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Got boundaries?

“Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” —Prentis Hemphill

“Can I vent about a client?” my friend asks. 

I nod and soon receive a frustrating story of unreasonable requests, poor communication, and unmet expectations. She does freelance marketing work. Now she’s being pulled into other last-minute admin tasks, then chastised for not reading minds about the details.

After listening for a few minutes, I dare ask her a question I trust she’ll appreciate: “And how are you creating this for yourself?”

She pauses, thinks for a moment. “I’m saying yes to doing things I don’t want to do. Things I’m not good at. Things that aren’t my job.”

“Why are you doing that?” I probe.

“Because my client needs it,” she replies. Out pours a tale of her client’s life drama — a client she’s already told me she doesn’t want to work with in the future.

“Sounds like you’re trying to save her in a way that isn’t your responsibility,” I say to my friend. “What if you let yourself say No to doing work beyond what you’re great at and want to do? What is trying to save her costing YOUR business and YOUR energy?

“Oof,” my friend replies. “That’s something I want to look at. I think I’m acting codependent with my client.”

“That’s how it seems from here,” I reply.

I get it. I’ve been there.

We agree to each take a deep breath of compassion for ourselves — especially the parts that want to save everyone at our own expense. 

Then we start talking about boundaries.


According to counselor Diane Frederick, boundaries are limits for ourselves that say:

  • This is how far I shall go.
  • This is what I will or won’t do for you.
  • This is what I won’t tolerate from you.

Most of the advice I’ve heard about boundaries has come in the context of intimate or family relationships. And yet the principles apply equally to work — relationships with clients, coworkers, even employers.

How do we know what healthy boundaries are? 

Frederick’s answer: “By doing what is in our best interest.”

This practice can be counterintuitive — even repulsive — to purpose-led entrepreneurs. Many of us are in rebellion against an overly self-interested capitalist system that has caused enormous harm to the environment and to the people it steamrolls over. 

Some of us are so in rebellion we don’t even let ourselves know what we want or what would be in our best interest.

And yet steamrolling ourselves doesn’t fix the problem — it perpetuates it.

It’s our responsibility to stand for loving ourselves in our businesses. 

According to Diana Chapman of the Conscious Leadership Group, “Creating a win for all requires that everybody articulate what a win means for them.” 

In other words: A true win-for-all business requires good boundaries. A healthy willingness to stand for what WE want, alongside caring about what others want from us.

Remember: “Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” (Prentis Hemphill)

So: Where in your work life do you need better boundaries? What can you say No to in a loving way to create more of the world you want?

This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.

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