Real and Imagined Boundaries

September 19, 2016 •  life

The light shining into the room outlined a silhouette of the familiar short-ish man. He faced away from me looking out towards the city with his arms clasped behind his back. I was sitting at a long boardroom table, behind him, at a seat chosen out of reservation—not too far, not too close. I was told to come here, instead of our office, into a tall glossy building which reeked of excessive wealth.

He started, “You see the world like I do.” I do? “You see the world… without boundaries.” Oh, geez.[1]

The half hour conversation was exactly what he had pictured but it was not going as I had planned. I was there to pitch my idea for a new design system. He was there to mentor me. I wasn’t sure what went wrong during the initial meeting arrangement that landed me in this situation but I knew better than to correct the course of events.

It’s been a few years now since that day and I remember it vividly. I didn’t disagree with him… I’ve played with boundaries my whole life. Most boundaries aren’t really boundaries at all. The world has very little natural boundaries.

Imagined boundaries exist by default. They are created by others who came before you. Imagined boundaries are: I’m obligated to see her or I cannot quit because I need to find another job first. You can live through breaking these boundaries but it might be uncomfortable. They force you to rely on your resourcefulness to find a way out and will typically grow you faster than living the status quo. Most people won’t break them.

Real boundaries don’t exist unless you make them. These boundaries are the only ones worth following—rules you set so you can live according to your values and obtain the future you want. It takes a grand amount of self-work to define your values and even more to define your boundaries.

Identifying which boundaries are real and imagined gives you freedom. Instead of resting on the boundaries of others, you create a way for yourself that makes sense to you. That ability to identify the difference changes your life. It gives you the freedom to look into a room and act without social anxiety. To carve a career for yourself based on your strengths rather than what fills the role. To escape the dreaded burn-out. To feel peace because you’ve found purpose.

I don’t think we think about our boundaries enough. We get so caught up in other people’s boundaries that we don’t take enough time to pause and think—is this what I really want?

Setting up boundaries been the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. I set more as I get older and find what really works for me. I will no longer do things that do not grow me or make me happy. This has unblocked my creativity and allowed me to live productive and stress-free.

The silhouette was only half right. The world has no boundaries except for the ones you set for yourself.

↩︎ [1] This actually happened. I know… it sounds like I made it up. It’s fucking ridiculous.


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