Setting Boundaries - Living Intentionally
I have felt a distinct need to initiate a conversation about boundaries lately. In almost every conversation I have, boundaries (or the lack thereof) come up in some way, shape or form. Some of the recurring themes I have been hearing:
I just don’t want to go back to the way life was before the pandemic.
I am feeling completely exhausted at the end of every day, and don’t feel like I have anything more to give to my family when I am done working.
I have a really hard time letting myself step away from the computer while I am working at home.
I feel like I am spread so thin, I just don’t have the time to produce the kind of work I want to.
After spending so much time working remotely, and being able to spend so much time with my kids, I just don’t know that I want what I thought I wanted before.
As a result, I have spent a LOT of time recently thinking about boundaries, and why it is such a frequent topic of conversation these days.
I think the logical place to start is by thinking about how we came to be where we are. We now find ourselves in a situation where we can literally work 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. Good lord - how did we get here? If we think back decades ago, we can easily see that work had a way of setting boundaries for us. You went into the office, you worked your day, and you left when you were done working at the end of the day. Leaving the office served as a perfect “disconnection point” to help you transition out of work mode. Upon arriving home, unless you brought paperwork with you, you were focused on whatever called your attention – rather than work. If someone from the office wanted to get in touch with you, they could call your landline, and leave you a message on your answering machine (if you even had one!), or they could literally come to your house. Personally, I think that sounds glorious!
Over time, technology has crept in to start infringing upon this glorious reality. Computers became accessible to the masses (albeit clunky and super expensive for quite a while), the internet became a household expectation, and cell phones became more and more common until they reached the point that most people did away with landlines, and you never saw anyone without a cell phone in hand. All of these technological advancements have been amazing, and have had a huge impact on how we live, how we do things, how we find things, how we shop, pretty much every aspect of our lives. These technological advancements have also had a huge impact on the way we can work.
Prior to the pandemic, many companies were not big fans of the idea of people working remotely. Because it wasn’t essential, companies in industries that aren’t super conducive to working offsite, or perhaps organizations with people at the helm who were more change resistant, or who just didn’t want to pile on another headache/cost/thing to do, many companies insisted on in-person work as a rule. The pandemic brought this approach into the spotlight, and forced some of these organizations to ask the question “How do we make it happen?”, rather than “Do we have any interest in making it happen?”
As the pandemic has continued to ebb and flow, people have started returning to offices, after having a taste of working from home, and being socially deprived. Many people worked from home for over a year. Which means that people established a new normal for themselves. They acclimated. They adjusted. They settled in. The pandemic, and the social isolation that came with it, acted as a pause button that was pressed by someone else to force people to think about things and consider what is really important to them.
Thinking about this acceleration of change explains a lot about why this is a topic of discussion for so many people. Life has a way of taking on a …. well, a life of its own. In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Before the pandemic, we were all moving along – filling every spare minute of our days, conquering the universe…. or more realistically, hanging on by fingernails to keep everything together. That all came to a screeching halt with the pandemic.
As we look at coming out of the pandemic, it serves as an opportunity to really think about how we are spending our time. To think about where we are spending our energy. We have a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to intentionally plan what our lives will look like. The problem is that it is not happening like the screeching halt at the beginning of the pandemic. It is sneaking up on us. It is happening slowly and gradually. We are in danger of letting this opportunity pass us by, and of going right back to the place of filling up every spare minute of our days.
I encourage each and every one of you to seize this unique opportunity to examine your boundaries. Spend some time thinking about the boundaries you have set…or maybe the ones you haven’t set. Gone are the days of work setting boundaries for you – we all have to be more intentional in taking control of where our time and energy goes. Even if you work in a traditional office setting (vs. being remote), you still have the ability to plug back in when you leave the office. What keeps you from working 24 hours/day, 7 days/week? Where
do you WANT to be using your energy, and is that actually where it is going? If you want to give 100% to the important areas of your life (including work), you have to have 100% to give, and without a plan (i.e. boundaries), we leave it up to chance to decide where our energy goes. We sacrifice our self-care and health (both mental and physical) in the process, as we neglect areas of primary importance, and resist making recharging our batteries a priority.
Really, it is kind of a cruel irony – we feel that to be the best employee/friend/spouse/parent we can be, we need to keep sacrificing and giving more and more. But the truth is, all that does is deplete us, and we bring whatever we have left, rather than 100% to all of those areas. The answer? Prioritizing self-care and setting boundaries. Giving yourself permission to make YOU a priority, so you can be at your best for the people and situations in your life. And let’s be clear here - only YOU can make it happen!