Here’s Where I Draw the Line: How to Set Boundaries in Your Personal and Professional Life

Here’s Where I Draw the Line: How to Set Boundaries in Your Personal and Professional Life

By Polina Mogilevsky, high school senior, aspiring journalist

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Is there a heaviness in you that you just can’t seem to shake because you feel the people in your life no longer respect you or your time? 

Well, it’s time for a change!

We all have the tendency to please. We never want to disappoint someone, which is why we have such difficulty with the word “no”. 

We’re afraid it might cause us to lose our job, or a client, or even a friend. We don’t say “no” out of awkwardness or social pressure.

Because of this fear, we tend to over-commit, and therefore we have to cancel on someone. We’re never on time and therefore we’re always late; or we just flake. These ultimately cause disappointment anyway.

It also causes us to say “yes” to things that don’t really matter or that will ultimately become a burden. 

There’s a difference between saying no and choosing no.

Here are some tips on how to draw the line in both your personal and professional life and to start living for yourself, not for the people around you. 

  1. Take a close look at the interactions you have with your peers, either at school, home or work. How often is it assumed that you are the one who will do the task so no one else steps up to do it?'

    Or, how often do you find yourself having to be the adult in a situation, take the initiative and do what needs to be done because no one else is willing to step up - likely because they just assume you will? 

    The first step to establishing boundaries is having a clear understanding of your limits and being able to effectively communicate those limits.

    When you choose ‘no’ you are able to better communicate your boundaries in a way that garners respect rather than disappointment.

  2. Take care: No matter how cliche it may sound, you really can’t pour from an empty cup. It is one thing to be a giving person, but it is unhealthy to devote every scrap of your time and energy into the needs and expectations of others and not leave room for yourself. 

    The problem with self care is it has long been associated with narcissism or selfishness. We often neglect to take care of ourselves first because we fear that we will be perceived as selfish or insensitive to the needs of others.

    It is both unrealistic and unreasonable to give every last shred of yourself to others. You only hurt yourself in the process. 

    Taking care of yourself first gives you the space and clarity to say yes to the things truly that matter.

  3. Peer pressure. One thing to always remember is that you do not technically owe anyone anything. 

    Choose “no”. Be assertive, but polite. There is nothing wrong with standing your ground.

    If your boss asks you to take on an additional project, ask her what she would like for your to de-prioritize so you can pay attention to this new project. If saying yes means you’ll compromise the quality of your other work, then “no” is not only a reasonable response; it is an essential one.

    Or, if a friend asks you to help them move, and you really don’t want to. You can simply say: “I am unable to help you move, but I can recommend a few moving companies.” That way there is at least a trade off. You are saying what you will not do, but you are putting it in terms of what you are willing to do. 

  4. Unspoken boundaries: In this day and age when we have our smartphones glued to our hands, it’s difficult not to be hyper-responsive. However, it creates the belief that you are always available. 

    There are ways to mitigate this. You don’t have to physically communicate boundaries to have them. You can quietly set boundaries and regain control of your time:

  • Set clear times for professional communication and when you are unavailable. If you are not a morning person, and you communicate best after 11am, then don’t schedule calls or meeting before 11am. 

  • Designate when the workday is done. This means no professional email, calls, texts after that designated time.

  • Use email responders: It is common to get an auto response when someone is out of town. This is probably the most socially acceptable way to say “no”. But, why limit these to vacations and holidays? You aren’t saying you don’t want to reply to an email; you are simply saying you can’t get back to that person for a period of time. 

  • Turn off your devices (GASP!) If you have a big work project to complete, or if you are enjoying time with your family that you rarely see, turn off the phone and make the most out of the present moment.

Unfortunately, boundaries are difficult to establish and even harder to maintain. But, if you learn to prioritize yourself and your personal beliefs first, you will be able to regain control of your time and earn the respect of the people in your life. 



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