Without boundaries, without lines drawn on the sand, mile markers on the road, road signs to tell you where you're going, we'd get lost. We wouldn't know how to get where we're going. Without a clear sign, we might not even know if we'd arrived or gone too far.
To get to a place like Oatman, pictured above--a tiny off-the-beaten path town on Historic Route 66 in northwestern Arizona--you also have to have a map. It helps. A lot.
Human boundaries are similar. They help us stay focused. They help us find where we're going so we don't veer off in the wrong direction. They keep us on the right path and away from something that might take us where we don't really want to go.
Yesterday, I got a call from someone who belongs to one of the same professional organizations to which I belong. We're both working on the conference committee. It seems he was asked to co-chair next year's conference, and he was calling to ask me if I'd join him in this effort. I had to say, "Thanks, but no thanks." And I'm glad I did. It's easy to get "roped in," if you will, to something that sounds grand. But it's a good thing to think about accepting the offer before you do; it might not be the best idea. Give yourself time to consider the full scope of the job, how that will interfere with your personal and professional life, and how it might impact your life for the duration of your involvement.
I must say, I was honored to be asked. This is a conference I've worked on for several years now, and I could see myself in charge of the entire thing. But not this year. I have a book coming out in November that is going to require my time, focus and energy. Organizing a huge conference would just get in the way of what I really need to do. So I had to decline the offer.
And I was somewhat sorry about that. I could even hear the frustration in this guy's voice, as he's new to the organization, doesn't know many people, and it will be harder for him to find the help he needs. But he will. I did offer my help on the committee--same as I've done this year. And I did offer some names of people he can contact in my stead. The other person he asked, who also declined, did the same. Thankfully, we both know our limits.
There have been moments in my life where I have not. I have accepted jobs, positions and volunteer posts when I shouldn't have, when I knew better, when I did not have the time. I did it for the wrong reasons: for the glory; for something I thought I'd get out of it but didn't; for something that wasn't authentic. The problem with saying yes when you mean no? The people who are counting on you aren't going to get the best work out of you, especially if you agree to do something out of guilt, let's say, or coersion, or because you just can't say no.
Best piece of advice for you: LEARN TO SAY, "No, thank you."
Do it now, in the mirror. Get comfortable with how that phrase feels on your lips. It will be a lifesaver when you least expect it.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to know where you're going, know what you need to do to get there, and have a plan in place that helps you determine where you can help others if the need should arise. But be able to help yourself first, just as they tell you to do on an airplane. In case of an emergency, you're told to put your oxygen mask on first. Why? Because you can't help someone else if you can't breathe.
It's a wonderful thing to be able to help in times of need. But it's not so great if you're doing it for the wrong reasons, to be a martyr, for example. If that happens, you can bet the complaints will come in soon enough...from others and also from yourself. And you won't have anyone to blame but yourself.
If you can remember a time when you've crossed a boundary or someone's crossed yours, or you failed to set boundaries in the first place, post your story here. Tell us what happened and how you worked it out.