I originally wrote the post below in 2008. Writing about it documented a turning point in my life, recognizing boundaries and what to prioritize in my life. Even now, there are times that I let my boundaries get smudged, it happens insidiously over time. Or because I feel a misplaced loyalty to someone. Fear can be a motivator, or I can get wrapped up in the moment at work, not realizing that “the moment” at work will take away from precious time with my family.
A friend recently shared a story with me about a loss in her family and, when the person was in the hospital, she felt the urgent need to leave and speak with the doctor about things before his shift ended, but instead of following that internal prompting, she was asked to stay at work for an important meeting. Her family member ended up passing away that night, alone, in the hospital. This happened a few years ago, and she regrets not having the willingness to set a boundary when it was needed most.
What I’ve learned about boundaries is that the majority of the time, if I set one, people respect it. If I don’t set one, people don’t know it’s there to respect.
“You have two minutes! TWO MINUTES!”
My fingers are racing across the keyboard, pressing letters, creating words and paragraphs off of a tape he had just finished dictating. I press print, grab it off the printer and hand it to him for review. As I hand it to him, I swing around and grab a FedEx slip out of my forms tray and fill it out. He hands the document back to me with final revisions noted.
“You now have one minute and thirty seconds!” His fingers are tapping on my desk, his eyes turned toward the clock on the wall, counting down the time. I finish the changes and print the document on letterhead for his signature, handing it back to him. I run to the copy machine, make a copy, slip it in the envelope, run out the door and hand it to the FedEx guy just as he unlocks the metal box that has become the reason for my existence.
That was six and a half years ago. There were nights that I was at work until one thirty in the morning. The documents were so important, so urgent, so earth changing. Or so he believed.
A few months after that, the company closed. It didn’t get the financing it needed for the IPO the partners wanted. All the documents and paperwork created by my stampeding fingers on a keyboard were boxed up for storage. Put away forever.
I moved on to another boss who was just like him. The importance, the urgency, the stress. That boss had his contract bought out by the parent company and six months ago, I was down in the storage room looking at all the boxes and boxes of paperwork we created, trying to figure out where they should go. The smell of the room tingled my senses as I looked around in this building that is, for the most part vacant, yet at one time hosted so many people you could hardly hear yourself on the phone.
Last night, me and my husband went to the dinner theater and saw “It’s a Wonderful Life” acted out on stage. The story took us through the life of George, how he so badly wanted to travel, see the world, make a difference. Everyday, he faced what he seemed to believe was a life of disappointments, unachieved dreams. When, really, he was failing to see the difference he made in the lives of those around him every single day. The dreams he helped his neighbors achieve. How his relationships with the people he loved and cared about mattered. He wished that he had never been born without taking into account that if he had never been born, his brother wouldn’t have lived past the age of 8 (George had pushed his brother out of way of a truck). That countless lives would have never been improved just for their knowing him and he them.
Life isn’t about boxes, FedEx deadlines or urgent documents. It’s about the moments we spend IN the moment. It’s about taking time to laugh, to enjoy drawing breath and to hold close the ones you love. Just like those boxes down in the storeroom, when we’re gone our stuff will just go in boxes.
It’s the memories in the hearts of those who care about us that will live on.