The irony is not lost on me that as I’m writing about taking care of yourself, the world is in the middle of a global pandemic. The Covid-19 crisis gave me a badly wrapped gift: a lesson in what it really means to look after your physical and mental health when you work for yourself. When lockdown first came into effect, I assumed not a lot would change in my life. It was only when my days started to unravel that I realised how I hadn’t put any protocols in place for coping in a crisis. Not only that but it turned out that my self-care foundation was quite shaky, too.
The pandemic made me realise I was throttling myself with my rigidity and that I needed a schedule that left me enough room to breathe.
In an episode of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast, the University of Houston research professor interviews Glennon Doyle about her memoir Untamed. The pair are talking about boundaries and Brown says, ‘People think boundaries are a wall or moat around your heart, but they’re not. Good boundaries are a drawbridge to self-respect.’
In other words, boundaries are about behaviours, not people. I love this distinction because it removes the guilt many of us have when setting our boundaries. Thinking of boundaries as related to behaviours means we don’t have to completely cut out the friend who doesn’t respect our working hours but rather we can give ourselves permission to limit their behaviour.
The difficulty with boundaries is first we have to work out what they are, then we have to set them and then we must actually maintain them. You might already have an intrinsic sense of which behaviours you find unacceptable and want to put a boundary against. If you struggle to identify your boundaries, use these sentences as guidelines to help you figure yours out.
Fill in the blanks:
• People may not _______________ (E.g. People may not undermine my professional experience)
• I have a right to ask for ________ (E.g. I have a right to ask for timely payment)
• It’s OK for me to _______________ (E.g. It’s OK for me to protect my time by returning emails according to my schedule)
If you take the time to think about these and jot them down, it will drastically help you maintain your boundaries and you will see an improvement in your working life. It’s also important to remember that your boundaries can and will evolve over time. What makes you feel comfortable in one season of your life may make you uncomfortable in another and vice versa. One of my core boundaries is my right to change my mind.
If you struggle to communicate your boundaries in real time, have the robots do it for you instead. My inbox is my most vulnerable spot, so I like to wrap it in a protective shield of autoreplies and pre-written templates to save myself the mental exhaustion of asking people to respect my time and space.
Maintaining boundaries takes practice. When I first started using autoreplies in my inbox, I still went into my emails every ten minutes and replied to new messages. But then I realised that if I didn’t respect my own boundaries, I could hardly expect others to either. It’s no good telling someone you aren’t responding to emails to only then go and reply to them instantly.
Extract from You’re The Business: How to Build a Successful Career When You Strike Out Alone. Out now from Ebury Edge and available to buy at the following bookstores: