We all have limits, whether imposed by laws, like speeding limits or self-imposed, like dietary rules. We also have limits of what we’re able to do– whether it’s how many miles we can run, or how high a note we can sing. Those are easier to see, but the limits that are harder to recognize are those on our spirits. We are daily bombarded with robot calls and endless emails. (I get about 100 emails per day and my husband about 300.) We have multiple forms of news and social media, which are hard to shut off. We have endless requests from people, whether it’s a needy child or a demanding friend or a difficult co-worker. We may have learned to set boundaries and even how to re-state our boundaries if they are ignored, but that doesn’t mean that others will listen and respect them and follow suit. With my coaching business, World Stage Coaching, my clients often talk about stating boundaries that others don’t respect, whether it’s a boss demanding more work and more travel, or a parent assuming they can crash at your apartment, or relatives who expect you to take care of their kids when they come to visit. Ultimately you can set boundaries until you’re blue in the face, but if others don’t hear you, it can feel useless. Here’s where limits come in. It’s helpful to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m at my limit here. I am not able to___________ (fill in the blank).” And then you leave.
This week, both of my teenagers are inundated with end-of-year school work, my husband is gearing up for a week in China, having just spent almost a week in Colombia. My daughter needs food and supplies for an up-coming camping trip and after she returns, she is home for three days before she leaves for 10 days for a school trip to Spain. My husband will not be around for any of this and we have no family nearby. A few night ago, I found myself writing a welcome card for our new neighbors to go with the box of cookies I bought, while talking to the exterminator who was droning on about ants and how best to handle them, while my husband announced that he forgot he was going to be on a Korean radio talk show and would be on the air (from home) in the next few minutes– and this was 8pm at night. My son was on the phone with his math tutor and my daughter had just come back from a tennis lesson and was trying to write an English paper. After the Korean interview, we did dash over to give the neighbors cookies. I don’t even remember dinner. And that was only last Wednesday night between 8-9pm. It occurred to me that boundaries didn’t come into play here. The reality is that I had reached my limit. After a certain point, I told my family I was off duty and focused on myself.
Yesterday, I got a massage and got my hair done, because I knew that if I was going to survive the recent demands on my time, I was going to need to keep taking care of myself. I told everyone in the family last night that I was going to focus on getting ready for my up-coming cabaret concert. But both my kids wanted to sing by the piano– which is sweet for absorbed teens– so we sang songs, while my daughter strummed the ukulele. My son had also decided last night that he wanted to write a musical about teens riding the rails in the Great Depression and had already written 1-2 songs and a scene by 10pm and wanted me to set one of the songs to 30’s music, which I did, because I was happy that he was excited about this new project. Still, it tested my limits last night and again today, when he was asking about how people talked then and what names were common– all great questions, but I had reminded him that I will have more bandwidth for helping after my show is done. Did I mention that I haven’t performed professionally in 12 years? Today, it became clear to me why I couldn’t get back to it earlier. There is so much non-stop giving that happens if you’re a really committed parent. People talk about how kids just need an hour of quality time. It’s not true. They need lots of quantity time– so that you’re around when they’re excited about a new show they’re writing or they ask about why kids are trying drugs or how to ask a girl to dance. They need you around a lot when they are teenagers, just as they did when they were babies.
So, today, like yesterday, after a certain point, I had reached my limit, and I shut the door and took a nap. It wasn’t completely uninterrupted, but it was good enough. I will no longer try to defend boundaries I have chosen over and over. Instead, I will let people know that I have reached my limit and I’m done— whether it’s explaining, giving, or finding missing objects. It’s a good feeling not to be available to solve every problem. I look forward to implementing it more often.
To find your world stage, know your limits and inform others when you’ve reached them. And then go take a nap, or have that massage, or do something else nice for yourself. You deserve it.