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Revisiting Boundaries

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For some reason I really don’t like the ‘boundaries’ word.  I think it is sometimes used inappropriately and can lead to breakdowns in close relationships.  I think our culture suffers because it doesn’t know how to develop close relationships and boundaries often give us the excuse.

However, over the last few weeks in China, I have been thinking and talking about boundaries more.

Bryon and I are teaching in two different departments of a university.  He has got almost no direction and doesn’t even really know who his boss is.  He has classes of kids show up, he has figured out a few textbooks, and they just go from there.

My department is very different.  Very good in some ways, but much more hands on as well.  They had all kinds of ideas about how I was going to help and teach my students.  However, what they were asking me to do included hours of preparation, teaching things I wasn’t qualified or comfortable teaching, and went way above what my contract included.

With me being new to teaching, new to the culture, and always wanting to please I tried and poured hours into trying to figure it all out.  However, as the first few weeks went on, more and more responsibilities seemed to be put on me, and I felt like I wasn’t meeting their expectations.

An older, more experienced (like he has been teaching since the 60’s) Australian teacher who was here for a few weeks set me straight.  He stopped by our apartment one night and told me I wasn’t supposed to be doing all the work and I wasn’t supposed to be stressing.  I came to China to teach oral English and to enjoy my time in China.  I shouldn’t let anything get in the way of that.

Up to that point, I hadn’t realized how much I was stressing about all the work.  I knew I was spending almost all my waking moments working on teaching (and attending meetings where I was told what else to do).  I just kept thinking that I would figure everything out and it would get easier.  … but it doesn’t work that way.

I went from stressed to upset to mad over the next 12 hours and decided to make changes, to add boundaries, to do what I was being paid for and focus on doing it well.

To me the whole things seems like such a mess.  I am a people pleaser and I believe in doing hard work.  I believe in doing more than I am asked for and exceeding expectations.  I hate it when people say ‘oh, that is not in my job description’, or ‘Am I going to be paid more for that?’.  It seems selfish and lazy.

However, while I was trying to hold up those beliefs of hard work, I was sacrificing my priorities.  I quit my job and now I am only working only part-time teaching BECAUSE I want to spend time – with my kids, teaching my kids, and writing.  We flew to the other side of the world (literally) BECAUSE we wanted to experience and learn about a new language and culture.

There are many opportunities in life that are good, but don’t match our priorities.  I am sure if I poured my life into teaching for 12 hours a day I could become a very good teacher and the teaching I was being asked to do sounded very good.  However, even though these things would be good and allow me to grow in different ways, they are not what is most important to me.

So now I am working hard at learning the teaching and I am loving my students.  I still spend lots of time doing prep work for classes but it is an amount I feel comfortable with.  With new boundaries I am able to develop better relationships with others in my department instead of being afraid of what else they may ask me to do.  Several other teachers have attended my classes  and I have heard many positive things.

As much as I was scared to stand my ground it turned out very well.

I remember lots of this same pressure from when I worked in management before my kids were born.  There was so much pressure to climb the ladder, be an overachiever, and make everyone around me amazed at how much work I could accomplish.

I was learning what our society seems to teach about evaluating every opportunity to see if it equals more money and/or more respect.  If it does, than there is no more thought given, it is an automatic ‘yes’.  If it doesn’t, the answer is ‘no’.

But my life is not a pursuit of money and recognition.  I want to accomplish more than a bank account and being the top of a organization chart.

I want to work very hard in life, but I want to make sure the things I am working hard for are things I value.  

I choose to work hard at establishing close relationships with my husband and kids…. that is not always an easy job.  I choose to work hard at personal growth and learning.  I choose to work hard to for my church and for people who have a much harder life than I do.

To use a biblical reference, I want to ‘pour out my life‘ but I want to make sure it is poured out on something that is worth it.

What about you?

Have you been struggling with areas of your life that are taking up more time than they are worth to you?

Is there an area of your life you have wanted to focus and work on that keeps getting squeezed out?

What are you going to do about it?


  1. I’m a teacher too- kindergarten, and not in China, but also a teacher 🙂 I also feel a little annoyed when people constantly say “that’s not in my job description.” etc However, I have to say that in teaching (and probably many other professions) I think its necessary to have some boundaries. People always assume we will do more because we love the kids and want them to do well, and we do- so that’s why they continue to assume it. But, at many times in life, we all have to have other priorities too and we can’t spend our only waking hours on teaching, at the expense of our own other experiences or children etc.

  2. Mia Mia

    This is something I have always struggled with, being able to maintain my priorities that don’t involve work and maintain the work it takes to care for myself. I’m going to apply to medical school in about a year. I am so terrified that I am selecting a career that will not allow me to “be” anything other than what they want of me. At the same time, I am hopeful that if I am strong with myself and work to create and then maintain boundaries that preserve my family life, my time for myself, and some down time, I can get through this process with me intact. Perhaps if I approach this next phase with that mindset, I will succeed. I sure hope I can do it. I drew wisdom from your post and want to thank you for writing.

  3. Lori nice post. Did you Tynan post on this same idea of opportunity cost?

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