“Don’t set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.”

– A smart person I know

“Don’t cross oceans for people who wouldn’t cross the street for you.”

– Another smart person

You might think the people who I heard recently quoting those lines had been burnt by cheating lovers or embezzling employees. Either that or they were just selfishly justifying their unwillingness to help others. On the contrary, both were generous, successful and satisfied with their lives. One reason for that satisfaction was, no doubt, their ability to set healthy boundaries.

We don’t hear enough WHY healthy boundaries are important

I like my students and I think they like me. I do my very best to teach, including having classes on Zoom simultaneously with in-person so that students who are home sick or don’t want to brave mountain roads in the rain can attend. I have office hours five hours per week instead of my contractually-mandated one hour, spend hours creating templates to help students complete their assignments. I also have my limits. While some professors do everything from food drives to holding an extra lab each week, I don’t. When I asked a university for a raise and they didn’t give it to me, I quit at the end of the semester and went somewhere else.

When a mutual friend was told that resigning from a toxic work situation would leave the children at the reservation school she was teaching without her as an outstanding educator, she answered,

“There will be other Native children who can use my help.

– A brilliant Native American teacher

She was right, of course, and is happily doing an outstanding job at a different reservation school.

Having healthy boundaries isn’t just good for you, but in the long run, it’s good for the people you are helping

Reason 1: You’ll last longer

I’ve been a volunteer judo instructor at Gompers Middle School since 2011. When I took over the class from my daughter (who started it in 2009), I was very clear that I could teach no more than two days a week. That’s all of the time I can get away from my work as President of 7 Generation Games.

When I came back from Chile, I had even less time, so I committed to one day a week plus one additional weekend day per month. In those extra days, we have gone to the Fight for the Cure tournament, where all money raised goes to breast cancer survivors, had a team dinner and had a joint workout with Anaconda Academy in Gardena.

Because I am not burning myself out, I have been able to continue volunteering for the program for a dozen years. Yes, a lot of people would like it if we could have practice more often, but all I can do is all I can do.

Reason 2: Read this – it’s great advice

The second reason healthy boundaries are good for OTHER people is that they mean you will be more likely to help. We did the More Than Ordinary podcast for over a year. You can listen to an episode with Roy Hash, a real-life Captain America, here, or one of the world’s nicest guys, Lou Ferrigno (yes, the Incredible Hulk) here.

I don’t want to talk about them, though. I wanted to mention my friend, Allen Wrench, who helped us get started when we knew nothing about podcasting. He said, “I will help you with the first ten episodes. That’s it. I’ll help you get it up and running and then I am done. I won’t help you with any more than 10, not even if you pay me.”

He explained that too many people start out helping someone and then they get stuck with helping for far longer than they wanted to do it. The result is that they get resentful and don’t want to volunteer in the future.

By setting a definite time limit on how much you are willing to give of yourself, you can more happily help more people.

(Also, shout out to Adam Hunter who encouraged me to do a podcast and after I said, “You can say that, you’re a comedian. If I do a podcast, I’ll suck.” answered,

“Yeah, I’m sure you will suck – at first – and then, you’ll get better.”

– Adam Hunter

Good general advice on life.

Reason 3: You’ll be happier

Maybe you’ve never been in a situation where you were working 70 hours a week to fix the mistakes of people who went home at 4 o’clock. Maybe you’ve never had to work the weekend to find errors in data that you’re supposed to analyze, while the person that gave you said error-filled data is watching the game from the comfort of their own couch. In which case, just let me tell you that people who are in those situations tend to be bitter, resentful and unhappy.

Perhaps you’re telling yourself that you should be happy to be here, helping these people. As I have said before, forget that “just happy to be here shit.” If you are competent, ethical and hard-working, which I assume you are because you are reading a blog like this, then no one is doing a favor “letting” you work for them. That goes triple if you are a volunteer and not even getting paid and 10x if we are talking in a relationship.

My point – and I do have one

My point is this. You only have one life and you don’t owe it to any person or any cause to be miserable. Sure, everyone has those days or moments. As Billy Joel sang, “You can love somebody, you can love ’em forever, but you won’t like ’em every day.”

However, if it is day after day that you find you aren’t happy with who you are working/ living / volunteering with, ask yourself, “Is this really how I want to spend my one and only life?” And if the answer is, “No.”, then bounce.

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