A continual area of discernment in my life as a mom is whether or not my priorities are properly ordered. As I have sifted through the tensions between being a wife, mom, and professional I have realized that being who God is calling me to be requires carefully discerning career boundaries and then protecting them. It is, of course, a work in progress, sometimes taking a while to decide where to set those boundaries and to re-evaluate them over time; however, in general, keeping these thoughts in mind helps me to follow through with the boundaries I have firmly decided upon in my career:
- Clarity in scope: Recognize clearly what my job requires as a minimum foundation and which aspects are extras beyond fulfilling those expectations. This also means knowing what is and is not my responsibility to solve.
- Discerning between goods and serving with joy: When deciding how many extras to commit to, I consider what is sustainable in order to serve with joy. While I anticipate an ebb and flow of more stressful vs. less stressful times, if I consistently feel stress based on having too many tasks to complete in a limited amount of time, I begin to question what needs to go. This can especially manifest itself when trying to directly serve people. If I find that I am too stressed out to respond calmly and joyfully to a student or colleague (or my family as the career stress seeps into home life), I need to re-order my priorities. When I first started thinking about this concept, I wrote the word joy in the top corner of my weekly agendas as a reminder.
- Negotiating: When I have reached a point where I know changes need to happen, I reflect on why I am feeling so stretched and then make decisions. When needed, I share those decisions with those in positions to decide my official responsibilities and how resources are distributed. I explain what I want to hold onto and what I need to let go of but also leave space for some flexibility. For example, if they really want me to continue with one of those extra responsibilities, I am willing to do so but in exchange for removing something else to accommodate that extra commitment. If they value it enough, they will provide the resources to turn the extra into a part of my regular duties. Or, they will find other solutions, and I am called to follow through with letting go.
- Money: In my current career some of the extras are service, while other opportunities come with additional compensation. Though the extra income is always helpful (such as for paying off debt, unexpected expenses, seasonal expenses, working towards a goal), I strive to not have the monetary incentive be the determining factor. I carefully weigh what the trade-off will be and whether it is really worth it.
- Ego/Humility: When making difficult decisions discerning between goods, it can be especially hard to let go of something important – meaningful and valuable work that positively impacts the lives of others. With one particular program, I needed to ask whether it was more important than my family in order to let go. Yet, aside from that more virtuous reason to want to hold on, I also recognized the role of ego. After pouring hours and weeks and months into a program at the foundational level, it was hard to then no longer be a part of it as the fruits of the labor were being produced. Yet, I just had to keep reminding myself – it was not good for my family to continue doing it as an extra. It has been an ongoing opportunity to grow in humility.
- Only my boundaries are my responsibility: After having the other concepts listed above established for multiple years, recently I have had inner conflict with some of the boundaries I determined. When I compare myself to some others, sometimes I start to feel like I am not doing enough. It took me a while, but eventually I noticed it was based on the extras vs. regular obligations (back to scope) and I came to realize that I am only responsible for determining and keeping my own healthy boundaries based on my values and priorities. Those will not necessarily align with others’. When that is the case and someone else is making decisions that would not be prudent for me and my context, I have to avoid the comparison that creeps in and along with it a rising pressure to do more, more, more. It is most difficult when the motivation to do more is in order to share a burden. Nonetheless, it still remains, if others are setting boundaries different than I am, I cannot sacrifice my own in order to alleviate work load of their extras. That would be setting myself up for a losing battle.
In life there is often a process in order to transfer the learning in one layer of life to another. After setting boundaries with career, I shifted towards a bigger focus on ministry. It has taken some years to navigate how I should set boundaries specific to that layer of life. As I prepare for the birth of my fifth baby this spring as the academic and ministry years are concluding, I am pondering in my heart what boundaries to set moving forward in this phase of motherhood. Though it is hard, I am focusing on growing in discerning with patience rather than rushing into decisions in order to feel settled.
Lord of Peace, Help us to recognize the peace that you offer as we navigate different roles in life within the overall context of our vocation. Teach us to prepare our hearts to receive your graces that we may make prudent decisions and align our lives to your will.
What have you learned over the years about setting healthy boundaries in order to align with your values and priorities?
Copyright 2018 Amanda Villagómez