Advice to Young Creatives Series: Boundaries are more important than ever

Hey friends,

We’re starting to see light at the end of the tunnel! Vaccines are rolling out, the weather is getting nicer, the economy is picking up (and we have economic leaders that care about EVERYONE’S economic recovery…!), and more and more folks are starting to look for new employment as the world re-opens.

All of this is amazing.

And all of this is why it’s more important than ever to establish (or re-establish) your professional boundaries, especially for creatives.

light at the end of the tunnel!

For a long time (like embarrassingly long time…like a decade) I was terrible at creating boundaries with my professional work. I was the person who you could call or email at 11pm on a Saturday with an issue and I’d respond right away. I even took pride on being the indispensable person, citing it as a badge of honor in job interviews.

It made me feel important.

It made me feel good to know I was in some subtle way suffering for my creative career.

But I want to let you in on a little secret–no one respected me for acting that way.

And just below the surface I was deeply unhappy and mentally unhealthy.

I think as creative folks, for many of us, the arts are the first time we’ve felt belonging.

I wrote more about it in a previous post here but because of our emotional history with our creative practices, when we enter the work force we have a hard time delineating between what’s a healthy and unhealthy relationship with work.

In the past few years I’ve worked to create some boundaries between work and home, and even during the past year I’ve tried my best to stick to them.

It’s helped to keep me mentally sound even before the pandemic and will continue to help me be a whole and complete person when we return to normal life or some variation on it.

A few things to remember about why to create boundaries:

  • Your job/coworkers are not your family
  • Just because you make personal sacrifices for a job does not mean they will value you more
  • If you answer emails/calls after working hours your co-workers/clients will assume this is a given going forward and will expect it from you (usually without any change to compensation)

So….how do you create these magical…boundaries?

It’s not a one size fits all. I wish it was. I wish that creating boundaries was super easy and simple and cleancut. But each gig, project, company, job, etc. is going to look different.

Here are some general as well as practical tips:

  • Set your working hours, communicate them, and stick to them. Be clear with your clients, co-workers, company about when you are working and when you are not working. No one can respect your off time if they don’t know when it is! Some people put their working hours in their email signature. For those who freelance, I’ve seen autoreplies along the lines of “Please allow 2 working days for reply” etc. Most people are very understanding once they’ve been told a timeline and/or when to expect a response. For folks who freelance this is especially important. Set aside time for emails, zoom calls, etc. and stick to those times as much as possible to allow you to engage in your creative work as well as your regular human life stuff.
  • Don’t give out your cell number. Seems simple, right? And sometimes it’s not possible. I know many of us freelance which makes this tip completely useless, however, for the folks who work a more traditional job in a creative company, the less you give you cell phone number out the better.
  • Remind folks to communicate with you through professional channels. I’ve had co-workers reach out to me before on my instragram for work related issues. I gently remind them to email my professional email address and don’t respond further to their request(s). It’s uncomfortable, but in the long run, I’m glad I’ve done it.
  • Don’t put your work email on your phone if you don’t have to. Again, I know for freelancers this can be tricky. But if you work in a more traditional setting, unless 24/7 email monitoring is EXPLICITLY required in your work description or contract, don’t do it.
  • Request compensation if you’re working outside of your agreed upon terms. For gig work/freelance/project work we call this a revision clause. If your client wants more than the agreed upon revisions, they pay for it! Maybe you work in a non-profit where money is tight and additional compensation isn’t possible. In that case, ask for something else. Extra vacation time, flexible work hours, a hybrid schedule. SOMETHING. In my first post of this series I shared the best advice I was ever given–don’t work for free.

I want to reiterate how hard this is. Especially coming out of a difficult year financially for many of us. Especially coming out of a year where most of us were working from home. Especially coming out of a year that has been so emotionally overwhelming.

This is why it’s more imporatnant than EVER to take care of yourself and set boundaries.

It’s taken me almost another decade to get out of the bad habits I created when I was younger. It takes time, but I can tell you it’s worth it. And you’ll be more creative and whole because of it.

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