My sabbatical forced me to create some very definite boundaries between work and personal life. Because I wanted full separation between the people I work with and myself to have the most meaningful sabbatical possible, I had to put some things in place. It was mostly around social media.
Everyone from the church got put into a group on Facebook. From September 1 on they could no longer see my posts. Likewise, I couldn’t see any of their posts on my feed. I didn’t “unfriend” anyone but I no longer “followed” them. On Instagram I created a profile just for youth ministry related pictures and updates. I “blocked” all church members from my personal profile then added them all to the new profile. Finally, and I assume this is obvious, but it might not be, I took work email off my phone. From September 1 until I returned December 1, I never checked my work email.
All of these boundaries were so freeing! I didn’t realize how entrenched I was in my work until I took a few steps back. When I scrolled through Facebook, prior to my sabbatical, I would see family mixed in with college friends mixed in with colleagues mixed in with parents of my youth and church members. Even though I wasn’t working, I often felt like I was. I would see life updates that would cause me to send my boss an email to make sure he knew what was going on. I wasn’t working, but I was.
The same was true about email, pre-sabbatical. I would do one more check of my email before bed and see something on my work email that would send me into a tizzy. I’d get all stressed out about something someone sent me and then I couldn’t sleep. Had I waited to check that until I got to work the next morning, I would have been in a better state of mind to handle it. In fact, at that time, it may not have caused me nearly as much stress.
I enjoyed the extra space these boundaries created in my life. I didn’t feel like my work was my whole life. I really didn’t want to lose this feeling when my sabbatical was over and it dawned on me – I didn’t have to!
So, when I returned I educated everyone about my new boundaries:
- I will only respond to non-emergency texts during my work hours. (Why does someone think it’s okay to text me at 10:00 pm to ask about details for an upcoming event? I realize teenagers live on a different schedule than I do, but just because someone texts me doesn’t me I have to return it immediately.)
- I do not have work email on my phone. I will check my email on my computer during my work hours.
- I don’t regularly see what you post on Facebook. Don’t assume I know what’s going on in your life – if you want me to know, contact me directly.
Or something like that. I typed up a document and sent it out to staff, parents and youth. I’m grateful for the positive response I received about these boundaries. In fact, I had a few parents ask if they could borrow them! Of course!
Boundaries are hard but necessary. My dog doesn’t always appreciate that she has to be on a leash, but without the leash her life is in danger. My youth don’t always appreciate it when I stop them from roughhousing, but their safety is important to me. However, it seems boundaries are less and less appreciated these days. Boundaries between parent and child are much more ambivalent than they used to be – and I don’t think that’s a good thing. Boundaries about what is public and private get thinner and thinner.
I appreciate having boundaries. I like knowing where things begin and end. I mean, I am an ENFJ. So, when I created these boundaries for myself, I felt a little safer. I do like following rules and for the most part, I keep these boundaries in line. But, I also know when I need to bend a little, when I need to be flexible.
I think some of my youth were offended when I blocked them on Instagram. I think some of them don’t understand why I don’t reply to their texts immediately. But, someday they’ll get it. Someday they’ll understand that space is a gift, that being connected to everyone all the time isn’t always a good thing. Maybe by watching me, someday they’ll understand the gift of boundaries too.