Can There Really Be Boundaries?
By JOSEPH TAN
“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason why it was put up.” – G.K. Chesterton
In today’s connected world, it is getting harder to compartmentalise communications – everywhere we go, there is probably a data connection facility available for us to stay in touch (case in point – I am now typing this article while waiting to board my flight).
For anyone seeking to have a balance between work and life, it is becoming increasingly elusive because the boundaries between work and life are blurring – could we be reaching a societal situation where we work to live and live also to work?
Coupled with the expectations of high performance and a challenging economic environment, employees are constantly having to multi-task, multi-think and multi-train.
In fact, it is a common sight today that, everywhere you go, you see people switching screens and applications on their devices while eating, conversing and even while walking!
It is no longer the case where we bring work home; we now have the situation where work feels right at home. Considering this inescapable sense of the pervasiveness of work, what boundaries should be put in place, or can there really be any boundaries at all?
Fences are constantly being taken down nowadays in the name of technological convenience, but we need to ask – “Why was the boundary there in the first place?”
The boundaries of key people
Is life about relationships or is it about results? Human nature is such that we are driven by what is external unless there is the regular discipline of personal reflection.
The boundaries of key people in your life are established for three good reasons:
1. They are your source of wisdom and guidance (the senior ones).
2. They are your reasons for leaving a worthwhile legacy (the younger ones).
3. They are grateful for your coaching and contribution (the mentored ones).
If work has reached a point where your predominant thoughts are around your KPI (key performance indicators) instead of the other KPI (key people investments), then we need to retrace our steps and reconsider putting the fence of key relationships back in its rightful place again.
Then again, this is easier said than done because while most of us instinctively desire to establish key people connections, the pressure to make ends meet could override even the best of intentions.
How then is it possible to respect the boundaries of key relationships while fulfilling the job description and challenging work demands?
There are two possible strategies:
1. Discover your strengths
According to Gallup, people who do focus on their strengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. When you choose to regularly calibrate your job with your strengths, you are ensuring both professional and personal fulfilment.
2. Date Your Relationships
Someone once said that love is spelt t-i-m-e. My care for someone is reflected in the regularity of scheduled connecting moments.
Often, people end up spending more hours at work not because they want to but due to the fact that our schedule tends to be filled up with the expectations of others if we do not first block off our items of priority. Those who are a slave to time usually have not taken time to select the right master.
The boundaries of key purposes
Recently, I had a conversation with a human resources director who lamented that while there was a grand scheme to transform the company by introducing a palate of tools for measuring almost everything, several employees resigned.
Looking back, it wasn’t that the measurements were not important, rather there was no or little effort spent to motivate the employees with a sense of purpose – crystalising the why behind the whats.
People do rise up to assigned challenges but they first need to rise up from within. Employees at all levels of the organisation need to know – more than just what the company sells – what does the organisation stand for?
More importantly, an employee also needs to know – what does my life stand for?
The fence of key purposes in one’s life is to safeguard the following:
1. Maximise your limited life
If we could live forever and have all worldly wealth, then there is really no need to establish any sense of life purpose. I can do all I want without any regards to any constraints at all.
However, life is not like that – on the contrary, your life is a limited edition. Without purpose and a moral compass, one’s life can be wasted away by the incessant demands of repetitive, routine work.
2. Moderate your passion
Passion without purpose is like zeal without knowledge. Sometimes, when we get excited about work, we forget about what really works, what really matters.
This is especially needful for leaders who are in the limelight – there is a tendency to work to fulfil the expectations of the masses that the leader starts to lose sight of his personal life calling. Your passion ought to be fuelled by your purpose, not by popular expectations.
It Is About Well-Being
Instead of asking each other – “How busy are you at work?” ask a more probing question – “How well are you doing at work?”
The answer to this question will reveal whether if the right boundaries are in place in your life. The boundaries of key people and key purposes are not meant to restrict you, rather they liberate you.
By focusing on well-being (and not just doing well), it gives a refreshing reminder to all of us that we are an individual first, and then we are an employee.
We are human beings, not a human doings. We work because it enhances our humanity, and if my work reaches a state where it dilutes my humanity, then it is a wake-up call that certain vital boundaries have been removed.