Go Offline: Honoring boundaries is just as important as setting them. Especially for freelance creatives.

The internet is chock-full of content on the importance of setting boundaries. However, one thing we often miss is that honoring your boundaries is just as important as setting them. Tell me, how many personal and work boundaries have you set that you did not honor? That you just swept under the rug because let’s be honest, that’s easier sometimes…

I don’t even have a number to give you. I personally have set a ton of boundaries and ended up forgetting about them. Boundaries are what protect you from all sorts of stress. They help keep your life in order and they remind you of what you stand for. Easy to forget, sure. But also, very important to remember.

It is one thing to set boundaries. It’s another to honor them.

As freelancers, we tend to set a lot of things. Set our own business standards, our own rates, our own schedules… And of course, our own boundaries. Problem is, just because you’re good at setting something doesn’t mean you’re automatically good at honoring them. And I’m speaking from experience because before I decided to put my mental health first, I was the kind of freelancer who’d power through project after project until burnout happened.

That said, don’t just focus on what boundaries you’re setting. Focus on making sure you respect them too! This takes practice and self-discipline. This takes a lot of effort because sometimes, forgetting them is easier. It’s easier to go back to old habits. Don’t. Remember why those boundaries are there in the first place and hold your ground.

Why it’s so easy for freelancers to give in and forgo their own limits

Maybe this is not exclusive to freelancers but as a coach, I noticed it’s so easy for freelancers to give in and forgo their own boundaries and the limits they set for themselves. I can’t count how many freelancers I’ve met who said, “I’m never going to work with that kind of client ever again” after seeing all the red flags, but they end up working with that type of client again anyway.

One of the root causes of this is fear. Fear that you won’t have a client again, that no brand would say yes to your rates so you settle for something less, or that no one would want to work with you if you put your mental wellness first.

Another reason is that your boundaries are not clear enough. Maybe you told yourself that this year, you’ll only work five hours a day. That sounds good but if you’re not sure why you’re setting this personal rule, you’ll likely struggle to follow through. That said, before you set any boundary, make sure you understand why you’re doing it and how it’s going to affect you.

How can honoring your boundaries help you as a person and a business owner

The bitter truth about being a freelancer is that you will experience burnout. I have never met a freelancer who has never—not even once—experienced burnout. So yes, it will happen. But when you practice setting healthy boundaries and respecting and honoring them, burnout will happen less and less.

Practicing will also help you understand what you do and do not tolerate. This spares you from becoming a people pleaser and being taken advantage of. Based on experience, freelancers, especially new ones, are prone to be taken advantage of. I said yes to so many things I didn’t want to (and even when the client was demanding so much) because I was scared I’ll never have clients again. That’s something I had to unlearn. As Kat Boogaard said, “boundaries are your best friend” and this couldn’t be any truer.

Be patient with yourself. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to improve your self-awareness. And to be sure that when you catch yourself neglecting your boundaries, you reverse this action and honor them instead.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.