[ boun-duh-ree, -dree ]
Something that indicates limits. (Dictionary.com)
Alternate definition: a tough but essential conversation you have to have with yourself and then everyone else in your life. Often. (#GirlsClub)
See also: Putting your foot down; Stopping the ridiculous over-giving; Making space for your own happiness; knowing your value.
Many of us recovering perfectionists, career women, over-achievers, and working moms (I own all of these) have trouble drawing clear lines between what we own and what others own. Or what others should own. See also: what we deserve and what we’re willing to ask for.
“I can do it.” “I know what needs to be done.” “It’s faster if I do it myself.” “I’m happy to.”
This is how we wind up doing two jobs and being paid for one. How we own more than 50% of all the household chores and 90% of the childcare duties. It’s how we work and do the shopping and the cooking and the cleaning and then go do the email after bedtime.
And it’s not their fault (the boss, the partner, the kids). It’s ours. Re-read the definition, my friends. It’s a conversation we have first with ourselves. And it is seriously hard.
Frankly, boundaries are even more than tasks and responsibilities. A lack of clear boundaries also crops up in how we allow ourselves to be treated. Remember Dirty Dancing with Patrick’s dance space and Baby’s dance space (“spaghetti arms!”) That was a clear boundary defining each person’s space.
Sometimes your drama gets in my space. Your ego. Your grief. Your expectations. Your dreams. Your workload. Your sports. Your mother. You get it.
I have often found myself stuck in a hyper-give mode where I spend my time orbiting around service to other people. As a young leader, I called this “servant leadership” and it made me proud. As a wife and mother, it helped me sleep at night knowing I’d given all I could to ensure the happiness of my family.
As a grown-ass woman, I recognize it as a lack of boundaries and a habit that leads to unhappiness.
- It’s letting my sister dump her crap on me and never asking about me (every call)
- It’s me asking my husband to feed the kids and then managing how he feeds them.
- It’s signing up to take on the extra team without the extra money.
- It’s assigning myself more action items than the people who work for me.
Yup. Done them all. Can you relate?
So let’s cut it out and define some boundaries. It starts with that tough conversation with yourself. Mine sounds a bit like a pep talk:
Self? You deserve better. You deserve a break between your Factor 8 job and your Mom job. You don’t have time to do it all, and you’re tired. What’s most important here? What can you cut out or delegate or delay? Sweetheart, you deserve to surround yourself with people who find you valuable and will give to the relationship, not just take. You deserve a break and a little fun.
Often, I wind up reminding myself that I’m a better employee / mother / wife when I take breaks, fill my own cup, and receive kindness. I hope someday I won’t have to use the justifications.
But for now, be clear that I have had these conversations with myself more than once. I find that life has a funny way of scope-creeping. I off-load one problem and in a month I’ve onboarded two more. I opened time in my calendar, and because I didn’t fill it with my stuff (a yoga class, a dinner with a girlfriend, a good book), my habitual over-giving signs me up to run the school art program, to create the new training program, and to take the 7 a.m. client call. Uggg!
This is why step 2 is critical: Have conversations with others. This is where you share your boundaries, ask for change, and maybe even some accountability. If they’re the right people, these don’t need to be stressful or contentious. Just honest. I like a framework based on something “Non-violent Communication”
For a mother-in-law:
- I’d like to talk to you about … our relationship and how I hope we can make it better.
- I’ve noticed … that many of our interactions in the past year have felt different to me.
- I feel sad and unimportant after we are together.
- I value having a relationship with my partner’s family, and I need this to feel like more of a two-way street.
- Would you please check in on me periodically? Ask questions to get to know me? Call me before events to make a plan on who brings what and share the load?
For a boss:
- I’d like to talk to you about my role
- I’ve noticed my team and my workload getting substantially larger in the past 6 months
- I feel beyond my capacity and even a little undervalued
- It’s important to me to do my best and to grow my career here at the company
- Could you please work with me on a plan to either add staff or elevate my position and compensation?
It seems so easy, right? That’s because they’re someone else’s problems, not your very serious and stressful and crazy-making situation! 🙂 The very hardest part is remaining neutral and not blaming the other person with a laundry list of acts they’ve committed against you. Although of course all that is true. The next hardest part is not justifying why you deserve this better treatment to them. Simply stating facts and asking for what you want.
Be clear, draft one sounded more like:
Could you PLEASE stop overworking me and underpaying me? YOu don’t even invite me to the leadership meeting even though I’m doing your job FOR you. Seriously? 23 people report to me right now and I haven’t had a raise in 18 months!
It’s time to stop over-giving ladies and gents. I call it “Emotional Capitalism” and what it means to me is:
Nobody is going to care more about your life, money, feelings, and happiness as much as you do. So you own defining and protecting them.
When we focus on our own needs and let others focus on theirs, we’ll find more authentic and mutually-beneficial ways to interact with each other.
Roughly translated: Boundaries: I’ll own my shit and you own yours. Let’s see if we can get dictionary.com to update that!
Have a conversation with yourself tonight. 😉 Good luck.