The Reality of Being an Artist
Learning how to set boundaries is an essential skill for a well-rounded person. But if you’re an artist, maker, or creative, you might need some extra help setting boundaries around your creative time. In this article, I want to share some of the ways boundaries have helped me as an artist and help you learn how to set them for yourself, too.
If you make cool stuff with your hands, this applies to you! That means woodworkers, knitters, seamstresses, DIY-ers, painters, sculptors, resin artists… it doesn’t matter what you do, because these tips apply to you too. I’ll also throw in coders and IT people, cuz y’all run into many of these problems, too.
Honestly, I’m just calling out to anyone with specialized knowledge that people often minimize or try to take advantage of — I’m just coming at it from the artist’s perspective. This post is for you!
Why Set Boundaries?
If you’re new to the world of making art or artisan-type work, you might wonder why boundaries are such a big deal. The reason why I make such a big stink about your boundaries as an artist is that without those barriers, people will walk all over you.
The unfortunate truth is that for every person who values and appreciates your skill, talent, and time, there are ten more folks who will do one of two things:
- minimize or mock your craft
- ask for free or ludicrously underpriced products
These people will present in all kinds of flavors, either as the kindly but condescending relative, the dismissive friend who doesn’t get it, the demanding client who expects free work, or people who simply don’t know how to respond when told “no”.
By learning how to set effective boundaries, you are protecting your own time, energy, and peace of mind.
How to Set Boundaries – The Basics
If you are new to the idea of setting boundaries, let me give you a quick rundown of what that means. A boundary is a limit that you set for what behavior you’ll allow from others. This boundary line can be:
- Physical – I won’t be touched that way.
- Emotional – I won’t be emotionally manipulated.
- Mental – I won’t take on that mental load.
Setting a boundary is how you teach people how you want to be treated. So how do you set a boundary?
Step 1: Figure Out Your Priorities
First, you have to figure out what is worth defending. Not all hills are hills you want to die on. Think about the things that are important to you and figure out how you can keep those things safe from disruption.
Do you prioritize your free time to spend with your loved ones? Defend your free time! Do you care deeply about a certain habit or routine that gives you peace? Set a boundary around that time!
This is a great thing to explore in a journaling practice like the Morning Pages where you can dig deep into what matters most to you.
Let’s use the privacy of the home as an example. You expect a certain level of privacy in your own home, right? If you share your living space with roommates or family, you can expect some privacy in your room. Your privacy is a priority. Now what?
Step 2: Set the Boundary Clearly
Once you have your priorities pinned down, you have to define the boundary around it.
If you want to ensure that you have a daily drawing session, then the boundary would be, “I want to have 30 minutes uninterrupted each day to draw.” That’s it! Just clearly point out the behavior and state what you want to happen, and you’ve set a boundary.
If a relative comes into your home and starts snooping through your medicine cabinet or your underwear drawer, you need to set a clear boundary by saying, “Don’t go through my private things.” Once you’ve communicated your boundary, you’ve successfully set it!
Step 3: Set Consequences
When it comes to your boundaries, you have to ask how you’ll handle it if someone stomps on your boundary. At the end of the day, you can’t expect other people to just do what you want — you have to take control and take action.
Once you’ve asked your relative to stop snooping through your things, you have to think about how you’ll react if you see it happen again. If you do nothing, that will only incentivize the relative to continue doing the bad action because there are no consequences.
So think about what consequences might look like, and how you’ll say them. If you find them snooping again, stop inviting the offending relative over to your home as a consequence.
Step 4: Defend
You’ve identified your priority, set a boundary, and figured out consequences. All you have to do now is defend it. Some people, when learning of your boundary, will immediately respect those boundaries. Some will accidentally step over your boundary. Others will start probing for weaknesses or outright stomping on your boundaries as a means of control or sheer pettiness.
Perhaps your relative will stop snooping through your underwear drawer but will push your boundary by looking through your purse. When someone does this, they are looking to see how much they can get away with.
It’s up to you to decide what you’ll tolerate, and it’s up to you to restate your boundaries and defend them with consequences. Then rinse and repeat until the people in your life learn how you want to be treated.
7 Tips for Setting Boundaries
If you’re new to setting boundaries around yourself and your craft, here are a few tips to help you defend yourself like a pro.
Set Expectations Up Front
To maintain a boundary, you need to make sure the boundary is clear in the first place. Basically, you can’t expect someone to read your mind. If your spouse doesn’t know your daily drawing habit is important to you, they can’t be expected to treat that time as sacred.
Make your boundary clear and you might be surprised how far that goes towards solving your problems.
Write Your Boundaries Down
If you’re new to boundaries, it might be a bit foreign to defend yourself and your time. To practice getting in the right headspace and getting the right wording, try writing down your boundaries and their consequences. That will make it easier once you are ready to set your boundaries with people.
Practice Saying Them Out Loud
Practice different phrases while you’re by yourself, like in the shower. Try saying it in a commanding, confident tone while standing tall. As silly as it seems, this kind of practice makes it easier to address concerns in the heat of the moment.
Start In Safer Spaces
If you’re afraid of getting negative responses, you could try practicing boundaries in safe spaces with people who care about you. Tell a trusted loved one that you’re working on boundaries so they can help you out. Set a small, easy-to-maintain boundary with them.
With a close loved one, you can trust that they won’t bite your head off if you try defending your boundary. That kind of practice makes it easier to handle more difficult people should they start boundary stomping.
Defending boundaries can be an emotional experience. You might lose your temper, break down crying, or shut down entirely. That is why practicing your boundaries in private or safe spaces is so essential. You need to address behavior before you’re at a breaking point. Nip behaviors you don’t like in the bud before they blossom into full-sized problems.
Become Comfortable With “No”
A lot of boundary setting stems from simply saying “No”.
No, I can’t do that job for you.
No, I can’t work in that tight of a deadline.
No, I won’t draw you for free.
Learn how to say it firmly, but politely. You don’t need to explain yourself or justify your reasons. It’s your time, and you get to decide how you’ll spend it.
The thing about consequences is that you actually have to enforce them. You can’t tell your relative to stop snooping over and over again without doing something about it. After a while, their pattern of behavior falls at your feet.
If you allow bad behavior to persist, you’re teaching them that’s the level of treatment you’re willing to accept. That is to say, with consequences, it’s not enough to talk the talk. You gotta walk the walk — or nothing is going to change.
Treat People How to Treat You
At the end of the day, you hold the power over how much respect you receive. If someone has a pattern of disrespecting you and stomping on your boundaries, then stop engaging. Fire that client. Stop hanging with that friend. Quit talking to those relatives.
If someone has shown you time and time again that they don’t respect your time, energy, work, or opinions, you are under no obligation to keep them around. Weed out the people who bring you more hardship than joy and stop letting them control how happy you are.
Take the reins, set your boundaries, and be the person who doesn’t let people treat her like anything less than a badass.