One of my favorite talks is How to Lead When You’re Feeling Burned Out and inevitably the timing of the talk coincides with me needing to practice what I preach! I gave the talk several times this past fall and most of the questions the audience asked came back to boundaries, albeit phrased like “These are all great tips but how do you do this when it’s impossible to say no and take time for myself?”
And then I found myself in the middle of having to say no and I too thought it was impossible … at least to begin with I realized that there were four things I needed to figure out:
- What were the competing values I was dealing with? In my case it was a competing value between my own health and wanting to keep a client happy. My tendency is to keep a client happy and deal with my own health later, but I know (and tell others!) that this is not a good long term strategy. So I got clear that it’s ok for me to value my health over my client’s happiness and that became my guiding value.
- Whose monkey was it? William Oncken’s brilliant metaphor of collecting monkeys, which are tasks or problems that we take on for various reasons that rightly belong to someone else, became very relevant. This piece of work that had grown into a rather large monkey did, in fact, belong to my client, not me. Sometimes the ownership of the monkey may not be as clear, but in those cases, it’s ok to ask someone who also has a partial ownership in the monkey to take it on (especially if that other person has not properly looked after that monkey in the past!)
- What feelings was I experiencing? I was stressed and frustrated but digging deeper, I realized I was a bit resentful. Feeling resentful comes from not being appreciated or being taken advantage of. This can happen when we impose “I should do this in order to be a good ___” or by someone else imposing their expectations on us. Getting clear on our feelings and, in particular, tuning into resentment can alert us to the fact that we need to set a boundary.
- What fears were surfacing? I was afraid that if I set a boundary my client would be upset, think less of me and then I would never get another contract ever from anyone else! I know that sounds irrational as I type it but these are the sorts of irrational fears that often prevent us from setting a boundary. In this case, I was able to get some perspective and realize that, given everything, it was doubtful this would happen and even if it did, it would not directly lead to no contracts ever! Often we don’t set boundaries because we are afraid a relationship will end. In that case, we need to ask ourselves if this is a healthy relationship to be in!
Working through these four things allowed me to set a boundary in a direct, respectful and grounded way. I was able to use my guiding value for why I could not complete this work and I did so from a place of confidence instead of frustration or resentment. Boundaries without drama has become my mantra!