When I was the event director at Hay House, I was known as Queen of the Impossible.
If there was something that absolutely needed to get done, it usually fell to me because everyone knew that I could accomplish anything.
You wanted something done fast and right? Give it to Nancy.
You needed someone available at any time? Call Nancy.
And for years I took pride in being that person and felt completely valued every time people would turn to me. The problem with that kind of thinking, however, is that it left very little room for my own wants and needs.
I had no idea back then that it was possible to say no - or that there was any actual value in learning to say no - both for myself and those I worked for.
I just kept going and even feared that if I said no, they might turn to someone else and forget about me!
It can be a never ending cycle.
And that kind of overgiving isn’t just limited to situations where you work for others. It also happens when you own your business and serve clients.
My friend, Roxanne, owns her own business where she serves a variety of different customers. One afternoon she came to me, sharing that she was having difficulty with a client who would text and email her with “emergencies” during the weekend that just couldn’t wait.
Roxanne felt that she had to reply to every request and demand because out of fear that her client might choose someone else.
She also generally liked the client and wanted to prove her value . . . but at this point she was starting to get a little resentful that she couldn’t even have her weekends to herself.
When I asked Roxanne if she was experiencing this with other clients, she had to admit that it was a pattern she saw over and over, and that it was starting to make her hate working for herself!
Like many business owners, Roxanne didn’t realize that she could set boundaries with her clients.
She had learned early on to say yes to everything and the story she told herself was that she had to say yes to everyone and everything because otherwise her business wouldn’t survive.
It didn’t occur to her that she could set boundaries, such as not working on weekends, going beyond the scope of the contract or even setting specific times for phone calls.
When I asked her what stood in the way of setting healthy boundaries, she was easily able to recognize that fear had been driving all of her decisions. So, rather than honor herself, Roxanne allowed her business to take over every aspect of her life.
Whether you’re in business for yourself or working for others, saying no or setting boundaries can be hard because our fears, beliefs and patterns prevent you from doing what’s needed.
It can feel as if there’s a lot “on the line” when it comes to our work or business, so saying no feels nearly impossible.
You may not even feel as if you deserve to say no because your job or business is supporting you and your family.
But, if you want to have a life with more freedom and more joy, it’s imperative you learn to say no in a clear and non-confrontational way.
Next to setting boundaries in a relationship, setting boundaries at work or in your business might be the hardest thing you do.
At the same time, it will be the most freeing.
When I asked my friend Roxanne what might become possible if she began setting boundaries with her clients, she didn’t hesitate. She could immediately see that she would get her weekends back, as well as time with her husband and kids, and even start enjoying her work again!
It was as if a lightbulb went off.
But then she realized she didn’t really know how!
When it comes to setting boundaries with work or with clients, one of the first things I recommend is starting small. In my new book, Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free, I call these your “beginner” boundaries.
A beginner boundary is a practice boundary—one that doesn’t cause you much anxiety and you don’t think will result in conflict, but one you were scared to set in the past. Usually beginner boundaries are good-to-have or cherry-on-top boundaries.
They present an opportunity to stretch a little and use your boundary-setting muscles without taking a huge risk.
When it comes to setting boundaries at work, you might want to start setting a boundary around your availability with the co-worker who walks into your office 3 times a day, interrupting your flow of work.
If you’re a business owner, that might mean letting your clients know the days you work and the days you don’t and a timeframe in which they can expect to hear back from you.
By starting small, you start to strengthen your boundary practice and ultimately work up to saying no to things that aren’t aligned with your needs.
If I could go back in time and talk to the old me, I might simply and gently give her permission to say the word “no” without explanation - just so she could see that the world wouldn’t come to an end and that people still wanted to work with me!
Remember, boundaries are truly the way we can find the freedom we crave in our lives. They don’t have to create conflict or be negative. In fact, boundaries can bring clarity to your business relationships and allow you to be your most productive self!
So, this week I invite you to explore how you might be able to shift the boundaries you set at work or in your business.
Recognize the areas where you have been stepping over yourself and make a list of some of the beginner boundaries you would like to set!
And, as you try them out, see how your world begins to expand.
About Nancy Levin
Nancy Levin is a Master Life Coach, radio host and best-selling author of five books including her latest, Setting Boundaries Will Set You Free: The Ultimate Guide to Telling the Truth, Creating Connection and Finding Freedom. She has coached thousands of people to live life on their own terms by making themselves a priority and setting boundaries that stick.
Formerly the Event Director at Hay House from 2002-2014, Nancy now teaches regularly at Kripalu, 1440 Multiversity and the Hay House Writer’s Workshop and she also recently launched Levin Life Coach Academy – a premier life coach training & certification program designed to revolutionize the industry. She received her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado and she continues to live in the Rocky Mountains.