I learned boundaries at the right time in my career. Early.

I don’t remember where or how I learned them. I wish I could point to a mentor or a book, but I truly don’t remember the source. Somewhere I picked up the notion that no one is incentivized to guard my time but me alone.

I do remember when I realized I knew this. Emily and I were all set to depart for our campiversary. A week long celebration of our nuptials by camping in our national parks. A substantial part of the trip would be spent in the car between those parks. This was the time before kids.

Knowing I’d be gone for a substantial amount of time, I put significant effort into handing off all my projects and responsibilities. During the handoff a question came from my manager.

“You’re just going to be driving a lot of the time, right? Is it okay if I call you with a few questions if anything comes up?”

Now this organization was notorious for creeping into nights and weekends. Many of my coworkers had experienced this as their first “real” job, and didn’t know any other way. Which is why my response caught them so off guard.

“Can I consider my hours in the car as hours worked on-call rather hours of vacation time?”

The look of confusion is seared in my memory. It was a foreign concept that vacation meant truly disconnecting from the work. For some in this self-important organization, vacation was experienced as working remote half days. No thanks.

They didn’t call me during my vacation.

I’ve since learned this fear of disconnection is not unique to the unhealthy organization I worked for at the time. Friends and family from all kinds of careers share this same cultural fear of disconnecting. Fear of not being seen as a team player. Fear of being overlooked for future opportunities. Fear of being strait up fired for exercising the benefit that was on the tin of their job offer.

Maybe I’m spoiled by a good boss in the sea of bad bosses. When I took my first sabbatical, the only communication I received from my boss was a text message congratulating me that my account had been automatically marked inactive.

I’ve waded through unhealthy organizations in the past, and I’ve learned that guarding my time out of the office is always worth it. The best case scenario is that my boundaries are respected, and I am the catalyst for culture change. Worst case is that my boundaries are disregarded, becoming a data point that this organization is unfit to receive my contributions in the long term. Either way I’m one step closer to the life I want. And I want to play long term games with long term people. Doing what I want with my time outside of the office.

Published: 2024-02-19

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