, and now many of the “centering principles” continue as a standard for my leadership efforts. The God principle versus cultural principle contrasts “healthy limits” versus “pushing through” limits. Healthy limits do not imply a lack of effort nor avoiding many difficult tasks, however, he clearly shows that the speed and complexity of our lives will naturally take us to unhealthy places if we are not aware of their impact.

Dr. Swenson shares the following three areas of overload which can overwhelm any of us: accessibility overload, media overload and activity overload. If we are truly pushing through limits, then we may experience all three! Our office doors feel like revolving doors; we cannot possibly keep up with all of the Twitter, Facebook, and other media feeds; and “how dare you miss the middle school swim meet” (even when you started with a middle school devotion at 6:30am, skipped lunch, and finished your day at a lower school play!)

He offers a key insight to keep us centered between load and limits. He refers to a key area of life called margin. Swenson says, “Margin is the space between vitality and exhaustion. It is our breathing room, our reserves, our leeway.” You will NOT have margin unless you intentionally build margin into your schedule.

There are more great insights including expectation inflation, respect limits, redefine enough, and others. If nothing else, I hope that you will think more about this critical need of a leader to develop margin. If you wish to go further and deeper then I would highly recommend adding this book to your reading list.


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