July 21, 2021
Boundaries are a critical requirement of a successful, sustainable, and nourishing academic career. You cannot have this combo without boundaries.
That means we have work to do. And this work is aided greatly by being aware and accepting of the fact that you are likely terrible at this, especially if you were a ‘rock star’ coming into your faculty position.
I invite you to move with humility and understand that boundaries are a muscle you will have to rebuild with deliberate practice. Here is a starting point, a recipe of sorts, for this rebuilding work.
Step 1. Understand what boundaries actually are.
Boundaries are about power. Boundaries are about our power. Boundaries are an external expression of how you internally value your contributions and your future potential. When how you see your work and your future are tied up in your institutional circumstance and other people’s opinions – you will struggle mightily with boundaries.
Anytime you meet resistance about your boundary (which will happen), and you are not clear on our own value, your contributions, and your future potential – your boundary will disintegrate. Whatever arbitrary rule you set to create some sanity has NO chance against feeling threatened about your worth. None.
Step 2. Create 3D Boundaries
Often our first stab at creating boundaries comes as a reaction to exhaustion, resentment, and ultimately – fear. We feel the pain and the growing awareness that things are not sustainable and we panic and throw up a boundary – e.g. I will only check email once a day! – to stop the hemorrhage. These are reactionary, thin, 2D boundaries. They don’t last. They fall apart because they have no structure underlying them.
An effective boundary is in 3D – the boundary is the tip of the iceberg of an underlying structure that addresses your needs while preserving your energy. It’s that underlying structure that helps you enforce your boundaries even when others don’t understand or push back (which will happen). Structure gives your boundaries strength.
Step 3. Build boundaries in community
One of my favorite things to do is to trade ideas on structure and strategy around boundaries. You should adjust any idea to align with your own needs, but you also don’t have to start from scratch. And when your boundaries are tested (which. will. happen.) there is NO greater tool than community support.
The outcome of effective boundaries that are deeply rooted in owning your value – is the absence of drama, exhaustion, and resentment. Effective boundaries bring peace. It’s easy to gloss over celebrating peace, especially on your own. Instead of wasting your energy re-reading the passive aggressive email response to your boundary (which. will. happen.), your get to celebrate your courage and the peace and prosperity your boundaries create for you – in community.
Boundaries are not optional. Not if you want a career on your terms. You can create and enforce effective boundaries that pay off with peace, productivity, and baffling joy in your work. Just like anything else you’ve ever put your mind to, you have to decide you really want it, and then move that thought into action.
You are so so worth it.