“I think the music industry can be an easy place to overstep your own boundaries, or somebody else’s boundaries, without being aware of it.”

Boundaries are a bold and beautiful way to take care of ourselves.

Boundaries are guidelines we set in place that recognise our needs, distinguish priorities and indicate what type of treatment we will and will not accept from others. Healthy boundaries are flexible and they allow us to make space for meeting our needs across all domains of life.

They provide the necessary foundation for every relationship you have and, most importantly, the one you have with yourself, but they can be hard to set and even harder to stick to.

Holly Norman dives into the boundaries that help her be a drummer, percussionist, songwriter, support worker, therapeutic yoga teacher, mother and student (completing a Masters of Counselling). Holly is also one of our newest presenters, so look out for her at one of our next mental health events!

What does the term ‘boundaries’ mean to you?

I think of boundaries as metaphorical lines in the sand, so to speak.

You can’t see them, but if they’re implemented well, you’ll feel the effects of them. There are lots of different types of boundaries; boundaries in the workplace and social boundaries that impact how we relate to others, what we expect of ourselves and of everyone else.

Boundaries can govern our physical health, as well as our mental health. For example, as much as I might want to get up tomorrow and run a half marathon, my body will probably just set a boundary and refuse to do it because I haven’t trained for it and I don’t have great running stamina/endurance!

So boundaries can help protect our capacity, because we only have a finite amount of physical, mental or emotional energy to expend on any given day. Communicating boundaries to others can help us to manage our capacity for work, rest and play.

Everyone’s boundaries will be different too, because we all have totally unique social and wellbeing needs. 

“As I might want to get up tomorrow and run a half marathon, my body will probably just set a boundary and refuse.”

Do you find setting (and sticking to) boundaries difficult while working in the music industry?

I think the music industry can be an easy place to overstep your own boundaries or somebody else’s, without being aware of it.

I remember in one of my early festival jobs I was told in my first week, “everyone works Saturdays around here”, even though the job was a 9-5 office job and we were only being paid Monday through Friday. There was a culture of overwork that was just accepted within the organisation and I challenged that, never going into the office on a Saturday. In my mind, if I couldn’t get my work done during the week, there was something wrong!

For me, being able to set boundaries has probably come from my own self-assurance as a worker and my ability to be efficient. I’m also really happy to walk away from a job or a gig at the end of the day if I feel the demands are unreasonable or beyond the scope of what has been originally agreed to.

So, I think you really need to back yourself and know your own worth in order to implement your own boundaries consistently without worrying about others’ perceptions. 

Do you have any boundaries or self care non-negotiables in your life?

Yes, I need to exercise daily, I need to eat well and I need to sleep 6-7 hours a night (I have a young child, so sometimes I don’t make that quota, but that’s because of parenting and not because of work!) A big non-negotiable for me since becoming a parent has been finishing work on time. I can’t start work early or finish late, because I have to do child drop-offs and pick-ups, there’s someone else relying on me. So I think that provides extra motivation to smash through everything at work, get in and get out and get the job done. 

It also helps to know your own ‘why’ behind your boundaries.

What are some tips and strategies you’ve found helpful in sticking to your boundaries in your own work/life?

The tricky thing about boundaries is that they need to be implemented early in a working relationship and communicated clearly, so that everyone knows the lay of the land and there’s not a feeling of the goalposts being shifted.

We’ve all heard that urban fable of the office worker whose start time was 9.00am each day, but who arrived at 8.30am every morning to start work, just because he wanted to. Over time his colleagues started expecting him to be at work and relied on him to start earlier than everyone else and open the office, even though he wasn’t being paid overtime for that extra half hour and it had never been discussed. One day the worker arrived for work at 9.00am and his boss chewed him out for being late, even though he was technically just starting on time!

The moral of that story, I feel, is that it really pays to set your boundaries at the beginning of a job or a working relationship. It also helps to know your own ‘why’ behind your boundaries. For me, the ‘why’ behind my own non-negotiable boundaries in my work and my relationships is that I’m protecting energy levels, emotional capacity and mental load so that I can remain really happy and fulfilled to be doing to work I’m doing, without becoming resentful or wanting to bail on opportunities due to my own needs not being met.