Many people want to start their own business willing to have freedom of when, where and how much to work. Yeah, right.
I’ve heard another version looking much more like real life – “With your own business, you are free to work all day long, every day of the week”. Now we are talking! I knew starting own business is a lot of work, and boundaries between work and private life get erased. I have been quite good at mentally checking out from work once I left the office, so I thought I’d manage fine. Now my work desk in is our living room (as well as our bed cause our daughter Maja now has the bedroom to herself).
Much of my work is on social media, so every time I go online to reply to a friend, I get reminded of the things I should do work-wise. Worst of all, there is no manager to tell me “Anna, you don’t look good/concentrated. Do you need a day off?” When I was hiring a virtual assistant, one of the candidates informed me “I don’t work from Friday evening to Saturday evening.” Wow, I thought, a freelancer having a rule of a day off! That’s strong.
Back in the corporate world, that would be an obvious thing, so what the hell has changed in my life and mind? I have stopped respecting my own boundaries. I know I feel best when I have time to work, time to connect, to recharge, and to rest. I know proper rest enables me to perform best at work. I know I don’t have to do it all and do it now. I know where my boundaries should go. But I have ignored them, showing the others around me that they can ignore my boundaries as well.
Many of my coachees often feel irritated, angry, sad or just tired of others ignoring the common sense of a balance in life. People are expecting too much of them or not supporting them enough. From the psychology and leadership literature I have studied I know my coachees are not alone. Let’s break down this issue with boundaries following some real-life examples.
Take one of my clients, let’s call her Olga. She has a corporate job, her husband (let’s call him Mike) is in arts, and they have a lovely toddler. Mike’s workload is quite fluctuating – sometimes he is waiting for the next art project for a while, other times the project starts, and Mike needs weeks of intense and focused work to meet the tough deadlines. In those demanding periods, Olga is taking more care of their son to let Mike focus, and her own work deliveries or self-care practices get negatively affected.
On its own, this situation is alright – as long as the couple balances it out in the times when Mike is in between the projects. It’s important to understand here that even though it would be great for Mike to think of Olga’s work and wellbeing once his intense project is over, it is her ultimate responsibility to set the boundaries and protect them. Otherwise, it’s easy for Mike to forget that he is not the only one who needs recovery from his demanding work period.
How can Olga protect her boundaries? She needs to put herself first. Women of our generation can easily get too focused on caring about others, and numbers of female burnout are a sad proof of that. Olga has to remember that neither her, not Mike’s job should come at the cost of her physical, emotional or mental health. She exercises setting her boundaries by talking about them – to Mike, their child, her parents, friends and colleagues. She practices respecting the boundaries by asking me as her coach hold her accountable for self-care routines.
Now let’s take Anneli, another coachee of mine. Her issue has been with keeping boundaries for low-priority tasks that take too much of her time. As a freelancer, she used to be dependent on her income on continuously finding new projects. With time, her portfolio and professional network grew, and projects were finding her on their own. The issue became that she wanted to continuously grow in her profession, but the incoming projects were all on the same level challenge-wise.
Anneli outgrew them and working on more similar projects started to drain her. She suddenly had a dilemma: spending time on draining projects to earn her living, or take risks saying no to the offers while looking for a new challenge to be able to grow and get inspiration back. This is where setting boundaries helped by identifying an optimal balance.
We have defined how much of draining projects would be necessary to make the ends meet for Anneli, and the rest of her work time she started spending on broadening her network in desired directions, acquiring new skills and actively looking for challenging projects. Any time a new offer would come, she would have a chat with me as a sanity check of her decision to accept or reject it. Now Anneli doesn’t need my help anymore – she can navigate the choice of the projects well on her own.
So, what boundaries would you need to set or practice respecting? Follow these steps to identify, set and protect them:
– Reflect on what drains you in your daily life. Write down every activity, duty or relationship that irritates or annoys you or makes you sad.
– Think about how you would like these aspects of your life to be.
– Is there any crossed boundary there creating the gap between the current state and the desired one?
– Discuss your findings with the people involved in that situation. Bring up the discussion with the intention of improving the situation and having a constructive dialogue – not of blaming the other party. It is as if you yourself crossing the boundary, as in my example with working all the time, you can talk with the mirror, journal or ask a friend to help you talk through the situation.
– Identify possible ways of getting more aware of the boundaries, catching early on when you or others are about to cross them. You need to create a clear actionable strategy on how to keep these boundaries intact. – Ask for help and accountability from people around you. Like I am now asking my husband to catch me whenever I work during family- or me-time, like Olga and Anneli, have been chatting with me anytime a risky situation occurred.
Setting your boundaries and learning to respect them will improve your self-esteem, boost your energy levels and significantly improve your relationships with yourself and others.
If you liked this practice, I am sure you will love my new Peace and Power Program where during 5 weeks I guide you through many similar techniques. In a small group, we work on your self-development with many aha-moments, new perspectives and knowledge about how to get you to the next level of your success.
With all my love and care,