It’s one of my most fundamental self-care rules: boundaries are effing critical.
Our boundaries – between self and others, between public and private, work and not-work – can be porous, fluid, dynamic.
We can continue to be curious and always-learning in the context of our boundaries. We can be open, receptive, willing, daring, courageous and still have a healthy respect for boundaries.
A commitment to healthy boundaries leads to structures rooted in self-love that help us take good care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis.
It doesn’t sound like I need a lot of convincing about boundaries. And yet.
Apparently I’ve still got a lot to learn.
The German Alps kicked my ass this week, and all because I forgot all about my boundaries. (Ahh, yes. Humility.)
A tiny bit of background: I learned to ski years ago in Pennsylvania. And this week for the first time I took a ski trip to the German Alps at Garmisch and Zugspitze.
You won’t be surprised to hear that in terms of skiing, Pennsylvania has nothing on the Alps. Savvy ski bunnies in Pennsylvania are put to shame in the Alps. Trust me.
Even so, the first day found me confident, self-assured, easy-breezy and carefree. I wasn’t thinking about boring boundaries, I was going for fearless. We were in the Alps, for God’s sake. When in the Alps, do as the Alpinists. Everyone here pounds a few beers, hops nonchalantly into their boots, and whoosh – they’re gone. No fear. It was working out great.
It was the last run of the day and my brother wanted to go all the way down the mountain. Most of this run was doable, he said, but parts of it were “hard as shit.”
“Whatever,” says I. “I’m scared and tired, but let’s just go.”
“Hard as shit” indeed. It took everything I had not to bawl when I looked down the hill. Left, right, breathe, left, right, breathing, fighting panic, fighting to stay in control.
My brother and partner described what happened 10 minutes later as “epic.” I lost it completely. They heard me scream, turned to see me tumble, and apparently I kept on screaming as I fell.
It was the beginning of the end of dignity. For one thing, Alpinists never scream.
When I skidded to a stop, a young boy stood looking at me, lying spreadeagle on the snow.
“I’m ok,” I said, and he whooshed off.
When I finally got to my feet, my legs were shaking. This was all my brother’s fault. We should never have gone all the way down the mountain. It’s the end of our first day. This was the stupidest idea. My coordination is shot. We’re exhausted. It’s getting dark and it’s icy. This is way too steep for someone who hasn’t been skiing in at least five years. What the hell was he thinking?
And I wasn’t just pissed at my brother; the chorus of inner critics had their cue. “You asshole, what were you thinking? You’re not ready for this! Everyone else here has been on moguls since before they were weaned.”
All notions of competence were out the window. I was no longer safe.
That night I lay in bed hugely fearful of the next day, when I had to get back in the saddle and go again. Here I was, an ocean away on a fabulously romantic adventure, and I was scared shitless. And disappointed with myself, because up until the end, I was feeling so damn good. That’s not how you’re supposed to spend a vacation in the Alps. What a waste!
And my partner picked up on it, too. He said, “You’re acting like you do when you’ve been hurt.” I wasn’t hurt; I was scared. But as far as he was concerned, the outcome was no different.
Of course skiing, like anything else, is at least partly a mental game. The next day, still scared, I panicked more than was necessary. Even back on the “easier” runs, I was wobbly and unsure and so focused on just making it down alive that the love for what I was doing was diminished.
Can you see where this is going?
I didn’t really need to kick my own ass.
Had I taken the cue that “hard as shit” might not be appropriate for the end of my first day of Alpine skiing, this story might have ended differently.
I would have joined my lovely sister-in-law for one last run down the easier slope, a gorgeous ride down the ski lift to the bottom, and a hot mug of spiced wine.
I would have ended that day confident, proud, and eager to start again the next day. And I’m convinced that I would have done better, felt better, and had the wherewithal to be fully present had I not disregarded my own boundaries.
And I did it because I thought I should. I thought that’s what I needed to do to take full advantage of being there.
How often do we do this? And in how many different ways?
If we’re in a conscious practice of gentle pushing past our comfort zone, it can be occasionally tempting to throw it all to hell and hurtle oneself way beyond what we know in our heart is an actual boundary.
And when that leaves us crumpled, fearful and full of new self-doubt, it is not a practice borne of self-love.
There’s a difference, I think, between this and the healthy fear that we can acknowledge and move through. Healthy fear can be an opportunity to move a bit beyond where we are; to push through into something bigger and better. But carelessly disregarding boundaries does not accomplish these aims. To the contrary, it wears us out, makes us less than we could otherwise become.
Respecting my own boundaries means that I have the willingness and confidence to come back again; to push the comfort zone out a bit more; to have even more to give tomorrow. It means that in the long run I’m more effective, because I’m working with where I am right now.
So, what do you think? Where could you show a bit more love for healthy boundaries?