Boundary (n): 1. a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line. 2. a limit of a subject or sphere of activity.
At 10 PM, the Sunday before Christmas, my phone pinged with a text. I was visiting my sister and had just settled in for the night. Smiling a little because I thought my husband was wishing me good night, I grabbed my glowing phone only to be greeted by:
“Hey there. Do you know when <sensitive information> is going to get here?
It was my boss.
I stared at the message illuminating from the screen and felt a surge of anger. It was 10 PM…on a Sunday….DURING THE HOLIDAYS!!! I was technically on vacation. This wasn’t an emergency. National security wasn’t being threatened. He was just looking for information. A question that could just have easily been conveyed by a quiet, non-evasive email or asked on an IM software I have set to alert me only during working hours.
To say I was “seething” was putting it mildly. But, my fingers itched to return the message. I had the information he needed. The text would have taken less than 10 seconds. But, I put the phone down, face first, on the nightstand, and left it there.
The following morning, I waited until the respectable, business hour of 9 AM and sent a return text:
“10 PM is too late to text, please.”
I waited 5 minutes, then answered the question asked the night before.
That is creating boundaries.
These days we are expected be available at all times…email, texts, calls, Facebook messages, IMs…technology can reach us anywhere and at anytime. If a text does go unanswered for more than an hour, the sender can be sent into a tailspin wondering if there is a problem. Is the receiver upset? Are they ignoring the text? What is wrong? WHY HAVEN’T YOU ANSWERED ME??? MAYBE MY PHONE IS BROKEN?? OMG!!!!
Listen Shirley, I was out for a run.
Actually, most people would apologize…
“I’m so sorry I’m just getting to your text now. I was out for a run”
Why are you sorry? You were running. If it was 1985 you would have no idea Shirley was looking for you until you came back home from your run. Maybe you might have an answering machine for her to leave a message. If not, she would have called you back.
I was terrible at setting boundaries earlier in my career. Eager to show my willingness to be a rockstar badass, I would check my email religiously, answer every text and perform menial tasks outside of working hours. I relished in the ability to say how busy I was to everyone around me, constantly checking my phone and texting about this deal or that deal. I was busy, busy, busy! Looking back I can see I must have been annoying to be around. But, by allowing myself to be available at all hours, I was teaching everyone I worked with I WAS available all the time. In the end, I was mad at them for contacting me outside of business hours, but I had initially trained them it was acceptable.
Boundaries are important in every relationship - business and professional. Setting boundaries is uncomfortable. I know it was for me. I loved to show people I cared about them by being available all the time. If I was tired, I’d still take the phone call. I’d do the favor, even though I knew it wouldn’t be returned. I was there for last minute outings, even if they severely inconvenienced me. I was available. I was capable. I was super friend. Hear me roar.
People test my boundaries because I don’t have any children. . Just because I don’t have daycare pick ups, homework and bedtimes does not mean my day’s aren’t filled. I have made myself a big life that takes up alot of time. I have a full time job, I am a board member for a business community association, I write this blog, record and produce 2 podcasts, I have dogs to care for, a husband I want to spend time with, friends I need to bond with, a house to renovate, a yard to mow, a garden to tend and sometimes I want to spend an afternoon reading a book, eating cheese and ignoring everyone. This is my life and it makes me feel good. Allowing other people to muck it up would upset the balance I have tried very hard to create. I will not let that happen and I will not feel bad about that.
Let me repeat that last sentence.
I WILL NOT FEEL BAD.
…and you shouldn’t either. If people are in your life and they respect/love you, they will accept your boundaries. It is okay to say no. It is ok if people get angry. You do not have to anticipate the needs of others. It is not your job to be there for everyone. You are not an oracle, you are not the Dali Lama, you are not a therapist…well, maybe you are. But, it’s still not your job to be there for everyone….unless they pay you. You know what I mean.
It is your job to make YOU happy. If you’re not happy, everyone you touch will be unhappy.
If you don’t have current boundaries, it is not too late to start implementing them in your life. Do not begin by standing on your high horse and screaming “I will not do this/that because I have boundaries”. You’re going to piss people off and look like an asshole. If you do that at work, you’re probably going to be reprimanded and most likely fired. If you do this to your friends, they’ll most likely tell you to go fuck yourself. You will appear angry and unbalanced. Let’s start small:
You don’t have to answer every non-emergency text right away. No one will explode. I’ve done it. Everyone survived. When you do answer, don’t apologize for not answering right away. Just return the text.
You don’t have to answer the phone every time it rings. If you’re in a bad mood or in the middle of a conversation, how are you going to be fully present when you answer.
SIDE NOTE: This especially applies to eating in a restaurant. If you want to see me become unhinged, answer your phone when we’re out to dinner.
Talk to your boss about email checking on the weekend. If you’re currently checking all the time and they are use to this behavior, let everyone know you will be checking once in the morning and once in the late afternoon during the weekends. If you can stop all together, go you. If you read an email and it is not important to answer it right away, don’t answer it. Wait until the next working day and do it during working hours. Guess what, you don’t have to give a reason for doing this. At the end of the day, no one cares. They just want to know when to expect a return email.
Say No…..to events you don’t want to attend. Battle the FOMO and do it. If a friend invites you for drinks, but you’ve just worked late and you’re ready to veg out to Netflix,…you can say no. DO NOT APOLOGIZE WHEN YOU DO. You’re tired. It’s not a crime. If your friend is a true friend, they will not be insulted. A healthy friendship has boundaries. So does a healthy workplace. It’s fine to be a go-getter
You can do this. I believe in you. Stop apologizing, take a break and eat the cheese. It works for me.