Whether you work forty hours a week in a traditional job, run your own business, or juggle a portfolio career that incorporates a variety of job opportunities, life can become overwhelming when our boundaries are too large or nonexistent. If you’re feeling like life is out of control, maybe it’s time for a monthly checkpoint. Think back over the last thirty days and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you where you expected you would be a month ago? Explain.
  • What progress have you made toward your goals (if you had any)?
  • Would you say life is playing the same old song or have any surprises altered your path?
  • When you have had a choice about participating in an activity how long did it take for you to make the decision?
  • Have you been the person you want to be?

Thirty days ago, I thought I’d settled on boundaries for work that would challenge me, but still allowed enough flexibility for the inevitable surprises that life throws at us. I would be teaching one class and writing through the end of the year. I planned to keep up with weekly blog posts and finish a writing project by September 30. I said no to several opportunities without any agony or pain, but then…

  • A conversation led to a short-term job opportunity that would require about forty hours of work over a period of four weeks.
  • I hit a wall with the writing project.
  • I allowed myself to spend too much time on research and learning other skills as a form of “constructive procrastination.”
  • I fed my feelings of inadequacy about marketing by listening to too many “gurus” telling me ten different “most important” things I ought to be doing to build my writing business.
  • I went through an “I like being a wall flower” phase and retreated from social media and writing blog posts.
  • My husband and I have been processing a tragedy that occurred within one of our circles of friends during the last few weeks.
  • I’ve been under the weather most of the last month and truly ill for about ten days.

If you’re anything like me, a list this short is just a taste of all that has happened during the last thirty days. While I’ve made progress toward some of my goals, I’m not where I’d hoped that I would by the beginning of November. I can look back at several decisions I made that did not fit within the original boundaries I set up for my work load this fall. On the other hand, some of my deadlines were unrealistic, so I’m reassessing and refining my expectations. Here are few things I’m learning about setting boundaries while living a portfolio life.

Know Your Boundaries

Boundary 1: Time

Do an audit of your current obligations. What pieces of your life are non-negotiable? If you can, estimate how much time you spend on each one each month or week. Family obligations, relationship building, self-care (sleep, exercise, meals, and down-time), and work will likely top the list. Once you fit those items into your schedule, what is left is your negotiable time. You may have more than you thought; you may have less. If a new opportunity cannot fit into your negotiable time, it doesn’t fit within your boundaries right now.

Boundary 2: Values

Do you know what you value most? Look at your time audit. What does it reveal about your values? Now, look back over your checkbook or finance software for the past year. What do your money habits say about your values? Do you like what you see? If you don’t, then its time to re-evaluate. Take the time to come up with what you value most and write it down. Put it somewhere you can see it often. When presented with a new opportunity ask yourself it aligns with your most important values in any way. If not, say ‘no’ and move on.

Boundary 3: Your Limitations

Embrace your limitations. It does no good to compare yourself to your neighbor or the virtual super-humans who rule the social media world. You have your own unique set of limitations that shape your life path. Don’t allow a limitation to dictate what you can and cannot do; on the other hand, embrace your limitations, because they allow you to find rest and satisfaction in the choices you make.

The portfolio life allows us to pursue a variety of interests, but you have to know your limitations, values, and time restraints. You can’t do it all—at least all at once. Pace yourself. Enjoy the journey. Know that life circumstances flex and change. Though a valuable or exciting opportunity may not fit within your boundaries today, down the road it just might. Or you may discover something better. Limitations and boundaries aren’t liabilities in the portfolio life; they are your guides. How about your boundaries? Do you say ‘yes’ too often? Does your schedule feel out of control? Or have you committed to things that are at odds with your values? 

The original concept of a portfolio worker is credited to Charles Handy who wrote about it in his book, The Age of Unreason. Jeff Goins builds on Handy’s idea of a portfolio worker in his book, The Art of Work, and applies it more broadly to a person’s life–a portfolio life .

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