The topic of limits and boundaries might seem out of place on a platform dedicated to hospitality. However, in my years studying the art of creating space and of practicing it in my own life, one theme surfaces repeatedly and has come to be one of the core determiners for me in my own hospitality journey. That theme is limits and boundaries.
Today we are going to look at the difference between a limit and a boundary and briefly explore why they matter, specifically in hospitality.
What is a limit?
A limit is a capacity. It is how far you can go before you hit the proverbial wall. It is the distance you can run before you collapse, the least amount of sleep required for you to function, how much available free time you have, the amount of money you can spend, the amount of space in your closet, or your capacity to hear troubling news before it sends you into a state of depressed sadness.
We all have limits, whether we realize it or not.
Being well-acquainted and familiar with our limits is one sign of a healthy relationship with yourself. For example, I know that I can run about half a mile, I cannot function well on less than eight hours of sleep, I have some available free time on the weekends (but not during the week), I don’t have much room in my closet for anything new, and it is not healthy or beneficial for me to watch movies that involve childhood abuse. These are a few of my limits.
A limit is me-focused and exists within the context of relationship with yourself. It is solely our responsibility to determine our own limits and to be honest with ourselves and others about those limits. Other people cannot determine your limits for you. In that same vein, it is not our role to decide or judge other people’s limits.
What is a boundary?
A boundary is how far you are willing to let someone else come in toward your limits. A boundary is a dividing line, either physical or metaphorical, that you set up to protect your limits and resources.
Boundaries can be a closed office door to communicate your need for privacy, a porch light turned off at 10:00 on Halloween night to communicate your house is done passing out candy, disallowing your children to play video games until their room is clean, choosing to pick up dinner instead of cooking, saying no to a request to join a committee, taking a break from a heated conversation, not tolerating disrespectful ways of speaking, or leaving a party at a certain time because you have to be up early the next day.
Boundaries come into play when others request or demand things from you. Our role is to look at our limits and decide if we can or are willing to meet the request, and then to respond with a boundary. Limits are me-focused, but boundaries involve our relationship with other people.
“Healthy boundaries” is a bit of a buzzword. But before you can set healthy boundaries, you have to know your limits. Boundaries without limits is like a door without a home. If you don’t know what your boundary is protecting, it really does not do much good.
Why do limits and boundaries matter in hospitality?
As it relates to hospitality, knowing our limits provides the data that allows us to determine what we can do, how deeply we can commit, the extent to which we can serve, and what it will cost when we choose to step outside of our limits for the benefit of someone else.
A small dining room table that seats six cannot host a seated dinner party for sixteen. A full-time work schedule likely cannot support a mid-morning hosting commitment. A single oven cannot roast two turkeys and eight pans of side dishes. Limits are not right or wrong…they simply are realities within which we must operate.
Healthy boundaries matter in hospitality because our ability to create space for others is going to bump up against our limits and require us to determine boundaries. Boundaries are when we say, “I cannot host a dinner party for sixteen, but I would love to host dessert for six!” Or, “I cannot participate in a that committee due to my work schedule, but I am free in the evenings.” Or, “I would be happy to host Thanksgiving, but my oven will only allow me to heat two pans at a time. Would someone else like to bring all the other food?”
In my experience, the times when I have been most aware and respectful of my own limits and boundaries are the times when I have seen hospitality flourish.
It can seem counterintuitive. Hospitality is welcoming and serving others, right? Why would we have limits or boundaries associated with that pursuit? And yet, without fail, the extent to which we understand and respect our own limits and boundaries is directly correlated to how well we can anticipate need and create space.
As we continue to explore this topic, I want to encourage you to be honest with your own limits and to begin to exercise boundaries with others toward the greater good of serving others.