Too often, I find myself exhausted, overwhelmed or frustrated because I have sacrificed my own self care to attend to another’s needs. This was a practice I learned very early: care for others first, care for yourself last. As a result, I am still learning how to set healthy boundaries in my adulthood.
Of course, this challenge appears in many places in my life - as boundaries are an important part of all of our relationships. However, most recently it appeared in my professional life. I found myself working forty-five hour weeks with no lunch breaks - I was so depleted by the end of the week I couldn’t even take a walk and enjoy my time off.
This past Saturday I walked into my therapist’s office and she asked me an essential question: “Is anyone forcing you to stay late, skip your lunches or overwork yourself?” and to this I responded “no, but I feel like I need to, and the work needs to be completed.”
I felt like I needed to. As if the world would crumble if I set boundaries to took care of my mental, physical and emotional health. I thought to myself, “If I don’t overexert myself I will be viewed as less than and I will be a disappointment.”
It’s something I observe all to often in the professional sphere. My female coworkers have always worked overtime without request, skipped their lunches and had an overwhelmingly hard time saying “no, I won’t do that.”
Part of this pattern is about the gendered workplace right? As women, we might feel like we have to work harder to get to the same place as men -- totally fair. But that’s not what I’m choosing to write about today, because my experience revolves more centrally around my boundaries.
The fact that I still believe my needs are secondary and my self-care is unimportant, that is the central problem for me. As I said, at the core it comes down to boundaries. As I child, I was not taught I could not say no. Rather, in order for me to survive, for my home to stay intact, for my father to maintain his health, I needed to say yes. Yes I can do that. Yes I will take care of it. Yes I am okay.
This lesson, that saying yes keeps the world from crumbling, has carried over into my adulthood. Here’s the thing, boundaries require saying no. No, I can not do that. No, I will not take care of it. No, I will not be okay if I work a forty five hour week without lunches.
So this week - with a lot of support and encouragement I said, no! No, I will not work 45 hours, in fact, I will work 35. I set those boundaries for myself. And believe it or not, the world didn’t crumble, not even a little bit. In fact, I feel so much better, I’ve been more productive and I’m sure I’ve been a hell of a lot easier to work with.
I also know that setting these kind of boundaries, retraining my brain, showing myself that is not only okay, but incredibly healthy to say no, will carry over into all different aspects of my life. For fuck sake folks, I’m trying to live in a van and travel the world. I’m going to need to learn how to better set boundaries with friends, families, and strangers alike.
So that’s it this week. Just a little snippet into my life. My life of failure, of not setting boundaries, of sometimes sucking at self care. And also my life of figuring shit out, overcoming obstacles and ways of thinking that have been ingrained into me since the beginning.
Here’s to figuring it out one step at a time, standing up for ourselves, and setting some damn boundaries!
Put yourselves first lovelies, for you should always be your most important priority!
With messy and imperfect love,