“I had also sacrificed my own sense of self in service of this dream, and when I finally got there, I felt like there wasn’t a “me” left to enjoy it. Worse, I know that by pushing myself in that way to “earn my place” I was contributing to a culture that would demand that from the next person coming up.” – Anna Ehl
I wanted to start this article with a direct quote from one of my professors. My hope is that this presents a new or renewed perspective on this important topic.
As a student and working professional, I have learned the importance of setting boundaries with my work. Like many of you, I love what I do and I enjoy working in the audio industry. However, there are some parts of it that we might want to avoid.
Start by analyzing yourself and your limits
This can be something as simple as your availability or even how much work you can physically perform before you need a day off. This industry can be incredibly physically demanding. During the summer I am working a lot. Nobody is doing my laundry for me, even though I really wish someone would. I know I will need at least one day off after the busy weekend. This can be very demanding for someone who is not used to the labors of live sound and festival gigging. Some people may need two or three days off due to their personal schedules, and that is totally fine.
It is also important to have open conversations about your work environment with other employees. The professor I mentioned before suggested this to me. By talking about things like pay rates, how many hours you are working, and contracts, helps create a kind of team solidarity. This can help you in negotiating better working conditions for not only you but the whole team. You cannot be punished for having these thoughts and conversations.
“I think the answer to changing this culture is to cultivate a sense of teamwork and collaboration instead of competition. Ours is an industry that demands we build our networks, and when we look at our fellow technicians and engineers as part of our team and important building blocks in our network, we can start to build a sense of mutual obligation, trust, and collaboration that will facilitate a better working environment for all. Competition serves the folks who seek to overwork employees to bolster their own profits at the expense of our personal lives. By changing the culture from competition to collaboration, we open ourselves and our teams up to building a life with better balance.”
I could not have surmised this idea any better and it is certainly going to be a thought in my mind for the length of my career. Something that was also brought up in this conversation was that this same network can also supply you with information about possible employers and clients. You should focus your time and energy on employers who respect you as a human and not just based on your talents and services. A client who respects you on and off the clock will be much easier to work with compared to someone who doesn’t. This kind of information can help you avoid the repercussions faced when working with people who do not value you and your boundaries.
Conflict resolution skills
Can be a form of boundary setting. It isn’t talked about as much but can be excellent for when you are dealing with someone difficult. Personally, I like to use the form ‘I feel Language’ for communication. What this refers to are statements that start with I or directly address your understanding of a situation. For example, I could say, “I feel like there has been a lack of communication as of late, and it is making my job harder to do.” In an ‘I’ statement, you are not pointing the blame at anyone and are taking a neutral stance on the issue. Whereas, “You haven’t been emailing me back and now I am behind on work,” is an ineffective way of communicating for conflict resolution.
If done correctly, both parties can state how they are feeling and how the conflict is causing them to suffer. Both parties can reach validation at the very least. Something to note here is that both parties need to be actively listening to each other. This will not happen every time. Sometimes you will have an unhappy client or unruly stagehand and you will have to accept this. I, however, feel that taking the steps to state how you are feeling and approaching the situation with a form of conflict resolution is better than doing nothing at all. Accepting this kind of situation for what it is and refusing to fret over something that cannot be changed is also an important step in setting boundaries for yourself.
Be honest with yourself
You will need to ask yourself these kinds of questions throughout your life and career because things change. You might want to start a family or a health issue might arise. It is absolutely fine to say no to a job or career opportunity. I have found that if I decline an offer, but supply the offeror with other contacts that may be a better fit, I am met with a better response. This approach tends to leave me on better terms with the offeror and the door open for future employment. If you don’t have someone else you can suggest, you can also state you will send anyone you meet their way. This is a nice gesture and shows you appreciate their time and offer.
There are a few smaller techniques that you can apply to your work life to help balance it with your daily life. Though they seem small in application, they can warrant a great outcome. You should set firm times for when you are unavailable. Personally, I have my devices on DO NOT DISTURB from 10 pm to 8 am. This really helps cut down distractions like notifications and allows more time to unwind. One may argue about the need to be available at all hours in case of an emergency and you are needed. However, phone calls can still go through with DO NOT DISTURB activated and I tend to live by the rule of ‘they will call me if it is important. This mentality is a clear way of setting a boundary between your personal time and your work time.
Some of us may also need to set designated times to answer emails. If you receive a lot of emails from clients or inquiries, this process may take you more time. Finding a good time during the typical 9 to 5 business hours to read and respond to emails is a good practice to have. This doesn’t mean it has to be the same time every day. It just needs to be done each day. I also tend to live by the rule of responding to emails within 24, sometimes 48 hours if the working relationship has been established.
However, there is a caveat to this. It is so easy to have access to work emails 24/7. If this becomes or already is a problem for you, revoking or limiting access to work emails and work-related communication applications may be a must for you. Setting DO NOT DISTURB to your phone is already a clear way of creating this boundary, but you can also not allow your work email on your personal devices. Some working professionals only have access to their work emails on their work devices due to the struggles of ‘checking their work email while being at home.’ It is a problem in almost every line of work. This information may be obvious to some, but my hope is that it helps some of you with your struggles.
So at this point in the article, you have heard me mention several ways to create these boundaries and build healthy habits. The reason why it is important for some professionals to have these lines in the sand varies. However, they do boil down to one overarching motive: This work is not worth sacrificing your health for. For some people, this is a difficult concept to grasp, but it should be applied to everyone in our industry. Yes, we are passionate about what we do, but if a particular gig or client is pushing you to your limits, you should consider setting boundaries or stepping away from that job. Placing yourself above everything else may seem like a selfish act, but you cannot work the job if you don’t take your limits and health into consideration first. By placing your well-being ahead of everything else, you will have a better understanding of when you should walk away from something or someone.
Women who started in this industry many years before me had to work at least twice as hard as their male counterparts. This toxic mentality has continued into our lifestyles now, yet I think we all want the same thing. We make these sacrifices now so that it is better for future generations of women and minorities in our industry. We want our industry’s culture to change so that technicians and engineers can thrive, yet these toxic traits leak in. By having these conversations and taking action to combat issues, we can stop the continuation of an out-of-date work culture.
I would like to give a very special thank you to Anna Ehl for her thoughts on this subject. Her opinion has always been something that I have valued immensely. I would also like to thank Lindsey Johns, Kayla Lee, Keith Norton, and David Peterson for their thoughts and contributions to this article and conversation.