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A few years ago, I took a job at a well-known newspaper. I’d always been an avid reader of their columns, so landing a position there felt like a dream come true. On my first day, I had to pinch myself as I took in the excitement of their prestigious newsroom.

Finally, I had a foot in the door. That day, I promised myself I’d do whatever it took to make the most of this opportunity. 

Like most media jobs, it was hectic, and I found myself working until 10:30 some nights. Within eight months though, “some nights” had become every night. I was now juggling the workload of two people, and my manager began calling me at odd hours of the evening with requests that could easily wait until the morning. Soon enough, I was burnt out. It was time to admit that this was no way to navigate my career. 

Looking back, I could say it was just a stressful job. However, the truth is I also played a part in enabling the situation by making myself available 24/7 and not speaking up when I felt overwhelmed by the work volume. Whenever a request came up, regardless of what it was, there was an unconscious knee jerk reaction in me that immediately said yes.

Whenever a request came up, regardless of what it was, there was an unconscious knee jerk reaction in me that immediately said yes.

Taking a step back, I saw this pattern in other areas of my life. From bending to the schedules of others—even when it didn’t suit me—to doing big favors for people I didn’t really know, it always seemed to catch me off guard. I sometimes had the vague awareness that I could be a people pleaser, but this habit was beginning to blur my life focus.

From a young age, we’ve been programmed to believe that we need to over deliver in order to be loved. However, in caring for our mental health, it’s more crucial than ever that we shed this misconception and center our focus back on ourselves. An important part of getting where you need to go in life is setting healthy boundaries. 

An important part of getting where you need to go in life is setting healthy boundaries. 

Boundaries are an act of self-care.

The word “boundary” can sound a bit misleading. It presents the idea of keeping yourself separate from others. In reality, it’s a way to create connecting points and provide healthy queues. They allow you to make yourself a priority, whether that’s in your career aspirations or relationships.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert explained it best when she wrote, “You are not here to be the instrument of someone else’s desires…You can not love people if you have no boundaries. I’ve never met someone full of resentment that had boundaries.”

Choose the version of life you want to live.

Reflecting on our inner circles and the next tiers of people in our lives, it’s important to set our sights on the relationships and pursuits that hold the most meaning to us. Like a flower, we must water them daily so they grow.

In fact, we don’t need to have the same boundaries and comfort level for every person in our lives. You may be happy to help your best friend on moving day, but it doesn’t mean you have to do the emotional heavy lifting when an acquaintance texts you about their latest drama.  

Politely declining a request or presenting a scenario that works better for you can feel unnatural at first, but it’s important to remember this act benefits others too. In drawing a line in the sand, you’re preserving a healthy equilibrium and preventing future resentment toward others. When I realized it was time to embark on the practice of building boundaries, it didn’t mean dropping people from my life. It simply meant I no longer carried everyone on my back.

In drawing a line in the sand, you’re preserving a healthy equilibrium and preventing future resentment toward others.

When in doubt, press pause and evaluate.

Sometimes, we find ourselves stuck with obligations and full calendars but unsure of how we got here. A great way to protect your mental space is to press pause before saying yes and evaluate your capacity. Is this a necessary commitment? What is the motivation behind a ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Will this thing fill you up or drain you? This can help you identify what your gut already knows.

When we take time to press pause before saying yes, we are able to make decisions from a joyful and whole place, and we are able to nip people pleasing in the bud. This small practice will keep you on the right track for making commitments from a healthy place and help you to make informed choices about your time and energy.

To my surprise, this lesson on respecting my time and space has been beneficial to both my professional and personal life. I’m still learning how to put boundaries into practice and balance relationship nuances on a daily basis. Deciding to speak up when necessary or simply saying “I’ll get back to you” to consider whether or not I have the bandwidth for a request has been a lifesaver.

Although my sense of work-life balance has been hard earned, the journey taught me it’s never too late to start living life on your own terms.

How have you learned to set boundaries in your personal or professional life? Think back to a time when you didn’t set boundaries. How did it make you feel?

Image via Melanie Acevedo, Darling Issue No. 11

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