Last year in December, I held a holiday brunch at my house for my local woman friends. Friends-mas Brunch, I called it. I put a whole bunch of energy into making a fancy spread, everyone commented how yummy it was, there was a bit of conversation, a lot of annoying licking by the dog, and it was nice.
This year, I decided wanted to host a brunch again for the same women, but I knew instinctively I wanted to shift where I put my energy.
I thought about last year’s gathering a bit more and realized it wasn’t all that memorable. It was cozy and warm, people came and went, there was some connection, but perhaps not as much as I would have loved to see. I’ve been to a few great gatherings this year that have really stuck with me, and I wanted to create a vibe like that, not just a pretty, logistical Pinterest win.
Friendship is fraught for me. It’s complicated. So when I invite a dozen people into my home as friends, it’s meaningful. Why I thought it would be enough to just feed them and impress them with that feeding, I’m not sure. Because who cares? Anyone can do that, and guess what – most people do, and then most people dread it. Hello, nearly everything in my life is about going deeper and finding more meaning. Why would this be any different?
So this year, I chose to get a little vulnerable and encourage my friends to do the same. Which I understand is a huge ask, especially this time of year. I reflected on what I wanted our brunch to be, how I wanted it to feel, and I crafted a detailed email laying out the purpose, a few ground rules, and guidelines for an activity.
Then, within just a few hours, I received a couple of emails from invitees cautiously and honestly offering up their apologies – they wouldn’t be able to make it. And rather than be upset they had canceled, or getting sad and taking it personally, I was ecstatic. Seriously. I’ll tell you why.
These friends are truly some of my favorite people in the world, and it only served to solidify our friendships that they trusted me enough to say, “Hey, Kourtney, I love you to death, but this is WAY TOO MUCH for me right now. Socializing at this level is not something I am capable of doing right now, and if I had an extra three hours, I’d take it to myself.” You know what I told them both? THANK YOU. No need to apologize. Now, go hibernate. We’ll catch up some other time.
I think obligatory social gatherings totally stink. That’s why I wanted to make this particular one more than that. But, I also think doing shit you don’t want to do, adding to your overwhelm, faking or white-knuckling your way through situations you feel like you have to be in, and saying yes to everything totally stinks.
I’m not saying you should say no to everything, or no to everything that makes you even the least bit uncomfortable. Boundaries are not always about no. I got several other emails that said as much – this makes me uncomfortable, but that’s why I love you and that’s why I set aside the three hours of my Sunday and committed to being there with you. I’m in for finding the deeper meaning too.
What I’m saying, this time of year and every time of year, is that it’s important to be crystal clear on your boundaries. What you want, what you can handle, what’s overwhelming – also who for each of those things. Too, it’s then important to be crystal clear on how you’re going to enforce said boundaries. That’s the saying no, or no, and, part.
I’ve heard it far beyond just my own friends-mas brunch. I’ve heard it in a women’s networking lunch – I like to give and serve, but how do I figure out where to draw the line? How do I take any time for myself? I’ve heard it in my Facebook group – I’m swamped at work and I need to tell my partner I can’t make decisions about what we’re eating for dinner. I’ve heard it in clients – my family is needy right now, and I need to draw a line. Or my work is super busy at year-end, and I need to make sure I stop myself before I burn out. It’s no coincidence this comes up even more this time of year, but again, that just gives us a better chance to find an understanding that will serve us all the time.
I understand there’s a bridge between me telling you this in a broad sense and you being able to apply it in real life. Boundaries are complicated and highly unique to each one of us and our specific situations. They can also be very different in one aspect of life compared to another, i.e.: work schedule, social obligations, family events, self-care, etc. So it’s not like I can give you a quick 5-step how-to on this. What I can share is this suggested process:
- Take a minute or ten to get quiet, visualize, meditate, journal about what you want for yourself. How you want your day, your month, your relationships, your life to look and feel. How you want to be treated. Take a few notes.
- Take a few more notes about how your current picture compares to this visualization, or your ideal picture. Take note of the standout parts that don’t match up.
- Take more notes on what boundaries you need to create to get those pictures closer together in reality. What are the hard or soft lines you need to draw?
- Take all the time you need to describe your boundaries in detail. Think about the rights you strongly believe you have, the things you strongly believe you can ask for, the places of your life you strongly believe others cannot have access to, the energy you want to protect.
- Take a little more time to imagine the situations in which you will be called to enforce these boundaries. Create detailed scripts you can use to express your bottom line in a neutral tone.
- Take a few more minutes to reflect on how you will feel upon incorporating more of your personalized boundaries into your life. Does it get you closer to how you want to feel? Does it improve your relationships and interactions?
Because that’s the goal. Feeling how you want to feel, with high-quality relationships and interactions, personally and professionally. And as always, you get to decide what that looks like and how you make it happen. Well-defined and enforced boundaries are another helpful tool to do that, to create the life you want for yourself, on your terms, without obligation or expectation.
And to be clear: yes, you can start today. And yes, you can rescind your invitation to that family member. And yes, you can withdraw your attendance to that holiday party. Yes, you can hibernate, and also, yes you can say yes to every single thing that comes across your radar.