I met a convicted pedophile at a networking event. Obviously it wasn't on his name tag, but he was so creepy that I Googled him when I got home. I just got that "get into my van" vibe. I'm familiar with that vibe because I have been invited into windowless vans on two separate occasions in the past year. One guy even got a little offended that I didn't want a ride, and informed me that he is "not, like, a serial killer or anything." Statistically speaking, that's probably true. Still not getting in your van.
Some situations make setting boundaries easy and obvious. Most of us are well-trained to recognize these situations. Opinion may differ about where that boundary should be, but it's pretty clear that there should be one. No, Mr. Networking Pedophile, I will not come to your house and give you a massage. Obviously. But setting boundaries doesn't just mean protecting yourself from obvious danger.
In the past week, two different women have told me that they feel responsible, at home and at work, for making sure everyone else is happy first. This is not limited to women, though I think it is compounded for many women by the fact that young children generally aren't worrying about whether mom has a solid support network or a consistent self-care routine. When you have to put your kids' needs before your own, it's not a huge step to put everyone else's needs first, too.
Having clear priorities is the first step to setting good boundaries. Here's an idea for figuring out where you need stronger boundaries. Make a list of all the things you do or want to do, in descending order of priority. Your first priority might be spending time with your family, it might be exercise, it might even be your job. The key is to be realistic about what your priorities are. Wishful thinking lists just make you feel inadequate, and that's not helpful. I might want meditation to be a top priority, but I don't do it even when I have time, so it doesn't get to be #2 on my list. Nobody else needs to look at the list, so you can be honest. What kind of life do you actually want?
Then, take the waking hours of the past week, and make a list of how much time you spent doing each thing. How much time did you spend at work? How much time did you spend reading? Exercising? Playing music? Compare it to your priorities list. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, whether they like their job or not, but if you're working 70 hours a week for a company that only pays you for 40, you probably need to start saying no more often.
Comparing what you want your life to look like and what it actually looks like can be pretty depressing, but it can also give you some perspective on where your boundaries need to be stronger. If something is really preventing you from doing what is most important, how can you take control of that situation? It won't happen instantly, and it will definitely take some work. Start small, and think long-term. Sometimes having the life you want starts with saying no to things that are holding you back.