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How To Set Boundaries At Work, From A Recovering People Pleaser

Your company doesn't care about you, so you might as well care about yourself.

Know your value (it's an inside job)


This might sound like a bold statement, but your value as a human being has nothing to do with your level of productivity. There, I said it. Now, if you enjoy being productive, that's great! But if you are feeling burnt out, or frustrated, or exhausted, setting boundaries and re-evaluating your priorities does not in any way, decrease your value as a human. In fact, I believe that doing so can increase your self-confidence and self-love. When we get clear about what our needs actually are, and become the person responsible for fulfilling them, it is life changing. I know from experience.

As a relatively new entrepreneur, I have had the biggest lessons on boundaries in the past year. When you first start working for yourself, there's a tendency to fear not having enough clients / money / contracts etc. So at first, I said yes to every opportunity that came my way. I was under-charging and my energy was draining fast. I remember last summer being on vacation in California and trying to work pretty much the entire time, because I had agreed to this contract that was paying me peanuts. I sat in my Air BnB for hours on my computer, looking longingly out the window at the beautiful day passing me by. It was stressful and not at all how I pictured working for myself would be.

But it did get me to sit down and re-evaluate my priorities. Even though it felt really scary, I started taking things off my plate that were draining my energy. The low-paying contracts, the clients who weren't paying on time, the students who didn't value my time. And almost immediately, opportunities showed up that were much more aligned, higher-paying, and gave me the freedom and flexibility I had been craving. Plus, it was the kind of work that lights up my soul.

Honoring our boundaries sends the message to the universe that we are no longer available for overwhelm and burnout, and thus, we are available for balance, abundance, and being valued.

Re-evaluate your priorities


If you're anything like me, you may be inclined to do things that other people want or expect from you, without factoring your own wants and needs into the equation. This can be a source of major frustration and burnout. For better or worse, shifting it is an inside job.

Here's a hard truth: nobody, not even the most well-intentioned boss or company or friend or family member, will honor your boundaries FOR you. And most likely, even the people who love you the most will push your boundaries if you don't set them clearly. And when I say set them clearly, I mean, become a little relentless and unapologetic about them. Think of it this way - your boss who is asking you to do extra work outside of your job description and contracted hours, is asking you to go beyond your boundaries so that THEY DON'T HAVE TO GO BEYOND THEIRS. Yes, that should piss you off. So keeping this in mind, let's talk about your priorities.

In a capitalist society, we are taught that productivity and hard-work determine our value is human beings, and we are expected to prioritize this above, and even at the expense of, our own mental and physical wellbeing. This is intentional, because when employees value this, they put in more unpaid time and effort, which ultimately makes the CEO and stakeholders richer by the minute. Does it make workers richer? Hell no. It makes you frustrated and exhausted.

So let's do a cost/benefit analysis here: By pushing past your boundaries, you get paid the same, but sacrifice your physical and mental health, plus your precious time. By setting and holding your boundaries, you get paid the same, but you feel more whole, balanced, peaceful, and confident as a result. And don't worry, your CEO will still be highly overpaid either way.

Choose your language


Ok, so now you see the importance of setting boundaries, but the question is, how to go about doing so? The very first step is not to act from an emotional place. Let's say your boss just asked you to take on a project that is outside of your job description. You're already stressed with your current work load and your boss isn't asking, they're just telling you to get it done. Your first instinct might be to write a lengthy email explaining why this is outside of your job description, and including several (even made-up) excuses about why you can't do this. If this is where you are, I would suggest taking a 24-hour pause before sending that email. The reason for that is you're acting from a place of needing to prove yourself, and you don't. Operating from the assumption that you're doing something wrong by setting a boundary is not coming from a place of empowerment.

Instead, sleep on it. Meditate on it. Journal on it. And most importantly, let it all go for a while. When you come back to it with a fresh perspective, you'll realize that setting boundaries is not a big deal, and if it is, you might want to consider a new workplace, (just saying).

Here are some statements you can use to set boundaries. They should be short, sweet, and to the point. No apologies, not explanations.

"I monitor my emails between the hours of 9 and 5 Monday through Friday, and can certainly address your needs then."

"I am unable to volunteer my time outside of contracted work hours to complete that task. If you need me to work outside those hours, please let me know where to send my invoice, and I would be happy to get that done."

"Unfortunately, I'm fully booked until X date, but I would be happy to schedule a meeting to discuss it then."

"I believe that falls within X's job description, but I would be happy to connect you with them if that would be helpful."

"I'm out of the office until X date, but will certainly prioritize that upon my return."

"My plate is full at the moment, but happy to get started on that on X date once I have the space in my calendar."

"In order to protect my mental health, I'm going to ask that we table this conversation for now, and come back to it another time."

Try these out and let me know how it goes! And remember, your value as a human is NOT dependent on your productivity. Go enjoy your life, it's your birth right.


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