Boundaries as a Key to Work-Life Balance for Career Development Practitioners
By Teena Evert
"We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”
— Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear of a colleague’s struggle to achieve work-life balance. As busy career development practitioners, we juggle service to clients with running and marketing our businesses, while attending to our own professional development, health and well-being, community commitments, households, and families. We live out daily examples of Super’s (1980) life-space concept with the varied roles we fulfill.
Too often, we struggle with trying to be all things to all people, or with being fully present in all those “spaces” in our lives. We know this is not realistic, but we try anyway. Some employ more technology tools to manage processes, tasks, and calendars. Some work longer hours. We take all sorts of measures that seemingly enable us to save time, when in fact, we end up enabling our over-commitment tendencies. To break this cycle and achieve true work-life balance, it is essential that we create healthy boundaries to manage our time, energy, and commitments.
Accepting Boundaries into Our Lives
Boundaries are rooted in prioritization. When we prioritize what is most important in our lives, it is easier to achieve work-life balance as a way of being. The singer/actress Dolly Parton is not a typical source of wisdom for the career development profession, but there is profound insight in her oft-cited statement, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
We live in a society in which saying “yes” is the acceptable norm, often compounded by the “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) trend. We take on extra projects, challenges, or client work when our plates are already full. The first step in establishing healthy boundaries is to get clear about where we want to spend our time and energy. I recommend spending it on things that bring a high level of satisfaction and align with our goals.
Key Elements of Boundary-setting
For some people, firm boundaries can feel harsh or limiting. They don’t have to be, but sometimes they simply are, and we must learn to be comfortable with that. As career development practitioners, setting clear parameters around our services and business hours is an important place to begin. However, there is more to boundary-setting than simply saying “no” and keeping our hours and range of services in check; less obvious approaches include being flexible, definitive, creative and adaptable.
Work-life balance is not a static state. We live in a world where flexibility and continued re-assessment of work-life balance is essential to maintaining choice and being able to make conscious decisions that invite a new work-around when called for. In order to have flexibility we must first define our boundaries by allocated time and space as a buffer between ourselves and our scheduled commitments. We must also be prepared, however, to re-evaluate and re-define our boundaries as our goals and circumstances change. I often coach my clients towards creating more flexibility in their professional lives since there are often unpredictable situations that may require them to be less rigid. It is important that we model this flexibility for our clients.
For example, I may have a boundary of time that defines my availability to get other things done or simply to relax and recharge between scheduled client sessions. However, if a client is facing a time-sensitive situation that requires me to give up some of that down time, I temporarily flex to meet the client’s needs.
Define Work Requirements
Our work requirements are non-negotiables that relate directly to our deepest and most critically important values and priorities. They drive the creation of strong, healthy boundaries. Our ability to identify our requirements is imperative to success and leads to values-based decisions that will protect from job burnout. Values-driven work requirements support work-life alignment as a busy career development practitioner.
Create Space and Minimize Distractions
Creating a mental and physical space between ourselves and unhelpful distractions can prevent overwhelm or derailment from career goals and priorities. Consider planning a vacation or quick get-away in order to create physical distance and space from a project or person. Re-prioritize less important projects or goals for a specific time period in order to create time distance. Choosing to focus on just one goal at a time can also create mental space from other potential distractions. For example, perhaps your goal this year is to develop your personal branding to better attract ideal clients. Consider creating a mind map to help you visual the space you need to minimize potential distractions and stay focused on pursuing this one goal.
Our ability to be adaptable requires both self-awareness and flexibility. This can be what you need it to be, such as a firm strong boundary or a more relaxed boundary depending on the situation. It can look like having flexible management of time and goals, having clear awareness and recognition of limits, and the ability to prioritize new items as they arise, while managing previous commitments.
When we don’t set boundaries, we risk disappointing others – the proverbial “overpromise and underdeliver” dilemma, but we also disappoint ourselves as we stray from our values and goals. Work-life balance depends on learning to set boundaries, creating the framework that helps us keep from falling into a state of overwhelm and potential job burnout. This is a creative, fluid process that allows for ongoing personal and professional growth as a successful career development practitioner.
Super, D.E. (1980). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 16, 282-298.
Teena Evert, MA, BCC, CCC, GCDF, CCTC, CDBS is the founder of Claim the Lead, PLLC. She is a board-certified coach, Certified Career Counselor, Global Career Development Facilitator, Certified Career Transition Coach and Certified Digital Brand Strategist. She helps early career professionals transform interests into jobs and plan for a bright future. She also helps mid-career professionals move beyond burnout and successfully navigate career change. To get in touch, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more visit https://teenaevert.com/