Tis the season for setting boundaries

As we embark on the holidays and a new year, many of us will give the proverbial “new year, new me” declarations. This year sucked for many of us, we worked longer hours, and dealt with the constant doom of COVID-19 and continued systemic racism against Black and Brown people. This year was also rewarding as well. Many of us left toxic jobs, reclaimed our time, and said no to things and people that no longer served us. If the past two years have taught me anything, it’s that life is short, and I am no longer interested in one-sided exchanges, friendships, or people that deplete my energy and disturb my peace.

Senator Maxine Waters said it best in her 2019 infamous exchange between US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, “I am reclaiming my time.” That phrase reverberated through the depths of every woman’s soul — because we know that so much of our time is accounted for and claimed. COVID-19 has specifically exacerbated the time that women spend at work and doing domestic labor in the household. We are tired, perpetually tired but there is so much joy and power in setting and establishing boundaries. For the most part, men can naturally be more forthcoming about setting boundaries, and saying “NO”, but when women do it, it’s as if we aren’t fulfilling our earthly nurturing and self-sacrificing obligation.

Tis the Season for protecting one’s time, social capital, and intellect. As a Black woman who is multi-talented, well-liked, and well versed on many subjects — I am often tokenized, idolized, and unfortunately exploited. I have often felt that people believe I have this endless vessel of time and energy that is never-ending but most often, I am tired, really tired. I am in a profession that demands I give of myself, and I love that, but it also means I must compartmentalize my giving and be honest that I cannot continue to give endlessly, or without reciprocity in other aspects of my life.

Tis the Season for unsolicited LinkedIn requests from moochers. You know the foreign moochers who send emails complimenting your professional background and expertise, and wanting to connect and meet with you, to learn about you. Or the moochers who want to meet with you so you can connect them to one of your contacts for a job or a professional opportunity. In 2022, I am saying no to personal and professional mooching, unless you are offering compensation for my expertise or time, I am ignoring you. If your only objective is to meet with me to get closer to one of my contacts or use my contacts to leverage your own career, I am always saying no. Personal and professional exchanges need to be mutually beneficial. There is no giving of my time, resources, or capital without receiving resources and capital from you in return.

“Can I pick your brain?” has become the most exploitative professional pick-up line ever. Do people ever consider that people who are constantly having their brain picked are exhausted? Do people ever think about offering any compensation for the picking of someone’s brain and the stealing of their intellectual property? If I am going to do the thinking for you because for whatever reason, you forgot what Google is intended for then you need to pay me. No, no, and No. Tis the Season for protecting one’s time, social capital, and intellect.

You may think this piece is just an endless rant about how tired I am of people but it’s not. Well, not really. This is a prevailing problem that disproportionally impacts women, and especially women of color. Women are perceived to be giving and self-sacrificing, and when we are not, we are seen as not feminine enough, selfish, or aloof — instead of being viewed as someone who has every right to protect what is theirs. I see women of color constantly trading likeability for personal exploitation — oh but if you just give more of yourself, and be more open, people will like you more. Being a Black woman is beautiful but it’s exhausting — we carry the burden of our communities and our families on our back, we navigate systemic racism and gender discrimination in our personal and professional lives, and we still show up for people as if our energy is not depleted. There are serious health consequences for not protecting your time, energy, and boundaries, especially for Black women.

As we navigate a season of endless professional and familial commitments, please know that it is okay to tell people no. It’s okay to be honest with family about your time, and commitments, and it’s okay to not want to attend everyone’s holiday gathering. Because showing up for others is exhausting. I am appreciative to those who continue to show me grace, and those who understand the constant need to always be available for others in your life is so 2021. Here’s to a new year of protecting and reclaiming your time.

I’m a writer and higher education administrator. A doctor of sociology with a love for writing topics on race, intersectionality, and women’s career issues.