To some, boundaries can sound like a cold harsh word or method to keep people out. Well, they do set limits to protect you. Having healthy boundaries is a not only a good thing to do for yourself but also for others. Many people, especially women feel they must say “yes” to everything or they will be perceived as a “you know what.” There is a difference in thoughtful boundaries and impenetrable walls that keep others out to isolate you.
It is a widespread issue that frequently is unrecognized. When a bully cannot verbally or emotionally put you into compliance, it means a bad day for him/her. His needs are not being met when you set limits and enforce them.
It is costly to have weak boundaries. People learn they can push you around and do so at your peril. First, your limits are unclear. Your word is not reliable. One minute you say “yes” and the next minute “no” to the same situation. This confuses people and puts you in a weak situation. By saying “yes” to EVERYTHING you create unrealistic expectations for yourself. This leads to burnout and exhaustion. Trying to meet the needs of everyone else while neglecting your own needs is fraught with danger. How can you do your best when your tank is on empty? Hint: You cannot.
We hear how important it is to be a team player. Job descriptions often tout this as a requirement to be hired. We lose sight of what it means to be a good team player. Saying “yes” to every request for the sake of the team is not what it means. When you play on a team, everyone contributes, not just a few. To be a good team player is to accept responsibility for your part of the project, contribute your best work, deliver on time, and support others to do the same. Have you ever been on a team when one or two do extraordinarily little and are completely happy to let the high performers do 99% of the work? Yet, at the end, everyone wants to claim credit for the success of the project. A good team player does not forsake healthy boundaries. In contrast, she can make her best contribution to the team because of clear limits.
After some hard-won experience, I know what works best for me. I make it a practice to have everything ready a week in advance of an event. For a two-day corporate retreat or an all-day workshop, the preparation is more involved than for an hour meeting, for example. With a week’s lead time, there’s time to correct a mistake or to overcome an obstacle. For instance, I took my information to the print shop to prepare the poster sized worksheets for a retreat. I learned their equipment was out of service for maintenance for 48 hours. Had I waited until the day before the event, it would have been catastrophic. With my “week in advance” discipline, I am confident and organized to deliver a great experience the day of the event for my client. Even if something unexpected happens on site and it often does, I can deal with it a lot more easily.
Having healthy boundaries requires clarity about your values, identifying your top priorities, and discipline to honor your limits.
To make your biggest contribution, it is important to stay focused on what matters most. To keep your eye on the prize, you must minimize distractions that pull you off the mark. With thoughtful, healthy boundaries, you create the space to do your best work. Not only do you do your best work, you create space for others to do the same. The more you use the muscle to claim your boundaries, the stronger it becomes and the easier for you.