For several years I worked for a number of magazines where deadlines were constant, clients were often difficult and my cell phone rang from early morning till late night. Getting paid was a game of roulette, but if I made waves there was a chance I wouldn't get paid at all. Such is the life of a freelance writer.
The pinnacle came when I was the lead writer for a business magazine – I started on a team of five that slowly dwindled to three, then two and then there was one -- one person responsible for content in five magazines! I rarely got thanked for a job well done, but took my licks when something was overlooked. In ten years I never, ever missed a deadline.
It took its toll.
Anxiety attacks, depression, a short fuse – that was the tradeoff for a paycheck.
Shopping for groceries one day it reached fever pitch. My mind raced with its constant "to-do" list. My chest tightened and I became lightheaded. Questions were swimming through my mind – what if I forget something? What if I fail? What if I let them down?
Then, another voice, another question, another possibility…so what? What's the worst thing that can happen?
My ribs released their death-grip on my lungs. My head cleared. I took a deep breath. So what? The world won't stop spinning, the magazine will still get printed, and I will go on living.
I've been thinking a lot lately about that day. About boundaries.
You see, I used to confuse being a conscientious worker with being a doormat. No longer. A wise friend tried for years to get me to set a schedule – "You work for yourself," she said, "say no once in awhile." But I was scared. What if I turned something away and I never got work again? What if I said, "I'm sorry, I have other commitments, I can't do your interview at 9 o'clock at night. Let's try for Thursday morning instead," and they complained to my editor?
In the grand scheme of things – nothing.
Now, I keep a schedule. I'm "in the office" certain hours – and they don't include 9 o'clock on a Friday night. I protect other priorities as well. Date night once a week. Church on Sunday. Intentional time with the children. (I try for quiet time with God in the morning, but I confess I'm still a little weak on this one.)
Boundaries are healthy. Boundaries help us manage our schedules and our lives. It still gets hectic sometimes, but the occasional busyness is not the same as the chronic stress that once threatened to overwhelm me. When I'm tempted to take on "just one more task" than I know I can handle, I stop, take a deep breath and say no. It takes practice, but in the end, it's so worth it.
After all, what's the worst thing that can happen?