Setting Boundaries

by Deborah A. Bailey

There may be some of you out there who are still working everyday, dreaming of starting your own business. Others may be juggling both - working and running a business. No matter what path you are on, remember that taking care of yourself has to be your priority. I learned that a long time ago.

I’ve read a lot of articles about the economy’s affect on employees. When I was a career coach, a few people I spoke with admitted that though they were stressed and miserable where they were working, they didn't feel they could afford to leave. Some were dealing with abusive managers, others with long hours and endless amounts of work. I’m certainly not going to tell people whether they should put their income on the line if they feel they can’t. What I will say is that if your health or well-being is in jeopardy, it’s time to set boundaries.

Years ago when I was a computer programmer, I had a turning point. I received word that one my coworkers had passed away rather suddenly. Harold was in his 40’s with a wife, young son and teen-aged daughter. Being an only child he also looked after his mom. For several years we’d worked together in the financial area of a major telecom company. Back in those days, we regularly ate breakfast, lunch and dinner in conference rooms. We gave up weekends, evenings and social events in order to meet short deadlines. It became normal for people not to have a life apart from the company.

There were times we worked 10, 12, 18 hours straight. Once when we were all working towards yet another short deadline, Harold and the other business analysts worked through the night. I remember going home late that evening and returning the next day to see they were all still working. They’d never gone home, never washed up or changed clothes.

Years passed and I worked in other departments. Finally I ended up back in the financial organization working with Harold again. One day I overheard some of his coworkers mentioning how (in their opinion) he wasn’t working hard enough. He wasn’t staying long enough. He wasn’t volunteering to be on call as often as they were. As far as I was concerned, I’d already been there, done that. The work load, unrealistic deadlines and low job satisfaction had taken their toll.

Finally when major layoffs were announced and the company decided to spin off divisions, I’d had enough. I was tired and my career – for all my overtime and stress – hadn’t yielded all that I’d hoped for. Ultimately I moved on to other places and started focusing more on myself. Instead of working overtime, I spent time with friends, took writing classes and planned a future beyond IT.

About three years after I overheard that conversation, I found out that Harold had died of a heart attack. His coworkers filled the funeral parlor where the wake was held. The mourners included the people who, years before, had said he hadn’t worked hard enough. I wonder if they remembered that conversation. They obviously didn’t know what sacrifices he had made in his decades with the company or what stresses he was enduring in his personal life. Instead they assumed that they were in some sort of competition where the person who gives the most and works the hardest is the winner.

These days I set boundaries in my work and personal life. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always adhere to them, but I try. Back then it was so easy for me to put myself last and give everything to my job. Now, my health and peace of mind are worth a lot more to me. It’s a lesson I won’t forget.

Deborah A. Bailey is author of two non-fiction books including, “Think Like an Entrepreneur: Transforming Your Career and Taking Charge of Your Life .” She's also the creator and host of Women Entrepreneurs Radio, a weekly internet talk show. Her fiction work includes a short story collection and a novel, available on 
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1 comment

Anonymous said...

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