Years ago, I was at my favorite resort in the Smoky Mountains. Three days of no laptop, great food, hiking, massage, and unparalleled views. On the first afternoon, I was tooling around the 4000-acre farm in my own private golf cart while my husband hung back at the room to read his book.
[Truth behind that last sentence: Hubby is scared of my casual relationship with the brake pedals on golf carts.]
I swung by the barn so I could hang out with the horses and say hi to the cats. As I jumped out of the cart, one of the horses approached me. I took a moment to center myself.
I hesitantly stepped near him. “Hey, dude,” I said.
He looked at me with his big sweet horse-y eyes and moved his giant head over toward me.
Then he pushed.
How cute. I rubbed his cheek. He paused for a moment and leaned into my hand.
He pushed again. This time he leaned into me more. He almost knocked me off my feet. It made me laugh out loud.
A woman approached us. She was apparently in charge of the barn – as well as the horses, the hay, the cats and everything else here.
She said, “He’s testing you.”
I looked over at her. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. It seems cute. But it’s not. He’s testing your boundaries.”
Well, there’s a big surprise, I thought to myself.
I had been through months of difficult growing pains as a business owner – and boundaries were among the issues I had dealt with. So, now that I was on vacation, the Universe decided to have some fun with me here too.
Truth is, I don’t know a single entrepreneur, coach, teacher, consultant, healer or human, for that matter, who doesn’t have to learn the lesson of boundaries many times in their work and lives. In fact, some of the most confident successful entrepreneurs I coach have to deal with boundary issues as they experience more success.
Why is that?
1 – Because (as my coach likes to say) running a successful business is a full contact sport.
It requires that all of you – body, mind, spirit – be engaged in the process. This means your personal growth is not separate from your success. As you grow, you must become clear about your standards and boundaries because you will need more energy to manage higher levels of decision-making and work.
2 – Because boundaries are the SYSTEMS that support and manage your empowerment.
When you “wing it” without taking the time to ask how you want your life and work to look, then you are asking yourself to live each and every moment in reaction. It can be done – but it takes a lot of energy. This might eventually burn you out. Strong boundaries allow you the luxury of not having to react in the moment because you already know how things work.
3 – Because boundaries are a core issue.
Crossed boundaries show you the “stuff” you still haven’t dealt with. In fact, every time you Uplevel, you will often come face to face with unfinished business that must be released so that you can move on.
When it comes down to it, however, boundaries are not really about boundaries at all. Boundaries are only the structure. The deeper issue of boundaries is usually about self-worth. And like it or not, this one’s a biggie for many women. Especially women entrepreneurs.
It starts harmlessly enough. Kinda like the horse leaning into me. We often don’t even notice it’s happening.
For instance, when we get our first clients, customers, sales, gigs, (or even friends) – we might be a little stunned. Little ol’ me? A paying customer? Actual money for what I would do for free? OMG!
In those brief moments, we might over-promise. We might ignore a big red flag when someone behaves with a sense of entitlement. We might even alter our work hours (giving up precious family time) to cater to a random request. Over time as you continue to succeed, these seemingly harmless breeches will add up. Your time will no longer be in your control.
Ideally, we would honor ourselves by clearly defining standards and boundaries right from the start – as we become better leaders of our own lives. Often, this is uncharted territory for us. It’s uncomfortable. Most of us aren’t used to doing this.
If you haven’t done it – then now’s the time. Take some time this week to set some standards and boundaries for yourself, and then challenge yourself to enforce them. Even small changes can create big results! If you need help getting started, here are 5 steps that will help you start setting boundaries with demanding clients right away.
Let me know in the comments below if you have ever experienced boundary issues, what you did about it, and if there are questions you’d like to have answered on this topic!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March, 2011 and has been given a slight makeover to keep it fresh and current.