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Boundaries: Saying No

I have had a hard time saying no. This is the nature of one dozen years as adjunct or sessional faculty–what many refer to as the New Faculty Majority. Now, I’m about to start my fourth year as tenure line faculty and this will mark the fourth year out of fifteen when I shut my door. My door is only open during office hours. I make no apologies for this. I am open and available for consultations during my office hours or appointments. Truthfully, a senior colleague insisted that I shut my door to get my work done. To this day, I thank him for his honesty.

Likewise, I’ve  become better at allowing myself to take a vacation. This means not responding to student emails and more importantly not feeling guilty about it. Of course, I never got the sheer volume of emails previously. This changed when I got my tenure line job and was also made an Undergraduate Advisor. Students need advising year round. The department where I work has assigned other faculty during my vacation, but that doesn’t stop the emails from trickling in. Perhaps it helps the deluge!

This May I started an email to myself where I remind myself of my professional declines. I cannot do everything and anything. I note my achievements via my CV, but what about those moments when I protect my time and sanity and say, “no.” Well, I have an email to self that shares my no accomplishments. I started this in May and I’m only at 18, but each one of these declines allowed me to spend more time on teaching, advising, myself, and work/life balance. So, I suggest that we remember to celebrate boundary keeping and those moments when we must politely decline.Don’t get me wrong–I say yes to lots of meetings and opportunities. I do believe the department head would concur that I am a good citizen in the department and for the faculty at large.

But, the department head has also encouraged me to say no more. I’ve had colleagues who have a printout that read: Just say NO within their field of vision as a reminder when they are on the phone. Oh, that reminds me to add another point. I’m at 19! And, I am also reminded me of themes at Breathe Now, a conference that I co-coordinated with Janice Mansfield, Angela Rafuse-Tahir, and Yukari Peerless. Many of our speakers noted that it’s important to take time for yourself–breathe. Say no, when you need to!

2 thoughts on “Boundaries: Saying No

  1. I have zero boundaries! When I read this, I thought,”Really, people don’t reply to student emails on the weekend?” Because of the genre of my job (I coach a team that travels on weekends), I don’t really consider my weekends to be “off” for the most part. I thought of making Wednesdays my day “off” this semester and not doing any work on that day, but I’m constantly feeling like I’m drowning in work and administrative duties and class prep and grading and everything, so I don’t end up ever feeling like I can take a day “off”. But, I am often still behind in responding to certain emails because I will not immediately respond thinking “I have to think about that.” or “I’m not sure of the answer to that.” and then I forget to respond in the end. So, I like your idea of immediately responding with “I’m on this.” and maybe if I say “if you don’t hear back from me by such-and-such date, email me to check on it” to build in a reminder from them.
    I really feel like I need to work on the boundaries thing. I need to have “work” hours and “non-work” hours. But, I’m horrible at that…definitely something to work on.

    • This is where you are now. You can do this better, but it will take work and patience. Don’t be hard on yourself. I don’t have the right answer. Do what works for you. Boundaries are good! Thanks for reading and posting!

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