Setting Healthy Boundaries – Don’t Get Crowded out of Your Own Life!

Set healthy boundaries against the "camels" in your life!

Do you know the story of the camel in the tent?

I’ve heard several variations, but here’s the gist of it:

A man is traveling across the desert on a camel. At night the man sleeps in a tent, while the camel sleeps outside. But one night, the camel asks if he can sleep in the tent.

“No,” says the man. “You’re a camel. Sleep outside.”

The camel looks at the man with his most pathetic puppy-dog eyes (or “baby-camel” eyes) and asks, “Well, if I can’t sleep in the tent, can I just stick in the tip of my toe?”

“Okay,” the man relents. “But just the tip of your toe.”

The next night, the same scene plays out, but this time the camel asks if he can stick his whole foot in the tent. Again, the man relents. The night after that, the camel asks to put one leg in the tent, and then two, and then…

Well, you can probably see where this is headed: before long, the camel is sleeping completely in the tent, and the man is pushed out and forced to sleep outside in the cold desert night.

What does this mean for you and me?

While there’s no single “right” interpretation, I can tell you some things that this story DOESN’T mean to me:

  • It DOESN’T mean that you shouldn’t share. If you’re moved to share your tent–or anything else–by all means, do so with an open heart!
  • It DOESN’T mean that everyone is out to take advantage of you and your good nature. I’m not a believer in the addage of “give ’em an inch, and they’ll take a mile.” In fact, I’ve found that when you give (in a healthy, balanced way) you tend to get back just as much or even more! (Maybe we should reword the saying: “Give an inch, and you’ll get a mile!”)
  • It DOESN’T mean that you shouldn’t be kind to animals. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16 years old, so I certainly advocate the humane treatment of camels (and other animals–including humans!)–but I still think the story makes a great metaphor!

In a word, here’s what I DO think this story is about:


More specifically: setting healthy boundaries against everything that threatens to crowd you out of your own life.

(As the saying goes: When you say “yes” to others, make sure you’re not saying “no” to yourself!)

Do you ever feel crowded out of your own life?

Maybe, like the man in the story, you have a “camel in your tent”–something that starts off small and unobtrusive, but grows larger and larger, and takes up more and more of your time until there’s no room for YOU.

Or maybe it’s not just one thing. Maybe (like me) you have a whole bunch of small, medium, and large things–a camel’s “leg” here, a head there, a dozen feet… and they all combine to take up so much of your time and energy, that there’s nothing left for what’s really important to you: your own interests, your own passions, your own LIFE!

That’s where I’ve been for the last few weeks.

Last week, for the first time since I started this blog, I let a week go by without a new post. It’s not because I couldn’t think of anything (I’ve got dozens of ideas just waiting to be typed out) or because I didn’t feel like writing (I LOVE writing–it feels like coming home to me). It’s just that there were too many other things to do–projects, orders, insistent clients, and urgent deadlines.

And so I let them into my “tent”–one by one, until there was no room left for me. No room left for the things that make me me: writing, reading for pleasure, meditating, or just enjoying some totally unproductive chill-out time! There was simply no space in my life for any such “luxuries”–not with all of those camels squeezing in!

The Pros and Cons of Camels

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m very grateful for all of these camels. After all, they’re carrying me across the desert! And I want to take care of them.

But I also know that if I don’t set aside some time that’s just for me, I’m going to resent those camels. Also, I’ll probably start wondering what’s the point in crossing the desert–or making any journey–if I can’t even get a moment of peace in my own tent!

Tent Time

 So, here it is: my “tent” time. For me, writing this post is like spending some time in my tent–no camels allowed! No making journals, no editing other people’s books, no responding to emails or reacting to any of the dozen-or-more fires that “need” to be put out right now. Just me, taking some time for myself–to recharge, to express myself, and to BE myself.

And that’s what I encourage each of us to do, no matter how full our lives get. Make time (and space) for YOU! By carving out even a little bit of time that’s just for you, you send a clear message:

I Matter!

When you take time that’s just for you, you tell yourself, others, and the universe, “My life is important.”

This doesn’t mean that your “camel” isn’t also important. It’s just not ALL-important.

Remember, boundaries are not rejections, and they’re not mean. They’re just a way of saying, “Not now, camel. We’ve spent a lot of time together today, and we’ll be together again tomorrow; but this is my time–and my tent!”

Also (not that you ever need to justify boundaries or self-care), you’ll be a much happier traveling companion (and a better worker, parent, friend, etc.) after you emerge from your “tent time”–feeling refreshed, recharged, and human.

In other words: feeling like the true YOU!

Is there a camel in YOUR tent? How can you set healthy boundaries to make sure that there’s enough room for YOU in your own life?

I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment, or if you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it (with the buttons below, on Facebook, or in other ways). Thanks!

Camel photo copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

13 thoughts on “Setting Healthy Boundaries – Don’t Get Crowded out of Your Own Life!

    • Thank you so much for inspiring me with your comment, Angela! I’m so touched that you enjoyed the post and thought to share your kind words.
      Thanks for all the great, shining work you’re doing, too! It seems like we’re on very compatible paths.
      PS: If you haven’t already done so, you can download a free “Transitions” ebook (in the upper right of my blog)–the intro to which is very similar to the intro on your home page. You know what they say about great minds… 🙂
      Thanks again for reaching out–all the best to you!

  1. I’m so glad you created a bit of space in your tent for YOU! You’ve been pushing so hard and taking care of everyone else for so long – thank you for doing that to help get us across the desert. But, you’re absolutely right, that you’ll start to wonder if you even care about crossing the desert at all if you aren’t having a good time while you’re doing it. So pitch a tent right where you are and take care of yourself. I’m proud of you for doing that, and I’m grateful that we’re on the journey together. There is no one else I would rather have next to me – not even a camel. 😉 …

    • Thank you for encouraging me to keep going–and also to take a break now and then–and for making every bit of the journey worthwhile! I’m so glad I get to share it all with you! … 🙂

  2. Dan
    I just love the way you write and how you can bring words to life in a way that truly allows us to ‘get’ the message. Thank you for that!

    What a powerful message for all of us especially at a time where life seems to be increasing speed, more on our to-do lists than ever before and as you shared – we MUST make time in our lives for ourselves to just BE.

    So happy that you kicked the camel out of the tent and created the time to share your wisdom through this post.

    • Thank you so much, Linda! I’m so glad that even when I’m “doing my own thing” it’s resonating with you (and hopefully lots of others)–that’s what makes it doubly worthwhile!
      Glad that this little story could serve as a reminder to all of us of how important ME-time truly is!
      Thank you for your encouragement–and thank you for all you do (or be/don’t-do!) in your own tent that allows you to shine so brightly when you emerge! 🙂

  3. Dan, another great analogy! I love how you use stories to illustrate points and lessons. It seems there can’t ever be enough reminders for us to set healthy boundaries. I definitely still need them when it comes to meeting other people’s needs when I should be taking care of myself first. So, thank you for framing another great lesson in such a clever, entertaining way, complete with your very own writing voice!
    P. S. For what it’s worth, Dan, I’m completely with you on the writing part. When you’re a writer, every minute you get to write is pure bliss. That’s how I feel.

  4. Thank you again, Alice. You hit the nail on the head with the word “reminder”–that’s exactly what this story is for me (and, it seems, for others who are also in the same boat–or “tent,” I should say). It’s natural to drift away from our ideals (such as a balanced life, inlcuding plenty of personal time for recharging, etc.), so I always welcome anything that reminds me to keep coming back. That’s how it seems to work with me: drift away, come back, forget, come back, get sidetracked or distracted, come back,… etc.
    Regarding your writing: it doesn’t surprise me at all that you feel “pure bliss” every minute you get to write. It shines through your words and into our hearts/minds as readers!
    Thank you for the words & the bliss! 🙂

  5. Pingback: Enough! | Halfway up the MountainHalfway up the Mountain

  6. Dan,

    Thanks so much for explaining boundaries, sometimes it is hard to know how they look and apply – practical, real life examples make such a different for me. maybe because I am such a literal person, I say what I mean and I’m not great and understanding or playing games of saying one thing and meaning another.

    I found this post because in your other post Enough, you had a link about setting boundaries. I have begun to finally say Enough and have been slowly asserting myself in small ways. I finally understood I actually have power, then how I was giving it away, now it is being more aware and saying “I’ll do it when I finish this” or maybe just saying “I don’t agree with that”. Yes, it does bring some up short – it took me a long time to realize I don’t have to do what people say (where has that been for the past 67 years?)

    It is a great reminder. Thank you so much,

    Lee Kaplanian

    • Lee, Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I’m so glad that you connected with this post (and the other one on boundaries–which, coincidentally, also featured a camel in an unflattering role–I have nothing against camels, honestly!) — and I’m even more glad that you’ve been claiming and exercising your power by setting boundaries in your own life! I can definitely relate to the inner push-pull of giving away your power (but not rocking the boat) vs. asserting yourself and expressing your needs/desires (even if it means that it does “bring some up short,” as you’ve experienced). I think that’s why it’s so important to keep reminding ourselves of this lesson — and reaffirming our worth, strength, and love (including self-love) in positive ways. Thanks again for you kind words — and please “stop by” again any time! 🙂

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