August 18th, 2009 · Identity, Individuation, inner life, Jungian, Jungian psychotherapy, Psychotherapy
This week I spoke with a very large number of people who are confronting serious issues around setting boundaries at work. I don’t mean facing boundaries issues like sexual harassment, or things like that — although that’s common enough, unfortunately. I mean situations where people are being asked, or more often told, to put up with working arrangements that take working life right inside their private lives.
Often these situations have to do with expectations around availability that completely obliterate the distinction between personal and private life. For instance, it seems that more and more people are expected to carry Blackberrys or pagers and to keep them on 24 / 7.
If you look on the web amongst thinkers who are identified as “advanced thinkers” or “those ahead of the curve”, you may find justifications being put forward for this kind of thing. You can find people saying that the division between personal and work life is obsolete. That in the new era, people don’t need to make that kind of a distinction anymore.
Maybe that explains the man I saw today on a hiking trail. He was talking animatedly on his cell phone, and completely ignoring his wife and children. The wife and kids didn’t look too happy about it, but he didn’t even seem to notice.
The plain fact of the matter is that work is a fluid, like a gas. It will expand to fill the space you give it. If you don’t want it to take everything — including your soul — you have to establish boundaries. If you don’t have boundaries around your working life, you either are — or are in great danger of — becoming a workaholic.
You cannot possibly find your own individual path if you don’t spend some time with yourself, alone, exploring yourself. That’s the only way to really, truly see yourself. If a person keeps letting work have more and more of themselves, they run the risk that soon there won’t be anything left inside of them but work.
Here are some very concrete actions that you might think about to establish your boundaries in the workplace:
Think carefully about how you might keep some of yourself and your privacy free from electronic intrusion. You might want to cut out answering your cell phone or Blackberry during meals. Maybe you need to free up specific blocks of “me” on the weekends when you’re “electronically unavailable”. Consider keeping computers laptops and Blackberrys out of your bedroom, the family room and the dining room.
2. Priorize…For Real!
This can be a very important skill: developing the ability to decide what’s most important — and just accepting that there is less time than tasks that demand to be done.
3. Get Real About Your To-Do List — And Make Sure that Your Needs Are On It
The endless to-do list isn’t an efficiency tool — it’s a tyrant. Decide on a small, reasonable number of things to put on the list. Make sure that your own needs for growth and for fun don’t get left off the list.
It’s easy to blame an employer for letting work take over my life. Oftentimes, employers do overload their employees, particularly in hard economic times. However, there may be motivations that I have, and parts of my personality that help ensure that I’m continually behind the 8 ball. Do I have an identity other than my role at work? Do I use work to avoid facing things and relationships in my life? Do I face overwhelming anxiety when I don’t work? Do I regard my over-busyness as a badge of status? It may be very important to address these kinds of issue with a therapist, and as soon as possible.
I’d be interested in your comments about the challenges you face in keeping boundaries intact in your life — and the solutions that you may have worked out.
My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness,
Website for Brian’s Oakville and Mississauga Practice: www.briancollinson.ca
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© 2009 Brian Collinson