A few weeks ago, I was invited to offer a masterclass to a group of women entrepreneurs where I spoke about mindset and self-leadership in self-employment. My exposure to these themes have always been within the corporate and organisational context so it was interesting for me and for the audience to think about these in the context of our own personal and professional life transitions.
One of the topics that resonated strongly with the group was about boundaries. I had shared a couple of examples of boundaries I had set with myself and one participant specifically asked me how I got so clear what those are and can say them with so much conviction.
For context, the two examples of boundaries I shared were:
I do not compromise on contract terms, confidentiality and pricing in my business engagements.
I will not run workshops and coaching sessions during specific hours of the day / days of the week when my son is at home.
Back the participant's question, it was a deep awareness and honesty of what causes me pain, stress and frustration that I transformed into these boundaries. For instance, compromising on engagement terms and conditions goes against my core value of integrity and brings up history of family trauma. And I know that in those moments when I did compromise, my stress levels went up, I lost focus and started to doubt myself. The decision on when to schedule client-facing work comes from my experience with burnout. I know how much I mentally suffered when I worked from home and took care of my son at the same time that I vowed never to do that again. Even if it means I turn down opportunities (and I have had to many times), I sleep well at night because I know that in saying no to those, I have said yes to standing up for me and my needs.
The link to Mental Health and Wellbeing
I was never good at setting boundaries. I grew up not knowing how to and that I even could, and always putting the other first. And that came at a high cost - so I've learned my lesson. Setting boundaries does not have to mean that I am selfish, unhelpful, uncooperative. A lot of literature indicate how boundaries are an important part of one's self-care practices. Boundaries help us exercise self-respect, uphold our identity, and protect our self-esteem. Research has also shown that the lack of healthy boundaries can lead to resentment, frustration, burnout and other health challenges.
What I did find quite insightful is that ultimately, our boundaries allow us to exercise autonomy - our ability to make decisions based on what is right for us. Understanding the link between boundaries, self-care and autonomy was incredibly powerful for me to start getting comfortable in identifying and enforcing them.
“Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” – Gerard Manley Hopkins
Where to start?
Boundaries can be physical, emotional, intellectual, material and time-oriented in nature. Looking at these categories and asking what limits have we set with ourselves and others is a good starting point. Noticing a deep sense of frustration, dissatisfaction or resentment in any one of these areas can also be indicative of a lack of limits. Finally, our vision for our life and our values play a central role in determining what those boundaries are.
Once we have identified them, I find it really important to be clear why these boundaries matter and what the consequences are if we cross them. The chances of success that the boundaries are consistently enforced are higher when the bigger picture is clear. And once this belief is established, it is important to firmly and respectfully communicate it with others. I found it so relieving when I finally accepted that I didn't have to justify or explain my boundaries to others. Simply stating them for what they are increases confidence and respect from ourselves and from others.
Boundaries are not fixed; they adapt to the circumstances we face. The boundaries I set with my colleagues are different from those I set with my family; and the boundaries I used to have being employed are also very different from those I've set now as a sole proprietor. Going through important life changes is often a good moment to revisit these boundaries to ensure they still remain relevant and helpful.
If this is a topic you're looking to work on and need some help, please get in touch with me. I'd love to support you!