Slow Sunday: Drawing the line

You are stretching yourself thin. Saying no isn't easy for you, and you get bad conscious when you can't accommodate the wishes of other people. You feel you are getting walked over constantly. Your clients (or your boss) keep expecting you do everything and a whole lot more. For the same price. Or maybe you keep doing something you have decided not to do, just one more time. And then another one more time. And another. In case any of this sounds familiar to you, you have trouble with drawing the line.

Slow Sunday: Drawing the line -- Mervi Emilia

Over a decade ago I was working in an educational organisation. Part of my job was to accept enrolments to courses. The courses were quite popular and had a very limited amount of seats. Thus they were filled soon, in "first come, first served" basis. This led, every time, to the situation where I had to tell people that the course they wanted to take was already full and that I couldn't accept any more students for it. And every time there were people who asked: "Can't you take just one more?" As instructed by my boss, I would tell this was impossible. When the people kept begging, I would calmly explain that if I take just one more, then I have to take just one more after that and another after that... Until there would be a whole new course worth of "just one mores". After this explanation, these people usually gave up with their begging. They weren't happy but they realised I was serious about it.

I'm very familiar with "just one more", especially in my work. I had one foot out for a while with web design and development. I wasn't happy with the job, and I wasn't happy with other designers, those usually not very good at their work, trampling the prices. Many of the jobs I did were more work than what I was payed. I wasn't happy with the state of web design and how monotonous the websites have became. Most of all I felt my work was undervalued and often I was uncredited for it. But I kept taking new jobs, one more time after another. Thinking that I must. Every time I was through, someone would ask me to do another job, and I didn't dare to say no. This year I found myself saying increasingly no. I became pickier and pickier about the jobs I chose, passing on many by just following my gut. Finally, after a burnout, I came to the decision to quit these jobs altogether. I drew the line on what I was willing to do, and web design and development didn't make it to the other side.

Setting limits on what you are willing to do isn't only for the other people. It also helps you to know when to say no and when to step away from stuff that doesn't work for you. Of course, there are always people who expect special treatment. And of course, there are those who won't understand. But when you know where you have set your line, it's easier for you to say no.

Drawing the line is closely related to finding focus. As a matter of a fact, in order to find focus you must set limits. When you know what you are not doing, it's easier to focus on the stuff you are doing.

Without setting limits of what you are willing to do, you are going to end up doing everything and a whole lot more. That's not only a financial problem, though you are going to give your work and effort for free when you should be getting paid. It is also a huge health issue. Stretch yourself too thin, and you will burn out. In my experience, burnouts are no picnic. Not drawing the line causes stress and stress is a well known cause of many health problems. It affects your mind, making it hard for you to concentrate and get things done. You will have trouble of sleeping, eating and then some. Additionally stress is bad for your heart, raises blood pressure, causes headaches and weakens your immune system. Basically you might die from stress.

You have to draw several different types of lines in your life. They can be work and business related, relationship related, family related, or even have to do with things like what you are willing to eat and what you aren't. Those of us with special diets, whether it's for health, religious, or ethical reasons, are familiar with setting and communicating their dietary restrictions. We also are familiar with resistance it causes. For some reason, being a vegetarian or vegan is a very sensitive matter for those who eat meat.

That said, other people aren't always happy and often will resist your limits. Usually, in my experience, it is due to them having their own agendas and interests. In Finnish we say someone has "oma lehmä ojassa", own cow in the ditch. It means the person, who has their own cow in the ditch, is mainly interested of their own advantage. When you are setting the limits of what you do, you will encounter people who find your limits too limiting for them to benefit. Your limits may be a drawback to some people around you. Those people ought to get over themselves.

Additionally you may experience your own inner resistance. For example, you may feel bad conscious for saying no or breaking a, professional or personal, relationship with someone. Severing a friendship isn't easy, nor is telling a client that they are no longer your client. You could feel that you are committing a professional suicide by stopping offering certain services. It's much easier to try and be everything for everyone, than to decline job offers since they don't fit within your newly set lines.

Fighting that resistance becomes easier, the more assured you are with your own limits. When I decided to get out of web design and development, I wrote a blog post about it. Seeing the mainly positive response this post received (especially amongst people I know as "web people") boosted my confidence that this was a good decision. I also had conversations with my life partner and my sister. These conversations gave me satisfaction about the lines I was now drawing. Of course I still have moments of regret and fear, but I remind myself of why I made this decision and about the response my post received and the conversations I've had with some of those closest to me.

In case your own assurance isn't enough, I recommend looking for outside help. You can talk with people close to you, or announce your new limits on a blog or around social media and hopefully get at least some positive response. In case you use Facebook, I recommend joining supportive groups, such as my thriving collective and discus your newly set limits there. Additionally you can talk with a therapist or a coach, depending on your needs. I highly recommend not getting left alone with this, and with the technology these days it's quite easy to find the support you need. For those who enjoy making lists, creating a "hell no" list is a useful trick. It means creating a list of things you are not willing to do, based on your previous experiences or things you see others doing.

Drawing the line is beneficial for you in many ways. It helps you to relief your stress and thus get healthier. It also can help your finances. It's an ultimate slowing down method, and helpful for those who suffer from depression and anxiety. It helps you to focus. It requires work and determination, and you may need assistance with drawing the line. It's always okay to ask for help!

Slow Sunday is a new series about slowing down, dealing with depression and anxiety, soothing your stress, relaxing, and getting over yourself. Do let me know if you have a specific subject you'd like me to write about. And please, share your personal thoughts and feelings about the subject in the comment area of the article.

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