I believe that it’s very important to be generous, helpful, and available. I spend a lot of my time trying to make other people’s lives easier. It makes me happy to do that. However, there are limits. That’s been a tough lesson to learn because setting those boundaries has meant dealing with a lot of guilt and the crippling fear that I am being selfish. Luckily, I’ve mostly moved past that. If you occasionally struggle with that worry, or wonder if you expect too much from others, here are a few things that are seriously, perfectly, 100% okay.
1. Saying no to things you won’t enjoy.
Sometimes something is really important to someone else and that means, yes, you should grin and bear it. As I’ve mentioned at least once or twice, I go shopping with my sister Audrey several times a year, because it’s important to her, even though I would rather do just about anything else. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with saying no when an idea makes you uncomfortable. Several times, every year, someone invites me to go camping or on a float trip or a combination of those two. Usually, it’s the same people who year after year keep insisting that if I just gave it a try I would have lots of fun. They are very, very wrong. I would not have fun. And honestly, neither would they. I am terrified of bugs. I don’t even sleep well in hotels. I don’t like mud. I don’t want to get into water if I can’t see the bottom, or with no lifeguard. I’m a picky eater. I have food allergies. I’m also allergic to bee, wasp, hornet, and ant stings. I’m clumsy. Spiderwebs send me into a shrieking fit. There is no sunscreen created that will keep me from burning. Snakes exist. I have tried camping. Twice. I had a terrible time, and I know that I put a damper on everyone else’s fun. Even if I could pretend not to be miserable (and in the case of camping, I don’t think I could) I don’t want to. My point is that it’s really okay to say that something is just not for you.
2. Asking people to respect your time.
This includes being on time, staying within an allotted time frame, and using time productively. For example, I have limited patience with socializing during meetings. I’m not saying I’m opposed to fun – I love having fun – but when there are clear guidelines and things that need to happen, it is disrespectful to spend extended time on small talk that can easily cause the meeting to run longer than it needs to. At my job, this happens frequently, and a lot of times a few of us end up staying after the meeting has broken up to finish the work we didn’t accomplish. Respecting time is also important in our personal lives. I understand that things come up, and I don’t lose it when someone gets caught in traffic, but being late routinely sends a message of disrespect and implies that you don’t think the other person’s time is valuable. There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking someone in your personal or professional life to be cognizant and courteous when it comes to your time.
3. Asking for your chance to speak.
I’ve touched on the other side of this topic before, in my things to learn about other people post, but it’s important to remember that other people are also responsible for listening to you. Example: A lot of the people in my life have spouses, children, and grandchildren. Because their family is a huge part of their life they tend to talk about it quite a bit, and I love hearing their family stories. However, sometimes I notice that when I bring up important elements of my life (work, friends, books, films, etc) there is a definite lack of interest, and frequently an interruption and quick subject change. I’ve spoken with several friends about feeling marginalized in conversations, and have had some honest discussions about the importance of being interested in a topic because you’re interested in a person. Most of us also know at least one person who just loves to talk, and often monopolizes the conversation without realizing it. It can be awkward to address this, but you shouldn’t feel bad for asking someone to share the air. I’ve also been on the other side, as I have been kindly told that I sometimes cut off discussion way too early when I’m running a meeting at work. My point is that you have the right to contribute equally to a conversation, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for that right to be respected.
4. Not volunteering.
I recently stepped up to fill a gap at work when I discovered that, frankly, someone had dropped the ball and a problem had to be fixed pretty much immediately. The following week the same ball had been dropped by the same people, and because I had helped before, people started emailing me and asking if I could fix it again. The week after that, I was getting phone calls and complaints about the way I was doing someone else’s job. My first impulse was to try and do someone else’s job better, and I kept thinking “If I don’t step up again, my co-workers are going to have a very difficult time by being put in a situation where they are unprepared through no fault of their own”. However, after three weeks I was losing my mind. That’s when I remembered that I don’t have to feel guilty for choosing not to give my time and energy to sometime that isn’t my responsibility. This can be really hard, and sometimes when people are asking you to volunteer, there’s a lot of internal and external pressure. But you are under no obligation to do something detrimental or unpleasant for you. Being the “Go-To Girl/Guy” or “so good at _____” can feel great, but can also become very stressful very quickly (see my dangerous compliments post for more on these situations).
5. Spending money on yourself.
A few months after her son was born, my best friend Katie confessed that she had started having her groceries delivered. She was honestly embarrassed that she and her husband were spending the extra money for this convenience. I immediately told her, without a hint of shame, that I had been using grocery deliver for over a year. I don’t enjoy shopping, and I don’t want to take the time to shop. I also don’t enjoy deep cleaning my house, which is why I pay someone to do that for me. I probably spend at least a hundred and fifty dollars a month buying new books. If you can afford something that makes your life easier or makes you happier, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, there’s no reason to feel bad about it. I get why people might call it selfish to spend an exorbitant amount of money in a fiscally irresponsible way, but I am honestly perplexed when people feel guilty about small indulgences. As far as I’m concerned, God bless Instacart, UberEats, Amazon, and my cleaning service.
Do you struggle with setting boundaries? What are some other things we need to realize aren’t selfish?