Setting Boundaries with Corporate America

Several years ago, I had a therapist explain what boundaries were in our lives. She said they were like fences with gates around certain aspects of our lives. Some of our boundaries were built with brick walls, iron gates, a drawbridge, and a moat affording us the opportunity to take our time when deciding who we allow entrance. Other boundaries are white picket fences with an easily accessible hinged gate that guests can more readily enter and exit through.

Those first boundaries are the things in our lives that we do not share with just anyone. We might guard certain feelings until we feel certain we have vetted someone. We might guard our personal time and space, not allowing anyone to impede on the things we set out to do for ourselves. Or perhaps, we guard the words we use such as “love” and “commitment.” These boundaries may also be related to how people treat us. For instance, the things we guard so carefully might pertain to infidelity or abusive speech. Those are likely things that we would not tolerate from anyone.

On the other hand, the boundaries that are less rigid could be how late we allow calls from friends or how often we let someone borrow money. We decide who we open the gate to, but it is not necessarily a fortress. These gates will look differently for everyone because our values, desires, and needs vary greatly. Additionally, these boundaries occasionally need repair or restructuring and may change throughout the course of our lives.


Especially in the case of work.


I know there are people out there that do not have to work, but the reality is that is not the truth for most of us. A quick Google search showed that around 85% of people hate their job, but until money starts growing on trees, they’re likely stuck. For some, they’re “stuck” because they signed a contract and breaking that contract might mean losing certifications or the right to work in that field. Others have familial obligations that cannot be denied and changing jobs or quitting could cause irreparable damage to one’s home-life or financial circumstances. These jobs may require working late into the night or missing valuable family time. These jobs might feel soul-crushing and could interfere with our happiness and overall well-being. So what do you do when you’re not in a position to just leave, but you’re also miserable?


Set boundaries.


When we first set out in life our work boundaries might be very clear. We will not travel at all or we will travel for at least x% of the year. We will not interact with other humans or we will not work alone. Very often, when we start in a field, the expectations are easily identifiable. However, as we move up through the ranks in our chosen career, we often start wearing hats that we never realized we were asked to wear and our boundaries become muddled and murky.


This requires prioritization.

If family time is important to you but you have to take phone calls from all over the world, set aside time for either breakfast or dinner that you’re not taking calls. Maybe one day it is the  morning meal, and the next it is the evening meal, but in planning your calls and meetings, be deliberate in not scheduling things that could disrupt that time. Be sure to include your partner in the planning process to alleviate the stress of last-minute meals! If meal-time is not something that works into your current schedule, then find a time that you can spend having conversations and quality time with each member of your family. If your schedule doesn’t align with your child’s schedule, go crawl into bed with that child for a few minutes and hold them while they sleep. If you and your partner are like passing ships, write them a note where they will find it at the busiest part of their day. Take a few minutes out of each of your schedule to make physical contact - hold their hand, hug, take turns scratching each other’s backs for five minutes. If you can, spend a moment doing nothing but being with that person. This is not a long-term solution, of course, but if your short-term is stressful and overwhelming, do not let neglect the permanent things in your life.


Physical well-being is just as important as emotional well-being, and the two are even linked in many studies. Exercise and physical activity have been proven to help some with anxiety and depression, and if that is a regular part of your life that helps you, make time for it. I’m not even kidding, I know a guy that takes internal conference calls while doing crossfit because he recognizes that if he misses too many workouts while performing the duties of his high-stress job, he becomes a basically miserable person. Therefore, he does not let too many days go by without working out. If that means he’s on a call while he’s doing a WOD, then so be it! While that is obviously not the case for everyone, it might mean taking 15 - 20 minutes a day to do SOME kind of workout. It might not be going to the gym, it could mean waking up and doing 20 minutes of HIIT before getting ready for work. It could be 20 minutes of yoga before bed. Take a look at your schedule and make the necessary tweaks to prioritize.


How you fill your emotional bank may not be either of the above, but whatever it is, you must make time to refill it. If all you are doing is making withdraws, then you are going to be emotionally, mentally, physically depleted and end up burnt out. If you’re not in a position to change the course or direction of your workplace environment, then be sure to set some boundaries where you can.

Ashley Woodford