It was 9 AM on Christmas morning when my phone rang. It was my old boss. I knew she had been struggling with her team as well as financially and had been working overtime. Today, Christmas Day, she could not access the computer system at the office. So she called me.
She called me because:
- I have a tiny bit of computer savviness (not the real reason she called), and
- I had always answered her calls and, as soon as I understood there was an issue, had always attempted to find and implement a solution (exactly why she called).
As soon as I answered, she explained the problem and pleaded for my help. Though I knew I had no business claiming computer skills as my area of expertise, her request hit me in my weak spot: my penchant for solving people’s issues.
So on Christmas Day, I left my kids at home with their gifts and drove out to the office, over 90 minutes away, to go and fix a computer system.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Fortunately, I know better now. This incident happened before I realized my true talent lies in holding space for others to solve and address their own issues, rather than always swooping in to do it for them.
Once I realized I had allowed this situation to develop by always responding to her cries for help, I began to see the real problem: I had never set boundaries and had always responded to her, so she thought it was fine to call me literally any time. Even Christmas morning. And I’d reinforced it was okay to call by answering every time.
I was the one to blame, not my former boss.
So, I started setting boundaries.
NEW EXPECTATIONS, NEW BOUNDARIES
Today, I guarantee none of my clients would call me on Christmas morning. None of them would even think about asking anything of me on Christmas because they know family is a strong boundary I hold very dear. My girls and my husband will always come before my clients, and I never allow myself to feel guilty for putting them first.
Now when my clients experience emergencies, the expectations are clear. They know I am happy to hold space (my boundary) virtually for them. They also know I expect them to use the tools and conversations from our coaching calls to find their own solutions.
By refusing to swoop in like I used to, I empower my clients to solve problems on their own.
SET EXPECTATIONS FROM THE START
Expectations are a form of boundaries. So, if you enter into a client relationship with unclear or misaligned expectations, you will likely end up with less than optimal results.
When individuals reach out to me and say, “I need your company to come fix my team,” I immediately know they are not a great match for what we do because their expectations aren’t aligned with our approach. We do not fix or rescue; we hold space for you to do the fixing. We provide support and create safe space for positive alignment.
If you fail to communicate expectations and set boundaries, you will find yourself with very little time to take care of your own health and sanity. Like a bucket whose sides are riddled with holes, your clients and contacts will steal your time and energy. You will be unable to keep anything for yourself.
MORE TO GIVE WITH A FULL BUCKET
Instead of giving every time someone asks, you must learn to take care of yourself first so you can be sure there’s enough of you to go around.
This was a good but challenging lesson for me. I used to judge my value by the amount of me I gave to others. But I learned there are people in this world who will take the entire contents of your bucket and still tell you it’s not enough.
If you judge your value solely based on how much others appreciate you, your bucket will never be full. But if you appreciate your own value, put yourself first, and make sure you are regularly finding ways to fill up your bucket more, you will effectively guard against people and activities that try to disrespect and ignore your boundaries.
As you reclaim your own value and start to set boundaries, it will become clear what drains you. Some people in your life may not like what you have to say. Do not apologize for your new, strong sense of boundaries. Whether you’re choosing to step away from work to watch your child’s softball game or are pushing back a really promising coffee date because you know you need to make it to yoga class, never apologize for holding space for your values. Instead, try thanking your contacts and connections for respecting your boundaries. Then invite them to engage with you at a time that is more beneficial for both of you.
Examples of healthy boundaries are all around us. Think about state lines, country lines, operating hours, and our own laws and rules. Without these, it would be chaos. When you do not have personal boundaries for your time, your body, your emotions, and your energy, you invite the same kind of chaos into your life and yourself.
The good news is, even if your bucket has been empty for a really long time, you can start setting boundaries today. It’s never too late. You’ll be amazed at how much people actually like and respect you when you do.
How do you put yourself first and fill up your bucket so you can continue making this world a better place? Tell me in the comments!