Evolving Your Boundaries

Dana Underwood Avanti Alliance


Life changes. Of course it does. You graduate, you get a job, you get married, have kids (at least, that’s how it goes for some people). As we evolve, our lives change and our needs evolve with it. And often, with these changes, comes a changing set of priorities. In order to continue to focus on what matters to you, sometimes it makes sense to redefine the boundaries in your life. This may mean asking a partner for more help at home, which can be hard enough. But sometimes this requires talking to a boss about a more regular schedule, or a coworker about those late night emails. Whatever this looks like, setting clear, definable boundaries allows you to align your life around your priorities. It also gives you a clear view of those things that may no longer fit in with the new you. 
For me, personally, my change came after having my son. Staying at the office until 7pm was no longer an option. I always was a night person, so putting in long hours after coming home from work didn’t phase me. I could eat dinner, relax a bit and then log back on after my husband went to bed. This was fine. It worked for me. It made me happy. But once my son was born, that time became infinitely more valuable. I wanted to be home to spend those precious few hours before bed with him. I couldn’t give up any more of my time late at night, because I was getting up to feed, change and attend to his needs. Not to mention that I needed to be at least somewhat rested to show up as the mom and the employee I wanted to be the next day. It suddenly became very clear that what I was currently doing was not worth the cost of what I was giving up. I recognized that I was changing the game in my career. I was suddenly setting boundaries I hadn’t had before. I understood that this meant my current job was no longer a fit for my life, and I chose to walk away. But setting boundaries doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Maybe your current job isn’t right as it is now, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one that is. You hold all of the control to take back your life and to find what fits.


Often, the most striking transformation for a person with shifting priorities, is the evolution in identity. Those who once saw themselves as workaholics, always the first one done on a project, always up and ready to respond to a late-night curveball. They now have to see themselves as something different. Something new. A parent. A partner. And it’s really hard to let go of that old identity, especially if you are still in the same job. It’s important to remember, you are still you. And you are still showing up, just in a new way. Not one that’s lesser than or worse, just new. And the new identities you now hold are far more valuable than the ones you are shedding. 


When you realize your boundaries need to change, it’s usually a result of a last-straw situation. Often, people don’t put a new stake in the ground, until the old one has been shoved out of the way. And at that point, things have gotten bad. There’s resentment. There’s frustration. And it often doesn’t end well. That’s why, every two years or so, I tell my clients to take a look at their current boundaries. What are you showing people you’re willing to put up with. You might realize that you’re not sending the message you were hoping to send, and that your boundaries need a reset now, before it’s too late. 


Before you can expect someone to understand and respect your boundaries you have to make them clear. This is especially true if something in your life has caused you to reprioritize and change the way you need to work. Be clear with your boss about what your boundaries are. Understand that your boss and your company will have boundaries too and sometimes your priorities will not align. Understanding your top priorities allows you to clearly decide if this job still fits your life or if it is time to move on.  Be firm and direct about what matters most to you. It’s not helpful to say “I need a better work life balance” if you, yourself, don’t know what that means or what that looks like to you. Have defined points like “I won’t be taking calls after 7” or “I will be offline from 6-8 so I can put my kids to bed.” Setting those clear rules is critical so the lines don’t get blurred. There’s no worse feeling than thinking you’re not being heard, or that your boundaries aren’t being respected, so when you stand firm in them, it helps people to know where the line is, and what not to cross. 


Yes, sometimes, there will be a fire drill. There will be an emergency that no one saw coming. In those instances, remember you are a team player. Sometimes it takes individual sacrifice to better the good of the whole. This should be the exception not the rule. If you are constantly being asked to do things that infringe on your personal boundaries then it is time to re-evaluate. Was this a boundary that they had no choice to cross? Could they have gotten me the information earlier? You will know the answer, and then you can decide how to move forward.


When you set new boundaries, it’s important to remember, you’re not letting anyone down. You’re still showing up. You’re still accountable. Just in a new way. A better way. When we make time for ourselves, and clearly state our boundaries, we are less resentful. We are more receptive and open to true work emergencies. We’re better equipped to deal with all that work throws at us, and put forward a more positive attitude each and every day. You’ve earned your spot. You’ve gotten to where you are with hard work and undeterred reliability. Now is the time to make sure you’re getting out as much as you’ve put in.

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