It’s been four months since I wrote a blog post—and here’s why. I’ve been searching for the elusive key to happiness. Now that I’ve found it, I can share. The key (at least for me) is boundaries.
Sadly, boundaries are my Achilles heel—and I’ve developed one hell of an aching foot (not just because of my plantar fasciitis flare up). In fact, due to my inability to erect boundaries, my entire body is suffering and so are my mind, the cleanliness of my house, my friendships, my family and my own happiness.
When I returned to working full time, I knew maintaining balance in my life would prove challenging, but I thought I was ready for the challenge. Surely, I wouldn’t fall into the same old habits of my younger, more ambitious self.
She was a “yes” girl, as in yes, I can get that done. Yes, I can stay late. Yes, I can take on more responsibility. She was willing to say, yes, dear employer, you are my one and only, and I have forsaken all others because if I don’t, you may leave me, thus proving I am alone and worthless.
After two decades of saying yes, she was a mess, so as my 30s came to an end, I vowed to heal her. I gave up my fancy title and fat paycheck. I worked part-time from home and, after many failed attempts, learned to relax. I went to therapy and learned to focus on what really mattered.
I intentionally accepted a position with less responsibility than before and at a place that valued work-life balance. I was confident that this time would be different because I now had boundaries and priorities. The first two months were culture shock. I’d entered this strange world in which I was expected to be places at certain times, wearing clothing that felt unnatural.
I reassured myself I was simply assimilating back into the office world. Yet, by month two, I was drinking coffee every day. By month four, when summer rolled around, I was pissed off every time I dropped my daughter at camp on a gorgeous sunny day and headed out for my morning commute. By month five, I was eating lunch at my desk—every day again.
For the first two months, I chalked up my chronic fatigue and frequent desire to cry to still being in the transitionary period. After six months, I must acknowledge that I’m no longer in transition. This is my life now, and I don’t particularly enjoy it.
My boundaries have been eroding. My priorities have gotten fuzzy. My acid reflux has flared up, and I’m pretty sure my ass is expanding from all that sitting on it.
I knew I was heading down that slippery slope of putting work first all the time, but it wasn’t until last week that I knew I was completely losing my grip.
My husband was out of town, so I was doing the single parent thing, which had me a bit frazzled. Plus, I was exhausted from freaking out over every strange sound in the house. Work was crazy, and I was stressed about getting everything done.
As I dropped off my daughter at camp, I told her I would be a bit late in picking her up because we hadn’t gotten to camp at 8 a.m. like I wanted to. My tone indicated that if SHE had moved her butt faster that morning, I wouldn’t have to stay later at work.
Without batting an eye, she looked at the clock—it was 8:09 a.m. Then she looked at me and asked, “Can’t you still be here before 5? Will nine minutes really make a difference at work?”
BING! Boundaries bounced back into place.
I remembered that my daughter had been with her grandparents the entire week before and I’d barely seen her. She needed me and I needed her. She was right. Nine minutes at the office wouldn’t make much difference to my workload or my employer, but it sure would make a difference to her. I could spare the nine minutes.
The next day when we forgot to bring her prescription swim goggles for her field trip (the ones she can’t see without), I decided I could spare the 10 minutes it would take to go back to the house for them. That day, I even took a 15-minute walk at lunch. It was glorious, and somehow my workload stayed the same, but my anxiety about it went down. Two days later, I told my boss I didn’t think I could make a few of my deadlines (gasp!!!) due to the sheer volume of work I had taken on. She understood, and I left the office with my heart feeling much lighter.
My boundaries need shoring up, and I’m making small changes to reinforce them. Yet, I know bigger changes are likely necessary to ensure long-term balance. For weeks I’ve been formulating a plan of action, but my younger self has been trying to throw fear all over it. My younger self never developed plans of action. She was too terrified someone would say no.
The beauty of being a 40-something women, however, is that you lose your fear along with your smooth skin and tight butt (OK, so I’ve never had a tight butt, but my skin was once as smooth as a baby’s butt—a really long time ago, when I was a baby).
Going back to work threw me off kilter. It upset the balance. My old insecurities and bad habits crept back in, and fighting them sometimes feels like an uphill battle. But I’m back to reinforcing my boundaries and protecting my priorities—and my happiness.