Illustration by  
January 18, 2022

Setting boundaries when work becomes personal

Words by  

Growing up in the state of Gujarat in India, Abhishek Vyas found himself closely impacted by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, particularly those focusing on establishing non-violence in the road to Indian liberation. It was seeing the impact of Gandhi’s work not just in the history of his hometown, but around him growing up as well that pushed Vyas to explore this further in his own way. Now an Mphil Student in Education at the University of Cambridge, Vyas has set up his own study group on understanding non-violence as a start to his independent project on exploring how non-violence can be implemented within the education sector. “What I want to work on is education for peace and non-violence in Indian schools and I’ve done some background work on this by teaching at a prison in Ahmedabad. I have also worked with an NGO in India focusing on social emotional learning for children. These experiences have pushed me towards my degree and my future work,” he says.

While it is his passion that has driven him to pursue both a degree and independent projects in this sphere, Vyas shares that feeling personally connected to such a topic – it’s strong ties to his hometown and his passion for implementing it in his community – can often be exhausting. Still he says, “it’s a good sort of exhaustion that leads you to question the implications of your own actions.” 

But while Vyas has found a way to make the best of the emotional toll that social work and community engagement can have on those doing it, it’s not easy to always strike a balance. In September 2020, performance anxiety and trauma consultant Olivia James, wrote a piece on how the traumatic impact of working on stressful stories on journalists’ is often ignored which can lead to their mental health suffering. James points out how vicarious trauma can occur through watching the suffering of other people – and just how dangerous ignoring those effects can be because of the long-term impacts it can have on physical and mental health. But while journalism is a relatively public profession, and therefore easier to understand in terms of impact – community workers, activists and others involved in work on a personal level can often suffer from similar issues outside of the spotlight. 

Valentina Olivieri, a Product Manager at Positive Group working in EdTech, who also works as an Opportunities Manager at The Maple Advisory Group shares that setting boundaries in a way that helps her balance her personal experiences and her work is still “very much a work in progress.” Olivieri’s work with The Maple Advisory Group, a global organisation committed to raising ambitions in education for the marginalised and vulnerable came about when she and now founder of TMAG Aanya Niaz began to meet in cafes to touch base with the academic discussions they missed as working professionals.

But bridging the gap between research and practice, even as a larger community is not an easy job – and Olivieri often finds herself encountering issues or working on topics that she has experienced first hand “be it mental health and understanding yourself, your body and your brain, or discussing with buddying educationalists the challenges we all face.” She also adds that “It can often be a fine line between following a passion with all your strength and losing all your strength and energy following a passion.” 

But the repercussions that can arise from not finding that balance are more than enough reason to understand how important it is to set boundaries. James shares that while many of us may feel a need to help due to the many injustices we see and hear about, “the problem is that this work can be overwhelming and never ending.” There’s also a lot of self-reflection that can take place within such work which also makes it more difficult to draw a line between where the work ends and personal time begins. The constant emotional and mental turmoil can lead to burnout and stress. “If you want to change the world it can be hard to say no but you can’t pour from an empty cup. Self-care and resilience building are vital for work that is sustainable,” says James. 

That doesn’t mean the possibility of such outcomes should stop one from engaging in work that has personal meaning. In fact, it should be the opposite because we need more examples of people who have achieved that successful balance in setting boundaries to prioritise themselves while still doing work that matters. Sonya Barlow, entrepreneur and founder of LMF (Like Minded Females) Network, points out how important it is to create spaces that talk about the realities of working on such issues because social media can often present situations in a way that are very different from reality.

“Working with and through my personal stories is about trying to do for social good and social impact. Coming from a working-class background and as a woman, I wanted to make sure we were opening these conversations because social media has made things so public and aesthetically pleasing that sometimes they are not real,” Barlow says. 

In her debut book Unprepared to Entrepreneur, Barlow talks extensively about her own experience with burnout and how she learnt to put herself first because so much of her work requires her to share personal stories in order to facilitate safe spaces for other women from marginalised backgrounds. Her focus on her well-being has led her to enjoy her work when she partakes in it and make the most of her working hours. “I get energised when someone writes to me or comments or my posts to tell me my experiences resonate with them and how they don’t feel alone anymore. It makes me even more determined to bring the spotlight to these issues and do more,” Barlow shares.   

No one solution to finding the right balance works for everyone. While for Barlow the best fit may come from her 4 day work week and scheduled time off screens, Olivieri shares that her self care comes from sticking to planners and to-do lists that help her get her work schedules in order. But most self-care activities are often far easier said than done, and when one finds themselves falling back into the same habits, it’s important to remember to show yourself the same compassion that you show others everyday. “You’re just one person with limited time, limited energy and limited compassion. I often see my actions, discuss them and sometimes I can realise I was violent in a certain situation and I need to remember to be kind to myself because that compassion should work both ways,” Vyas shares. 

Learn how you can turn your freelance gig into a money making business. It’s FREE!

Free 15 min freelancing consultation call
Advice and practical steps to level up your business
Learn how to consistently find work
Get tips for finding your niche

Recommended Reading

How to make your business more cost effective in 2022

Review your subscriptions Evaluate your phone and internet providers Don’t expense for the sake of it Think about where you’re working from Sell off excess equipment The UK has been experiencing a cost of living...

A Field Guide to Bad Clients (and how to deal with them)

What we suggest 1. Get a contract that secures weekly hours2. State your terms at the bottom of every invoice and outline your late fees3. Don’t reply to emails outside of work hours. Schedule your reply to be...

How should journalists build their social media brand?

For better or worse, I can almost guarantee that every young journalist will have come across the phrase “JournoTwitter” at least half a dozen times as they work to break the glass ceiling in their...

Writers beware: Avoid the content mill

Like many other freelance writers, I stumbled into the industry somewhat by accident. Before COVID-19, I had been living a cushy life abroad, basking in the satisfaction of not having to update my LinkedIn. But...

Detaching self-worth from work

This second instalment of the self-worth and work topic will focus on the people who are actively working on detaching their self-worth from their work. I have struggled with this task ever since I dipped...

How to network as a freelancer in 2022

A common misconception about freelancing is that it’s only something you can do after you’ve established yourself within your industry. This is because freelancing is something many people do later on in their careers, having...

Defining your time; or how to avoid being on call 24/7

Defining your time; or how to avoid being on call 24/7

Don’t be afraid to set your own time. That’s probably why you became a freelancer, after all.

Is email killing your freelance productivity?

Is email killing your freelance productivity?

Emails are great. But they can also really really slow you down. Here are some ways to make sure your most useful tool doesn’t stop you from actually doing work

Do not let non-competes kill your business

Do not let non-competes kill your business

Non-competes can kill your business. Do not let them. Here’s how

Freelancers, this is how to take control of your money

Freelancers, this is how to take control of your money

The 30% rule is going to make your life a lot easier. Make sure you follow it if you’re a freelancer looking to manage their money more consistenly

Retainer clients are the dream. How do you find good ones?

Retainer clients are the dream. How do you find good ones?

Consistency? Haven’t heard of her. But if you want to a place where you can take risks with your freelance career, retainer clients are the way to stability.

The magic word every freelancer needs to know

The magic word every freelancer needs to know

It’s often the first word we learn, but it’s the last one we’re willing to say. How can saying “No” more often be the magic word every freelancer needs to know?

How do you create a portfolio straight out of university?

How do you create a portfolio straight out of university?

Coming out of uni with only limited work experience feels like it means you can only apply for entry level roles. But uni students can build fantastic work-sealing portfolios with some small tips and tricks

Freelance networking groups: How to join in and build your business without spamming

Freelance networking groups: How to join in and build your business without spamming

Do you want to talk about your business on an FB group but don’t want to be THAT person? There are ways to discuss work without seeming self-serving. Click up to find out.

How to onboard new clients as a freelancer

How to onboard new clients as a freelancer

If you’re signing new clients, that’s fantastic. But the first and second steps of the relationship are vital to keeping things positive. Having a consistent onboarding system can get your started in the right place.

How to tackle portfolio procrastination

How to tackle portfolio procrastination

Making good portfolios is crucial for your freelance business, but it can be tempting to procrastinate. Check out UnderPinned’s Virtual Office for portfolio templates to fill and send to clients!

The difference between Portfolios and Proposals

The difference between Portfolios and Proposals

So you’re hunting for freelance work? Well, what do you say when a potential client asks for a proposal rather than a portfolio? Have a read to see.

Freelancing with ADHD

Freelancing with ADHD

Freelancing is for everyone. But a job that requires skills you struggle with can make freelancing with ADHD difficult. Hear from an expert and a freelancer with ADHD about how she makes it work.

How to go freelance straight after uni

How to go freelance straight after uni

How do you go freelance straight after uni? You honestly ask yourself if you’re ready, and then you just lean into it 100%. And you read this article to find out more.

Signs of a weak freelance portfolio that clients spot at once

Signs of a weak freelance portfolio that clients spot at once

What signs in your portfolio are you hoping that clients see? And what are you hoping will be good filler? Make sure you’re only putting things in there that you can defend

Ten actionable tips for freelancers to relieve their WFH fatigue

Ten actionable tips for freelancers to relieve their WFH fatigue

WFH has been tough. But, a year into the change for many people, there are still learnings to be had. Zoom past fatigue with our tips

Ten things you should never say to a freelancer

Ten things you should never say to a freelancer

Vent your client frustrations through us! A must read for anyone that hires/knows/ever talks to a freelancer, here’s ten things never to say to a freelancer

Kill The Boss In Your Head: Freelancing and Creativity

Kill The Boss In Your Head: Freelancing and Creativity

Through the tension and anxiety at the heart of all paid freelance work, what are the conditions that best support the free-flowing of creativity?

One year ago I turned to freelancing to save my mental health: Here’s what happened

One year ago I turned to freelancing to save my mental health: Here’s what happened

Fiona Thomas writes on her switch to freelancing pushed by her mental health, and how someone in a similar scenario can benefit from the change

A guide to being a creative freelancer without social media

A guide to being a creative freelancer without social media

We could all do with a break from social media. But how do you continue to run your creative freelance business without your Instagram? Here’s a guide.

An extension of your arm: Must-have tools for freelance content creators

An extension of your arm: Must-have tools for freelance content creators

Want an aresenal of tools in your pocket that can make your freelance life expontentially easier? Look no further

The role of the creative brief and why it’s so vital to get right

The role of the creative brief and why it’s so vital to get right

Here’s how to be clear with clients about what you need from their brief, and what they should expect from you too in the beginnings of the conversation

Building it alone; Freelancing when you’re single

Building it alone; Freelancing when you’re single

Being freelance is tough enough. But doing it all alone can make it a lot more complicated. Here’s how to take some steps to make it easier on you.

A guide to juggling multiple freelance clients

A guide to juggling multiple freelance clients

You want freelance success? You probably will need more than one client. Finding them is one thing, but keeping them organised? Oh boy. Luckily we have a guide just for you.

Freelance journalists, here’s how to make ALCS work for you

Freelance journalists, here’s how to make ALCS work for you

If you’re a freelance journalist, you might have a chance at passive income from the ALCS that you didn’t know about.

How writers and journalists can make money with Substack

How writers and journalists can make money with Substack

Want to escape from the editorial loop? Substack is on everyone’s lips right now. But how can you use it as a writer?