Find Balance through Boundaries title

e’ve been chasing work-life balance for decades.

Individually, we have contrived all sorts of personal improvements, process improvements, and time efficiencies—and we’ve exhausted ourselves in our efforts to find it. Organizations have spent millions of dollars implementing wellness programs, hiring consultants, and establishing training and learning development centers in order to create it. And yet… balance remains elusive.

It’s because we are chasing the wrong thing.

Instead of seeking balance, we need to put our attention on boundaries.

Why? Because balance is what arises after we focus and integrate our boundaries.

Balance Is the Outcome; Boundaries Are the Path
Balance is externally focused. When I focus on balance, I assume I need to create some perfection externally or that somehow I need to align myself to some vision of a balanced life—out there somewhere—sometime in the future. Balance is something to be created, to be chased.

Viewed this way, balance can be seen as an illusion.

When I used to focus on creating balance, I would meticulously weigh all the activities around me, pick and choose the ones I could remove, and then try to align myself to some imagined ideal in the future. This would set me up for failure time and time again, because the variables would always change. Situations would shift. Balance, even if found within a single blissful moment, is fleeting (at best).

Boundaries, though—that’s where my power lies. Boundaries are within my locus of control. They are always focused and centered in the now. Back when I was spending all my time focused on creating balance, the real question I needed to ask myself was: What boundaries do I need to set to keep myself strong, energized, and clear—in this moment—right now?

Exercise: Individual and Team Reflections
That single question has two key components. Specifically, do I have the tools and knowledge to access and answer what my needs are in relation to both my boundaries and my “now”? For a deeper dive, I like to break out the components:

  • My Boundaries: Here I need to figure out the boundaries that I (or my team) require. To answer this effectively, I need definitions, context, language, and tools for identifying, setting, and maintaining boundaries. I also need the confidence and skills to set my boundaries within different external conditions (i.e. environment and situation).
  • My Now: Here I need to figure out what is really going on in this moment. What needs are asking to be met and honored right now? To answer this effectively, I need an ability to connect with and be aware of the needs of myself and everyone around me. I need listening skills. Empathy. Awareness. These skills, acquired through strong personal leadership development, can help set me up for success with this part of the question. These skills, along with my depth of connection (to self and others), are ultimately what allow me to articulate and set healthy boundaries that honor the needs of all parties: my own needs, the needs of my team, and the needs of the moment.

Balance can be alluring—it seems like such a fun and easy space to play in compared to boundaries. It’s much easier to simply keep moving the chess pieces around than to actually focus on the mindset, belief patterns, or actions of the chess players themselves.

Dive Deeper: Reflection Questions
Reflect on Work-Life Balance: What images and thoughts arise for you? Are the actions tied to creating work-life balance externally or internally focused, or perhaps both? Have you found work-life balance elusive? Why or why not?

Reflect on Boundaries: What images or thoughts arise for you? Are the actions tied to creating boundaries external or internally focused, or perhaps both? Have you found work-boundaries elusive? Why or why not?

Consider Your Team: How might shifting your team’s focus from work-balance to work-boundaries shift discussions about workloads and workload management? How might dialogue in this space address recent team stressors or team energy levels?

Boundaries are hard.

Boundaries are the ability to validate and vocalize our “authentic yes” and “authentic no.” They require introspection, external awareness, and a good solid dose of humility and awareness of our personal triggers. They require that we validate and voice our truth, and this can put us face to face with our fears. Some of them are very real and well-founded fears, especially when we are dealing with professional reputation, fiscal stability, and/or future job opportunities—yet this difficulty is exactly why boundaries are so very powerful.

Boundaries reflect strong personal leadership skills. Their gifts are numerous. They grant us energy—an outcome of setting boundaries around our time. They grant us clarity—an outcome of setting boundaries by claiming space to think. They improve decision making by increasing our understanding of our choices in the moment—an outcome of consistent energy and clarity throughout our days, weeks, and months. As we improve our boundaries, other skills and gifts emerge too: increased creativity, improved connection with ourselves and others, and enhanced access to our personal power.

In a work setting, building personal leadership skills is at the core of boundary setting work. Personal leadership includes skills such as self-awareness, personal accountability, composure, confidence, and empathy. These skills are vital because in order to validate and vocalize my boundaries I need the ability to honestly assess the needs of all parties (myself and others) in any particular moment. I need to be able to accurately discern whether I’m seeing reality or some distorted picture of reality (based on my own misperceptions or the misperceptions of others around me). Boundaries also require a good dose of courage—especially in work settings—for once I see reality, I need to be willing to push back against those forces, structures, or individuals that keep those boundaries from being honored.

Over the years, I’ve shifted my focus away from balance and toward boundaries. This shift has changed everything. It’s helped me to hone my focus and my actions. It has helped me connect, vocalize, and prioritize my needs, which in turn strengthens me to support others with their needs. It has directly impacted my outcomes, my relationships, and my decisions—because boundaries changed my perception of my choices. Surprisingly, the one thing I was chasing for so many years finally started to emerge. Something once elusive finally started to take shape and form.

Balance arose from my boundaries.

Woodrie Burich
Woodrie Burich is a national speaker, executive coach, and owner of the Integration Group, which empowers professionals to create sustainable and thriving work lives that enable them to enjoy more, stress less, and connect with their communities in positive ways.