Establishing boundaries can help provide the freedom to build meaningful and manageable projects (and lives.)
My mind swirls with questions.
What to bring?
Where do I go?
When do I leave?
How should I dress?
Who will be there?
Who am I?
What role do I play?
Where will these paths lead?
When will I know?
How ever will I…?
The questions swirl because I cannot answer. No time. I just need to dry my hair and leave for the day’s work.
The Day’s Work
I teach English, college-level courses, to high school students in a project-based learning business program. Recently, my students met with a volunteer group of project managers to learn the fundamentals for managing their fall client projects. One of them spoke about scope-creep as one of the major threats to successful project completion.The project starts as one thing, and little by little, or maybe just by one big idea, expands beyond the current resources.
Perhaps that is what I face now? As a a busy teacher, wife, mom, volunteer, and human, I, like many, manage an often overwhelming swirl of elements. I question how it got like this, but then again, it seems predictable enough—scope-creep! The question then becomes where is the scope? Additional job duties that are far beyond what I did years ago? Volunteer kids coaching? Morning yoga? Personal writing? Daily laundry? Overwhelm, itself?
My mom would say that when I was a small child, I found the outdoors overwhelming, unless I sat in my sandbox. There I would happily create and play for hours. Content, happy, calm in my sandbox. I understood the barriers providing me a sense of safety and security amidst the wide expanses of fields and trees on that century farm my family called home.
I remember scooping sand into an old, plastic pitcher and experimenting with different amounts of water poured from a green garden hose. In my secure playground I would create, not only worlds and designs and shapes, but magic. Funny now thinking about it, but for some reason, I convinced myself that I could concoct root beer, of all things. Perhaps it was because we never could drink it at home or because I felt powerful in my sandbox, but I became convinced that I could turn the precise combination of sand and water and stirring into root beer if only I kept trying. I grasped the handle of the warm, sun-faded pitcher, and then cup by cup and drop by drop, tried to find the right balance of sand to water. I kept stirring, observing the swirl of the elements, waiting for the change; the change that to my confusion never came.
Magical thinking, really. But still I tried. Memory fades, and surely part of me must have known the futility of my efforts. Still, I believed that the alchemy of imagination would surely intervene. A child’s trick of the mind; yet, how often do we now do the same? We find ourselves confused and frustrated as we complete the same actions only to get the same results. Or worse, we experiment over and over with different combinations of the same elements and wonder why no magical transformation occurs?
Sand swirling in water, questions swirling, why? When? How?
When I realize I’m in overwhelm, how can I return to the comfort and stability of a sand box, even if I decide to play in my now larger, expanded one?
1. Find my boundaries.
- Where are the edges of my roles? Are there roles that no longer suit this seaon of life? In each role, what is mine to do, and what is not mine? What is currently mine, but I could delegrate if I gave up control?
2. Use my values and mission to guide.
- Revisit (or create) a list of my highest values and write a mission statement to help establish boundaries and stay true to who I am. It might feel unnecessary at first, but I have found it helpful to aid decisions in times of transition, goal setting, and prioritization.
3. Focus on the current build.
-What is the task at hand? Project manager must-haves like T-minus charts, weekly planning, and daily planning can provide focus and organization. What are my big rocks that are foundational to success in all my important roles and relationships? Make sure they get placed first.
4. Recognize magical thinking.
-Sandy water will never alchemize into root beer, no matter how you keep stirring it! Avoid wasting time on such endeavors.
But still, what about the sand itself?
My career, family, relationships, home, faith— these all make up the sandbox of life. What can I build? As I reflect at mid-life, I fear that those sand creations could easily crumble and be lost. Though formed with care, I am all too aware of their fragility: I shelter from wind, cover in rain, and protect from careless footsteps that could trample it all. Sand through my fingers.
I put down the hair dryer and look at my hands. I wonder? Maybe? Yes, maybe that is it. What if, all those years ago, I had the alchemy all wrong? 1 John 4:7 instructs, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." It’s Love. Love is the crucial element. For I believe and trust that these creations in the sandbox of life will hold despite the seasons of change or careless steps of others (or me!) that I may not always be able to prevent.
I look at my open hands, now creased with age. Empty. Filled. I hold love, and today will form a new creation through my actions and words. Love binds, flexible and soft, yet solid and strong.
Yes, let’s remember the sandbox. Open hands forming creations with love. That maybe isn’t just magical thinking after all.
Let’s go to work.
Download the mini-journal resource below to guide your own reflection along with the podcast episode.
Lead with Grace, The Podcast celebrates the mosaic of everyday leaders leading right where they are with everything they are. Blending the practical and profound, conversations explore stories of vocation, especially as it intersects with communication, collaboration, connection, and calling.