We spent last week cross-country skiing through the Finnish taiga. Much of our route followed the border between Russia and Finland and at the beginning of our adventure, our guide, Petri, explained to us how important it was to keep on the correct side of the border’s restricted zone.
There is no fence – just a series of painted poles, spaced 10m apart – so there’s nothing to stop you stepping over for a quick selfie as you mischievously break the rules. The border is patrolled though and we were warned that the guards would seek us out: our tracks would be very easy to follow! One of Petri’s previous clients had stepped into the restricted zone and later that day was questioned for two hours and fined 650 Euros.
‘A single step across the border is as bad as ten steps or one hundred steps,’ warned Petri. ‘You can’t only cross the border a little bit: you’ve either crossed it or you haven’t.’
That last sentence stuck in my mind: ‘you can’t only cross the border a little bit: you’ve either crossed it or you haven’t.’
We all need boundaries in our professional and personal lives. At what point in the evening do you switch off your phone? If you’re promoted from amongst your peers, how do you handle that transition from mate to manager? Will you answer e-mails on a Saturday morning whilst you’re ‘watching’ your son play football? Will you date a colleague? Do you take on extra work in order to appear ambitious and keen to progress even though you know you don’t actually have the resources to be able to work well?
It seems to me that the key to maintaining our boundaries is to know where they are in the first place. The signs and painted poles along the border made it very clear to me which side I needed to ski along: are you clear what your boundaries look like? Knowing your values and your limits is essential to setting your boundaries.
The other significant point is that those painted poles were visible to everyone, not just me. Once you’ve established your boundaries, other people need to be aware of them in order not to cross them. It might go something like this:
‘Shall I give you a call later tonight so we can discuss Friday’s presentation?’ asks a colleague.
‘Can we fix a time to do that tomorrow? I always turn off my phone when I get home so I can give my full attention to the children,’ you say.
In Robert Frost’s poem ‘Mending Wall’, he writes ‘Good fences make good neighbours’: in other words ‘good boundaries make good relationships’.
Today’s pebble for you to ponder: are you clear of your boundaries and are others aware of them?
What do you think?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?