Yesterday was my Swiss town's annual "Banntag." This is the day when everyone from the town goes out and checks that the neighboring town hasn't moved any of the markers that indicate where the border is. Of course, in today's world of exact coordinates, it's all in fun, but it used to be serious business. Unfortunately, our town is on a hill, and so this means a march straight up the mountain. I said the next time we move, I'm moving to a small flat town so that Banntag is just fun without the sweat.
But the reality is, checking your boundaries often sweat inducing and difficult, but if you don't do it, you find other people will take over your life and you'll wonder how it happened. So, I say, today is check your personal borders day. Here are some of the boundaries you need to check and how doing so will help your career.
Boss: If you have a good boss, this one is easy. If you have a boss that wants to take over your life, this can be extremely difficult. But, as many people have found out, always saying yes doesn't advance your career. Your boss learns that you'll do whatever she wants, regardless of the impact on your life, which means that she loses respect for you. Set your boundaries and stand up for yourself. If your boss won't stop calling you all weekend and you're not seeing the results you want, it's time to move on. Suffering under a bad boundary violating boss isn't worth it--in the short or long run.
Direct Reports: I get emails all the time from people whose employees essentially run the show. "My employee keeps taking days off" and "I can't ever find my employee when I need her." You're the boss and you get to set the rules. Now, if your rules are unreasonable, then you're the problem. But, it's not unreasonable to expect your employees to do the work you're paying them to do. Your business won't succeed if your employees walk all over you. Being kind doesn't mean not being the boss.
Family: This one can be the hardest of all. Does your spouse expect you to do all the housework and all the child care, even though you both work long hours? Does your mother-in-law rearrange your kitchen every time she comes over? Are you the person who bails out your ne'er do well younger sibling? Time for some boundaries.
How to say no: This is where we take a play out of Miss Manners' advice: No is a complete sentence. When they say why not? "Because it just won't be possible." Lather, rinse, repeat. If you start giving reasons why there is always a counter.
In a work situation, you do need to give a reason. If the boss asks you to take on one more project that you just don't have time for, the answer is, "I can do that, but I will have to drop X or Y in order to do that. What would you prefer?" If the answer is you have to do all three, then you can flip into "In the time we have, that just won't be possible." Do you risk getting fired? Of course. Do you risk getting fired if you try to take on all the work, do a poor job, get stressed out and end up with a breakdown? Yes. Choose your boundaries.If you don't, you'll find out that other people have invaded every aspect of your life.