We Have Both the Right and the Responsibility to Set Boundaries

“The trick to staying out of resentment is maintaining better boundaries—blaming others less and holding myself more accountable for asking for what I need and want.” –Brene´ Brown

Life has reinforced the veracity of Brene´ Brown’s words. Today I wrote an article for The Advising Network (TAN) at Wichita State University. Boundaries were part of what I addressed, and I think there is value in examining the boundaries here. I have learned that they are crucial to effective functioning in any area of life, from work to family obligations. Brown really is right. Failure to set and maintain boundaries is the fastest way to end up resenting someone or a situation. And, it’s on us when we allow that to happen.

Setting boundaries is an acknowledgement of our responsibility for our lives. Realizing this is empowering. What I have learned is that setting clear boundaries and believing in them enough to stick to them is a gift not only to ourselves, but to others. Clearly stating a boundary establishes parameters for our own behavior and for others’ behavior—what we are willing to do and what we are willing to accept. It sets expectations and relieves pressure.

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These are my boundary-setting tips:

  • Clarify your values for yourself. Know what is most important to you and decide what aligns with those values. For me, this means knowing that my most important ethical values are compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness. It also means knowing that there are certain things in my life, like cycling, that are critical aspects of my mental and emotional, as well as my physical, health. And, it means knowing that watching my son run cross country and track and being fully present for my important relationships are non-negotiables for me.
  • Align your life, including work, with those values. Examine the fit and figure out what needs to change. When I first started my full-time advising position, I felt like it was necessary to answer every email before I went home. This quickly became unsustainable. I made a decision to follow Liz Gilbert’s advice. She said, “You do what you can do, as competently as possible, within a reasonable time frame, and then you let it go.” I made the decision that, with rare exceptions, I would not check my work email at home, and I don’t have it on my phone. That may seem unthinkable to some, but it is an important boundary for my self-care.
  • When necessary, respectfully and clearly state your values and the boundaries they create. Both for myself and for my students, I tell every one of them, “It sometimes may take me a few days to get back with you because my schedule can be really crazy at times. But I will ALWAYS get back with you. It just takes a little patience sometimes.” Almost everyone understands and appreciates knowing that. It makes me feel better, even though I wish I were always able to respond quickly.
  • Honor your boundaries by taking action to realign with them when necessary. This can be hard, but, ultimately, it will be better for everyone. For instance, I am very clear now what my priorities are, and I know where there is some wiggle room and where there is not. I have to be willing to honor my values and priorities and change what doesn’t align with them or to change my situation if I find myself slipping into resentment because I don’t want to live that way.  It is my responsibility to take care of myself.

When we recognize our right and responsibility to set, state and enforce our boundaries, it adds elements of power and peacefulness to our lives. It is a potent decision and declaration that we are not victims of our circumstances or of other people. This doesn’t mean that we will never find ourselves in situations we would prefer to avoid. The holiday season, with all of its gatherings and social obligations, is challenging for me as an introvert. I recognize the value in celebrating together, and I do take part in many of the get-togethers, sometimes joyfully, sometimes with less delight than I wish I could muster. However, I am responsible for decreasing the drama around them in my own mind and for not accepting additional social obligations, if they are only going to increase my stress, without adding meaning. I do no one any favors when I show up in resentment to a situation I could have avoided.

One valuable tool for setting boundaries is Amy Tiemann’s system of questions for determining if something should be added to her calendar or to-do list:

                1. Is it fun?

                2. Is it meaningful?

                3. Is it absolutely necessary?

Of course, social obligations are only one area where boundaries come in to play, but I think those are particularly timely in the holiday season.

I’m considering offering a future workshop or online course around boundaries. If that is something that would interest you, click here to sign up for email updates. As a bonus, I’ll send you an electronic copy of my plant-based recipe booklet.

I wish you a healthy, compassionate holiday season, with clear boundaries that serve you.

What Drives You?

I love good questions. I enjoy pondering a provocative question on my bike or at other times when my mind is free to consider it. I experience a visceral surge of excitement when presented with a question that begs for deep exploration.

As I prepared to get into the shower after my bike ride yesterday, I was reading (and loving!) Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones of Happiness: Lessons from the World’s Happiest People. As he recalled an interview with one of the individuals featured in the book’s case studies, he explained that he had asked his subject, “What drives you?” That question elicited the familiar surge of excitement, letting know that I needed to explore what drives me. Since I was getting into the shower, the question presented itself at the perfect time. The shower is a great place to think because it is private (except when I am on Biking Across Kansas) and quiet, and I am usually able to wash myself without concentrating too hard on what I am doing, freeing up mental bandwidth for exploring interesting questions.

As I washed off the road grime. I asked myself, “What drives me?” It didn’t take long before I settled on “growth and improvement.” As I thought about it some more on today’s bike ride, I recognized that “growth and improvement” are the ways that my internal drivers manifest themselves. A more complete picture is this formula:

Strengths + Values=Internal Drivers (Motivation)

My top Clifton Strengths are: Intellection, Input, Relator, Learner and Maximizer.

For many years my core values have been: Compassion, Excellence, Integrity and Fitness.

The combination of my strengths and my values comprise my internal drivers, which manifest as growth and improvement.

Although each element—strengths, values and internal drivers—looks different for every individual, I think strengths and values are the consistent building blocks.

Ultimately, I want to be growing and improving continually in my life. I have come to view this as my personal evolution. Always ripe for a (mechanically imperfect) cycling analogy, I picture the equation formulating my evolution as turning wheels on a bicycle. My progress—evolution—ebbs and flows with the revolutions of the wheels. They take me to the next stop on my ride, but, like a bike tour, I keep getting back on and moving forward to the next destination. This is what growth and improvement are to me, continual evolution, rather than a transformation that takes place as a singular event. My strengths and values are like the hubs of the wheels, with my internal drivers (or motivation) the drivetrain.

Over time and with a lot of introspection, I have fine-tuned my life to allow me to grow in the ways that feed my soul and are important to me.

I am driven to use my strengths to think and learn and grow within the boundaries of my values.

I am driven to grow in compassion by living a vegan lifestyle and helping others to learn about plant-based nourishment, as well as by treating all human and non-human animals with compassion. I am not perfect in my practice of this, but I am driven by my aspiration to live in full compassion.

I am driven to provide excellent service and to put forth my best work in my advising, writing, coaching, teaching, parenting and relating. By continually striving toward excellence, I can pursue a higher level of one of my core values, while employing all my major strengths.

I am driven to pursue integrity by living my values, even when it is challenging, in a world that does not always support them or understand me. This is an ongoing growth opportunity.

I am driven to maintain a high level of fitness because doing so allows me to live my other values more fully and to ensure that I can keep growing and improving.

What drives you?

I encourage you to ask yourself that question and to create time and mental space to explore the answers. Then—and this is key—find ways to allow your deepest intrinsic motivation to play out in your life.

Find your strengths: One excellent and informative way to gain insight about your internal drivers is to take a strengths test. Both Clifton Strengths (linked above) and Via Strengths can provide valuable self-awareness. Via is free online. Clifton requires the purchase of a book and/or a code. They are different, but both can help you consider what makes you tick.

Clarify your values: You can find many values lists online and in books. I have never found one that I really consider to be comprehensive. (I’m not sure there is such a thing.) The best one I have found is in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., which I am also currently reading, for the Wichita State University Leadership Book Club. Years ago, I discerned my values through my own reflection and introspection. Brown gives some excellent tips for guiding this process. She says, “Ask yourself: Does this define me? Is this who I am at my best? Is that a filter that I use to make hard decisions?” Brown recommends settling on two core values. As I said, I have four.

“Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives.” –Brené Brown

Consider what the combination of your strengths and values suggest about what drives you. (Strengths + Values=Internal Drivers): What is it that propels you forward in life? Whether you consider it an internal driver or drivers, motivation or your “why,” I think there is value in knowing. Thinking about it is a worthwhile endeavor.

When you figure out what drives you, take an honest look at your life. Does it reflect your motivations, the things that push you forward? For me, it is continual, progressive evolution in key areas of my life. I need to feel like I am living my values and maximizing my strengths more effectively each day. For you, it could be family or financial freedom or a cause that is close to your heart. Whatever it is, own it. Honor it. Find ways to build your life around it.

If you are interested in exploring this and other deep questions as a way to optimize your life, make the difference you want to make and live with no regrets, contact me at sheri@justwindcoach.com to schedule a coaching call. I’d love to help you figure out what drives you and find ways to honor those motivations in your life. I believe there are reasons that certain things are driving forces in our lives. These intrinsic drives are part of our unique mode of expression in the world—the contribution we want to make and the legacy we are here to leave.

Pedaling and Pondering: Résumé Virtues and Eulogy Virtues

Immediately prior to setting out on a late afternoon bike ride yesterday, I started reading The Road to Character, by David Brooks. Within the first sentence, I was intrigued by a concept he presented: Résumé Virtues differentiated from Eulogy Virtues. Brooks defines résumé virtues as “the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.” He describes eulogy virtues less concretely as “the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.”

Reading those words when I did, right before I got on the bike, was fortuitous, because I was excited to ponder the contrast and connections between the two types of virtues, and I do my best thinking on the bike.

How are these two types of virtues different? Are both categories even “virtues”? How are they linked to each other? My mind raced with these questions as I pedaled north out of town and for the next 15 chilly miles.

I think of my résumé virtues as achievements and selling points—qualities that might be evident from perusing my résumé, like degrees, grades, breadth of experience, writing ability and attention to detail. These points tell only a very superficial story about who I am, about who any of us is.

Many personal development authors and speakers recommend considering what we would want to be said in our eulogy as a guide for managing life’s choices. I have thought about this in the past, but contemplating the juxtaposition of résumé and eulogy virtues carried this idea a step further for me.

On my bike, I decided that eulogy virtues, unlike tangible selling points, tell the deeper story. It seems to me that they consist of both our strengths and our values. While résumé virtues are fairly concrete, eulogy virtues are more elusive and strike me as somewhat aspirational.

My core values are compassion, integrity, excellence and fitness. I aspire to “own” these as lived virtues, as qualities of character that someone might mention in my eulogy. But, can I claim them as virtues, when they are subjective and qualitative? Those characteristics that I consider my strengths serve as tools for living my values, and I believe that I have a responsibility to employ them to the best of my ability in the service of a life that reflects what is most meaningful to me. But, how do I know if I have achieved this? Unlike a diploma that is objective evidence of completing the requirements for a degree, eulogy virtues can only be felt—by the possessor of those virtues and by the witnesses to those virtues.

It occurred to me on the bike that résumé and eulogy virtues are intimately connected. For instance, in my own case, my commitment to excellence, my love of learning and my perseverance allowed me to accomplish academic goals. So, values and strengths—eulogy virtues—led to résumé virtues. In a different kind of relationship, I believe that some of my eulogy virtues—namely, integrity and honesty—have contributed to what could be interpreted (sometimes by myself) as deficits of my résumé. My dedication to those principles and to resonance in my own heart has led me down a path that has possibly undervalued upward mobility in career status and income.

So, which matters more—résumé virtues or eulogy virtues? Can they exist independently of each other? I think the answers to both those questions depend on the person. Ultimately, I believe I have emphasized eulogy virtues, although those have influenced my résumé virtues. Someone else may have emphasized résumé virtues and amassed more external success in doing so. Even without a conscious emphasis, however, I think that individual’s eulogy virtues will still have guided her or him toward the path of his/her résumé virtues. The difference, I think, is that someone who emphasizes résumé virtues may be less aware of, and/or concerned with, eulogy virtues. Living the introspective life that I do, I can’t put myself in those shoes. So, I can’t know which life is richer, happier or more meaningful. I can only surmise that a person emphasizing eulogy virtues, as I believe I do, makes a more conscious (not necessarily better, just more conscious) choice about what virtues he/she will live, while a person who has focused on achieving résumé virtues, may have her/his eulogy virtues identified posthumously by others. A eulogist who witnesses that person’s résumé virtues may discern and then assert that the individual embodied commitment, drive, determination and diligence, for example. I wonder if that person would have said the same things about her/himself.

Ultimately, I cannot directly control what is said in my eulogy, and I am honestly less concerned about what someone else chooses to say than what I can say about myself when I examine my own life. I think both résumé virtues and eulogy virtues can be indicators of valuable contributions in the world. Maybe I am just looking for consolation and justification of perceived weaknesses when I declare that eulogy virtues matter more to me. Or maybe seeking that justification is actually evidence that the résumé virtues are more important to me than I openly acknowledge.

I did not end my bike ride with tidy, clear answers about eulogy and résumé virtues, but I did enjoy the time to think, and I hope that these concepts will continue to crystallize for me because I think both types of virtues comprise important aspects of a whole person. I love it when books make me think and when cycling provides me with the opportunity to do so!