“Boundaries are for me too.”
This statement represented a huge breakthrough for the physician I was coaching, a bright, accomplished subspecialist surgeon whose career was halted by exhaustion due to an untenable work situation exacerbated by the pandemic.
Her words revealed the progress she had made over the course of four months, now able to own her right to protect the time and energy she needed to be healthy and have a life outside the hospital. Through coaching, she was able to stay in medicine, though she chose to move to a work setting with more supportive leaders and a more people-friendly culture.
For those of us who didn’t learn to set boundaries early in life (or picked up the message that setting boundaries is selfish), just the thought of doing so can set off a major fight or flight reaction. We anticipate being inarticulate or invoking anger, so we avoid setting boundaries or rationalize them away.
Boundaries are really just statements of need. As in, “I need some time completely off of work every weekend in order to be with my family and recharge for the following week.” When our physical, mental, emotional, physical, or time needs aren’t met, they will eventually make themselves known.
We don’t set boundaries to be selfish, malicious, or vengeful. We set them because otherwise we become a lesser version of ourselves.
A physician who is constantly accessible to work emails, calls, messages, and texts—or thinking about work 24/7—will eventually become depleted, exhausted, and resentful. Those negative feelings signal that important needs aren’t being satisfied. That’s where boundaries come into play.
At first, setting boundaries will be uncomfortable, but it gets easier with practice. Plus, it often brings immediate rewards and a sense of greater empowerment. Self-doubt, guilt, and perfectionism can be major obstacles to setting boundaries, but they can be overcome.
Boundaries are for all of us. Begin owning your right to protect your needs and become the best version of you.
Read more about how to set them in my previous post, called The 5 Secrets to Setting Boundaries at Work. As always, I’m here if you’d like more support.