I never struggled with boundaries and balance in my life because I didn’t even know they existed. To be completely honest with you, I had no idea what a boundary was until I started letting everyone trample all over them. I suddenly recognized exactly what a boundary was, and I knew I needed to get clear on them, stat.
Being there for my son as a single mom and being there for my clients as a business owner pulled me in opposite directions for 20 years of my career. The company always won, and yes, I have tons of regrets. That is time I can’t get back ever.
As a business owner and executive, I always had hired help at home, so I had no excuse (or so I thought) for not putting in the 60+ hours each week. The need to be the face of my business kept me on the road and away from the dinner table way too many nights. All the gourmet dinners entertaining clients and attending networking events featuring cocktails and appetizers as “dinner” was putting my health off-kilter, but business was good, and finances were flowing.
Ultimately, being there to support my clients on-site during their programs prevented me from being a mom to my son, giving myself time to recharge my batteries, sleeping and eating right, and more. Work responsibilities always took priority over my personal life.
You may say to yourself, “So what? That is just the way it is if you want to have a successful career.” I am calling bullshit on anyone that believes that right here and right now.
You see, we have been so programmed that this is the norm that it has become acceptable to expect this. We have allowed the number of hours we put into our work to become a measurement of success.
Meanwhile, this puts a massive amount of strain on people’s health, family dynamics, and interpersonal relationships. We know this now. We know this is not the way it should be. We know we need to change this belief system, stat.
This is actually you having a lack of firm boundaries and also disrespecting yourself.
Late in my meetings industry career, I was retained by a company for multiple services, including securing an opening General Session speaker. They selected Dan Thurmon, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker who had written a book called Off Balance, On Purpose. I was both fascinated and appalled by the title of both his book and message: there is no such thing as true work-life balance. I was devastated by this!
I still have the book and plan on reading it one day. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to read it, as I’ve been a little preoccupied creating balance—on purpose—in my life.
Too often, we set boundaries for ourselves but allow others to trample all over them. This creates resentment for the boundary crosser and can cut into your ability to handle stress or recharge your batteries when needed. And when you are the one crossing your own boundaries? Well, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.
You see, the bottom line is, having good boundaries means respecting yourself enough to stand firm to the reasonable boundaries you’ve set for yourself.
Here’s how to set boundaries and stick to them.
1. Understand that you are allowed to set boundaries
We, as humans, have put ourselves at the bottom of our take-care of list for so long it is sickening. We are quick to cancel on our family, our health, our friends, and ourselves the moment we get a request from a client or boss or colleague. Our clients, bosses, and colleagues are quick to make an ask of us—for us to cancel our family time, sacrifice our self-care time and needs—and guess what? They ask because they know we will say yes to them. Because we always do.
By being so committed to our careers (or afraid of losing our jobs), we have given the hierarchy of the corporate world permission to use and abuse us as they desire, all in the name of bottom line profits, with no regard for the impact on their greatest asset: their human capital!
Truth bomb: You are the only one that can install boundaries in your life, and it is up to you to enforce and respect them. I truly believe this is part of the shift we will see moving forward as the world opens back up with new norms. The importance of self-care will be part of the new norm.
Millennials and Gen Z have already laid the groundwork for this by bringing mental health awareness to the conversation and demanding change and to be heard. This is the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. Corporations, business owners, and management are going to have to start to listen; this is their workforce of the future.
Here’s an example of how I respect my personal boundaries every single day: I know I must take care of my health. Mandatory! It is now my first priority above all else. If I am not taking care of myself, providing myself with self-care, then I risk running on an empty tank with nothing left to give others, including my clients, colleagues, etc.
Every Sunday night, I look at my upcoming week and literally BLOCK time in my calendar for tank-filling self-care activities. These days, that looks like scheduling a bike ride for one day and a beach walk for another. Maybe I’ll schedule a YouTube Yoga sweat sesh for a third day. Regardless, these are just a few of the activities that I need in order to remain healthy.
What does scheduling of self-care for my week have to do with boundaries? I’m so glad you asked!
Let’s say I get a call from a client asking for a coaching session over one of the times I have scheduled self-care for myself. Here’s my response to the request; “Client, I have another commitment at that particular time but I am available at another time. Will that work for you?”
I did not say no. I did not share what my commitment was, just that I had something else. And I offered an alternative. Now that is respecting a boundary.
The reality is, YOU ARE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT CLIENT. Start treating time set aside for yourself as an appointment with your most important client. Respect that boundary.
2. Know when to say no.
This applies just as much to taking on new projects as it does for going for that third martini at a networker or client dinner (see moderation below).
Let’s talk about work-related asks first. Does the project you’re being asked to help with move your career forward? Does it expose you to new skills that you’ve wanted to hone that are not part of your normal work responsibilities? Does it put your face and name in front of those you desire to do business with or learn from? Or does it simply take the project off someone else’s plate with no added benefit or value to you professionally? If the latter, it does not serve you to take on the project. Evaluate each opportunity and how it serves your growth or goals before saying yes. A “no” delivered with kindness goes much further than a direct no. “I’d love to take on that project for you; however, I would be doing the project a disservice by accepting it at this time.”
3. Moderation is a great boundary.
As for that third martini, ask yourself the next morning with a clear head: Was I on my best professional behavior at dinner or was I a little too free and casual with my client last night? How dehydrated am I this morning? Check the pads of your fingers for this. If they are wrinkly, like you’ve been swimming, that is dehydration. Do I have a headache? What was it I told the clients I would do first thing this morning for them? If you are not sure about any of these answers, you need to start stopping at two drinks. And if you have no headache, are not at all dehydrated, and THINK you had a great night’s sleep, well, this might not be the article you are looking for.
You can plan and prepare for this. Alternate your alcohol intake while networking or dining with clients with club soda or iced tea. Take a pass when the appetizer tray comes around for the third time and make healthier selections when dining out. I can guarantee you, if you make healthier choices, your clients will follow suit and appreciate you taking the lead on this.
While networking with alcohol can be fun and help the conversation flow, if you value your health and wellness, learning to find balance in your alcohol and food consumption will help you keep your wellness on track and prevent hangovers the next day which YOU KNOW will negatively impact your productivity and focus.
Know you’re going to a networker through the dinner hour? Pack a high protein snack to have before you go. Rolled meats, a protein shake with added peanut butter, oats, or bananas go far as a healthy filler to help you stay away from too much alcohol and yummy high-calorie appetizers.
4. Be selective and choose wisely
This is saying no to things that do not benefit you. There are networking opportunities every night of the week. Be selective as to which ones you commit to. Does this one put you in front of an audience of prospective clients or peers? Is there a buyer there you have been wanting to meet that will be there? Is there a learning opportunity at this one that will forward your career? What is the impact if you are not personally there? Is there someone else on your team that may get better value from going in your place? By asking these questions before accepting, you are making sure the networker fits into the boundaries you’ve created for yourself. You will be able to curtail the too-many-networkers a week down to just a couple, giving you more quality time with family, loved ones, and even yourself!