"You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm." ~ Unknown
Boundaries are the lines we draw to ensure our values and integrity are not compromised. Like a moat around our castle, they are the lines we will not step beyond, or the lines we will not allow others to step within. Our boundaries are the embodiment of our ethics, our morals, and our values. Setting and securing boundaries is therefore essential to living our best life, a life in integrity with who we are and what we love.
Some boundaries are easy to defend – those that relate to our moral or ethical principles for example. That is, in part, because they’re often shared by our community and our culture. Those boundaries are more visible, and are usually expressed through customs and conventions, or enshrined in rules, laws and codes of ethics. There are less visible boundaries however, that relate to our own private values-system.
Our values are the set of principles that we care about, the things that make us who we are, and because of that they are unique to us. Our values can be things like freedom, creativity, or family. While these values-based boundaries are those that most reflect who we are and what we uniquely offer the world, they are unfortunately also the first to fall, leading us to compromise or even sacrifice that which is most important to us as a result.
One of the most fragile values-based boundaries we often encounter in our coaching work relates to work-life balance. For most of us there are no rules that limit how long we work, and certainly none that ensure we spend adequate time with the people and on the activities that we most value outside of work. So, work-life balance is a choice we each have to make – a personal boundary we have to defend. Many people will confidently state that maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important to them, as an expression of their values of freedom, flexibility or family, for example. Those same people will often find themselves working evenings or weekends, and failing to take adequate vacation time.
If that sounds familiar Leader, or you can think of your own examples where your values-based boundaries seem to be lines drawn in sand rather than cement, waiting to be washed away by the next wave of pressure to strike your shore, here are some things to consider:
- How clear are you on your own values and the boundaries that support them? Could you name your top 5 values right now, in priority order?
- How visible are your boundaries to others? Remember, our values and boundaries are unique to us. Unless we manifest them in ways that become real to others, they will simply not see them and will step over or straight through them as a result.
- How consistent are you in defending those boundaries? Will you let some pass through but not others, or perhaps allow the persistence of others to eventually wear them down?
Your boundaries are yours, Leader. You have to own them, and you have to protect them. If they truly matter to you, they should be like moats filled with crocodiles! If your boundaries are really just lines drawn in the sand however, then you’ll soon find that your castle is built from sand too, and you will begin to find that which makes you who you are is also eroded over time.