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Five Ways to Build Healthy Boundaries

Tricia Montalvo Timm

As a first-generation Latina working as a corporate attorney, creating healthy boundaries was not something I knew how to do for most of my career. I was raised by two immigrant parents who worked multiple jobs to create a better life for their children. I never saw them complain or rest. In fact, I was taught to be grateful, keep my head down and work hard. That is what I saw, and that is how I thought I was supposed to show up in the world.

So, when I joined the corporate world, that is exactly what I did. I began working 80-hour work weeks and created terrible habits, with no boundaries. This eventually led to burnout. Working without any rest or sense of purpose led to health issues and put my personal relationships at risk. Over time, I realized that this lifestyle was not sustainable and that incorporating healthy boundaries into my life was what would lead me to the life I wanted to live.

Here are the 5 things you can do to build healthy, guilt-free boundaries in your life:

Create Your List of Non-Negotiables. 

There will always be someone asking for your time. Every second of it. If you don’t create a list of non-negotiables, then you will never find time to do the things that are important to you. Everybody’s list of non-negotiables is different. For some, it may be the morning carpool to spend extra time with the kids. For others it might be time to exercise or do a hobby. Decide what that is for you and when in your day/week you plan to do it. For me, it was important that I was always home for family dinners. It was the one hour of the evening when we would all come together and have a meal, device-free. This was my non-negotiable. I never took a meeting during this hour. This became extremely important as my kids got older. They were so accustomed to this daily routine, that they knew to turn off their devices and sit for a meal with their parents when they became teenagers. It was the one hour a day we could connect as a family.

Spread Out the “Office Housework.” 

At work, I was either the first to volunteer or the first to be asked to do all the event planning for the team. Whether it was planning a birthday celebration or an offsite retreat, I took on the extra task. Doing this additional work takes time and energy away from advancing your career. It also reinforces the bias of you as the administrative assistant rather than the executive leader. It’s ok (and even important!) to be helpful to the team, but just be mindful of how much you take on versus other team members and that you don’t suddenly find yourself as the owner of all the office housework. Encourage others in your group to take on tasks so that the work is spread out evenly.

Spend Time on Things that Align with Your Goals. 

If you are like me, you have competing priorities on your time. From your family responsibilities to work to your outside commitments, you are constantly being asked to help with the next thing. I found myself always wanting to say “yes.” I am a people pleaser, and I did not want to disappoint anyone. But what I found was that by saying “yes” to everything, I was instead disappointing myself. I was spread so thin, that I wasn’t doing anything well. I had filled my day with everyone else’s important items, but not mine. Next time someone asks for your time, pause before you say “yes,” and then ask yourself, “Does this request align with my values? Does it further my career goals? Does it further my personal goals?” If it doesn’t, then you can politely decline. It’s okay for you to prioritize your goals. 

Listen to Your Body.

Your body actually knows how to create healthy boundaries. The problem is that we often don’t listen to it. We push through the signals that tell us that we are at capacity. Instead of ignoring these signals, try listening to them. Next time when someone asks you to do something, pause and reflect on what your body is telling you. Do you feel excited and energized about the proposed task or instead do you feel depleted and exhausted at the thought of it? If any part of your body hesitates, tenses up, or you find yourself justifying why you “should” do it or that it “won’t take that much time,” then the answer to taking on a new task is a simple “no.”  Don’t override what your body is telling you. 

Bring Your Authentic Self to Work if it’s Safe.

Belonging begins with self-acceptance. We all want to belong but so many of us hide a piece of our identity to fit in. However, hiding any part of yourself means that you are spending unnecessary energy on fitting in rather than using that energy on things that bring you joy or contribute to your career. Sooner or later, the hiding will take both a physical and emotional toll. Instead of hiding, begin loving all of you, even the parts that might feel different from what you see around you. However, not all spaces will accept your authentic self, so it is important to evaluate your environment first and decide whether you are capable of handling a potentially negative response. If you feel like your authentic self won’t be accepted, then it’s okay to stay the course to create a healthy boundary to protect yourself. Eventually, you will want to start envisioning what an ideal workplace might look like and start planning to make a change because you deserve to be surrounded by people who value and celebrate you.

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