No Matter How Scary, Be Fearless And Mark Out Boundaries This Year!

Guard your heart, mind and time. Those three things will determine the health of everything else in your life

ANDRENA SAWYER

A villager does not belong in town until they get a paid job.

Walking from the campus hostel with my bags felt like ultimate freedom. But the following months proved that I was a captive of poverty, and almost lived on the streets. There was no one ready to house or feed me. My luck for hopping from one family or friend’s house to another, had run out.

I had to get a job and save my urban dream fast. But my ego complicated the search because I could not settle for any employment. I was not particularly eager to work for a broke and shamelessly corrupt government. I never saw myself showing up in a drab office full of tattered furniture and miserable people. In the name of serving the nation. Neither could I work for the condescending Indians building bad roads that they never completed.

My plan was to work for the white people.

Because I was exhausted of being an ordinary black person. The one whose life is an everyday struggle. I was tired of how black people had treated me all along. When born in poverty, even people of your race have the power to mistreat you, wherever you are. I toiled on the farm and got bullied in school by both students and teachers. I grew up in an earthen riverside camp we called home and, in the end, found myself homeless in town. I hardly ate, slept, or dressed well enough to my taste. I never dated the girls I desired because rich kids had it their way. I was sick and tired of this oppressive, black life.

That is why I wanted to earn a good pay in a place with few black people. One that could help me escape black misery – once and for all. I wanted to travel the world while serving the neediest with my skills. Because in college, they taught me what my society needed least. And white people always fascinated me with their different thinking. But most important and selfish reason, working with white people would polish my lifestyle and connect me to the outside world. And maybe, meet and marry one of their beautiful girls, and migrate to Europe or America. And live happily ever after.

My daily job was to look for a job.

Morning preparation started with ironing the second-hand charcoal grey suit. And the blue cotton shirt with button-down collar, to hold the wide tie around my scrawny neck. Then polishing my tired black leather shoes, that had a noticeable backwards and outward tilt at the heels. I was lucky that the angle was somehow gentle. Most city immigrants at that stage, wore shoes that had undergone several heel replacements. Meaning, I qualified to be one of the sharpest village job seekers in town.

Every morning after the rush hour, I left my temporary home clutching a folder full of papers. I spent hours queuing, flipping directories, and making endless cold calls in public telephone booths in the city’s centre. Somehow, I had managed to perfect my pitch in good English and often received positive vibes from receptionists on the other end. Even though only a few appointments came through. And when they did, ended up in hollow promises. To increase my chances of survival, I built a small network of friends and mentors whose offices I often visited to ask for work and alms.

One of them was jovial and friendly, but hard to pin down.

But one fine day, I managed to put my request to him, and he agreed to a meeting in his office the following morning. It was a sunny day. I woke up early and braved the rush hour, making the trip costly, only sparing my return fare. The walk to his office was long but full of abiding hope. I paced myself faster to surprise him with my punctuality. On the way, I thought about my dreams and how far I had come to make it happen. I visualized getting a real job and kicking poverty in the backside, forever.

Arriving in his office tired and panting, I was asked to wait for him to finish a meeting. After an hour, he came out, and as we exchanged pleasantries, said he was rushing into another engagement. So, I had two options. To wait till he comes back or take a ride with him to his next venue. I considered the latter a better choice. Perhaps, he wanted to interview me in his car. Off we went in his jalopy, but only for a short drive. Instead of heading to an office building, he drove right into a shopping mall and pulled over. He looked at me with some authority and said he had thought it wise to wait for him there for half an hour. I agreed, and off he sped.

I had no money to get into a restaurant nor confidence to walk around.

I stood still at the parking lot. The half-hour came and went. Then an hour, two, three, four, five. Hot sun, no seat, no movement, nothing. It did not matter to me because I had heard many stories about job interviewing tricks and torment. The longer I stood there, the more I thought I was closer to getting the job. Until the point, I could not bear the torture anymore. My head was throbbing, legs trembling and mouth cracking. I decided to leave, even if it meant remaining jobless for the rest of my life.

Quitting was not an easy choice. The guy had dropped me in ABC Place, 10 kilometres from the central bus station in Nairobi. And without an extra coin to spare, my only option was to walk on my shaky limbs. To date, that trek remains the longest and most challenging journey of my life. Its physical and emotional cruelty remains alive. Hunger and thirst have never come worse— that desperation of walking close to restaurants emitting merciless aromas is divine.

In the end, I arrived to board a bus, half-conscious.

I sat pensively in the matatu, with severe pain across my body. My lips had cracked, and my throat was out of saliva, unable to speak. When I alighted, some energy to take the long final walk to the house emerged. On my way, I saw a young couple drinking a cold Coca Cola and eating fries while romantically walking. That sight and feeling too, has never escaped my mind.

I wondered whether to swallow my pride and beg them for a gulp and bite. But I knew all they could do was laugh. I thought of snatching the bag of food and taking off. But would the public understand that I had no intention of committing a crime? Would they give me time to explain that I was a poor villager in the city trying to save his life? Most unlikely. They would lynch me before I uttered a word. I decided to tread the dusty path in faith.

The day that wounds your ego is the day that heals your soul.

That evening was one of my most enriching in life. While waiting for the house owners to come and offer me food, I collapsed on the sofa. And did some conscious, life-changing reflections. First, I understood the stress that people undergo by sighting someone enjoying a meal while in the state of extreme hunger. I came to regret the agony I may have caused starving people in the streets by walking while eating. To that, I vowed never to display food or eat and drink in public, unless surrounded by other eating people. I have kept the oath to this day.

My other self-promise was to never, ever, look for that man again. Even if it meant going back to the village, his type of punishment was not anything I was willing to undertake in the name of a job hunt. I realized that he would have killed me before he gave me a job. I comprehended how vulnerable I was because I had no close family in town. I thus decided never to allow my susceptibility to expose me to mistreatment of any form, by anyone. That day, I defined the limit of my need and dependency on town people. And drew the red line on their treatment of me, henceforth.

Setting relationship boundaries is a conscious and brave action.

Because it comes at a cost, there are immense gains and losses in equal measure. Setting boundaries is not about being rude and reclusive. It is a healthy way of taking charge of your feelings, decisions, and actions in the confines of your capability and comfort. And in the same breath, pushing back on the responsibilities and consequences that other people must bear for their feelings, decisions, and actions.

Boundaries are the limits we set with others to determine acceptable or unacceptable ways of treatment. Every type of relationship requires two-way markers. It is acknowledging your value, needs and feelings to those of others. It is about knowing that your peace and space matters more than that of others without infringing on theirs. In other words, sound boundaries take good care of you, and protect others from you too. A good relationship is the one that recognizes and respects each other’s boundaries.

Boundaries emanate from our fears and socialization values.

Our values are determined by our cultural practices, religious beliefs, family backgrounds, personality types or even past experiences. Our families, peer groups and social or academic institutions were our first teachers. They taught us to guard ourselves, express our feelings and fulfil our needs from early stages. They taught us that respect, kindness, and compassion are the constant virtues we should practice. These teachings formed our own needs and wants and defined our responsibility for others.

Yet, the limits were not taught, and our fears compound the inability to set boundaries. Fear of abandonment or losing an anchor, fear of judgments or even dreading hurting other peoples’ feelings. And so, all of us at one time, find ourselves either giving or demanding too much. But as most of us grow older, our experiences deepen our understanding and cause our life perspectives to shift (not all do so!). That is why we ought to keep revisiting the boundaries we have set or not set in the past.

Relationships in our society lack boundaries.

A relationship without boundaries is dysfunctional. People fail to put limits because they have a high level of co-dependence on others. If you are an emotionally needy person, you have insatiable demand or supply of love and affection for others. And if you are narcissistic or overly egoistic, you dominate and control relationships to fill the bottomless void in your soul. And this determines how much you give or extract from others, and who you attract or repel.

Keeping our relationships often translates to sacrificing our own identity and removing boundaries. We maintain most relationships because we do not know what our entitlement and that of others is. We allow colleagues to shove their workload on our desks. We shoulder parental responsibilities on behalf of irresponsible, youthful parents. We diligently pay black tax to lazy and undeserving relatives. We give all manner of excuses to live in abusive marriages. We keep company of energy vampires in the name of ‘friends we must understand to live with’. And most of all, we say ‘yes’ to people well knowing that it should be a straight ‘no’. We all are victims and perpetrators of boundless relationships.

Setting boundaries begins with knowing your limits and self-worth.

Self-worth is finding intrinsic value in who you are. First relationship is with yourself. It is knowing that you matter and you are whole. Loving yourself is not selfish, but putting yourself first to put in your best when relating with others. That determines the structure of every other relationship that you have. If you know your worth, you are aware of your rights and can set your intellectual, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual boundaries.

Do you know when to express your thoughts and opinions, and allow others to do so? Do you understand your feelings and those of others in every situation? Are you entitled to your space, no matter how much, and yet respect that of others? Are you responsible for relationships with your friends and family? And have the liberty to engage in social activities of your choice while permitting those of others? Do you have independent spiritual beliefs, and allow others to enjoy theirs?

I too, have struggled with defining limits all along.

I have contributed to social causes without a clear intention, or well knowing that they are useless. I gave when I had none to spare to the undeserving—those who chose to be poor and not comfortable enough to live that way. I have been kind to those who borrow and never pay back many a time. And even to those who never show compassion to anyone.

I have forgiven people and allowed them back to hurt me again and again. I have offered time and space to narcissistic and toxic people to dump their negative emotions in my yard. Those who found a dependable friend in me, at the time they were treating everyone else horribly. I have sustained useless relationships that I should have amputated for the sake of my peace and prosperity. In the past, I failed to zealously protect myself, family, money, energy, and time by not defining boundaries. But I now know better, and have my space somehow marked.

Look at your life and determine who you are living for.

Know the spheres of your self-territory and guard them unapologetically. Drop the compulsive desire to understand and shoulder the burdens others have refused to carry. Remember that you alone are responsible for your happiness, feelings, behaviours, choices, and consequences. Reduce your emotional attachment and dependence on others. And push back theirs away from you.

Comprehend sacrifice before acceptance. Learn to say no conscientiously and without guilt. Understand that when you say ‘yes’ to something, you say ‘no’ to something else. Always be aware of your trade-offs so that you are not the loser in every situation. If it is not a win-win connection, it is not worth your attention. You should slay it without fear or mercy.

Like Brene Brown said, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

If you relate without boundaries, then your heart is a no man’s land.

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Published by Kariuki Mugo

I live cherishing the outdoors, especially green, rugged and watery spaces, but still enjoy the city life. I dedicate in and cherish a family system that provides the foundation for nurturing strong, loving relationships. I trust in thriving communities that provide a better life for everyone, and I am highly committed to creating knowledge. I am a husband, a father, a friend, a development worker, and a teacher to many!

6 thoughts on “No Matter How Scary, Be Fearless And Mark Out Boundaries This Year!”

  1. Mercy says:

    Undeniably compelling…terrifically rewarding!

    1. Thank you, Mercy. Let us all make this year the one for seeking our inner peace and regaining our freedom.

  2. Grace Kabubu says:

    This is a great start to my year. This has taught me alot. Hapo kwa Energy Vampires- I truly need to evaluate because in my life I’ve experienced a number of those.
    Things I’ve picked from this piece:
    – I’ve been a victim of boundless relationships
    – I’ve been kind to those who borrow and never pay back
    – I need to know and guard the spheres of my self-territory unapologetically
    – I must be aware of my trade-offs so that I do not lose in every situation
    – If it’s a win-win connection it’s worth it.
    Boundaries are truly very important.
    Thanks for this sir. I definite must read for all.

    1. Thank you very much, Grace. All of us are guilty of not marking our boundaries, and equally, for violating those of others. Over the last few years, I have been raising my awareness on the limits of my territory. Out of that, I have realized that a number of people need to be kicked out of my domain, and they have been. I have also learnt how to withdraw my occupation on those of others. And this too, has been quite enriching for me and my valued relations.

  3. Emily Machocho says:

    Grace,
    Now I can relate to the conversation we had the other day????.
    @Mugo,
    I’m tempted to copy and paste some statements on my timeline..but again,it won’t add value if not put in practice. Awesome piece.

    1. Thank you, Emily. Please feel free to copy and share. This is not copyrighted material, it is for public consumption. You can also share the story from the Couregeous.ly FB page.

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