Boundaries are very good things. They delineate what’s ok and what isn’t. I always like to say that everyone (adults, children, dogs) needs boundaries. It lets them know where the line is for what’s acceptable. It makes them feel safe. And in some cases, actually makes them safe.
In my work I see many companies with organizational and/or business issues where the lack of strong, articulated boundaries were the culprit. In some cases they didn’t have enough business experience to know what kind to set. In other cases, they had boundaries they wanted to set but didn’t for fear of losing clients or valued staff. Or worse? They set boundaries but then didn’t enforce them. This eroded their credibility and built distrust because others didn’t know what to expect of them. This = not good. The founders became frustrated. Left to the whims of others. And? The business was less profitable.
An epic fail.
When Boundaries are Bad
I’m having a hard time coming up with a time when at least some basic boundaries aren’t good. One of my friends, thinks that not all boundaries are good. Especially in extreme sports.
I think what he’s actually talking about are limits. These, I think, are different than boundaries. You set limits for yourself but boundaries for others. When I’ve been in extreme situations I still have limits. For example, on my first hike up two 14ers in a day my limits were mostly around altitude issues.
If my lungs rattled, down I went.
If I started getting sick to my stomach, it meant stop.
Getting a little frustrated or scared meant I still continued forward. That’s how I got to the top of the mountains safely. I saw some people coming down the mountain who were just wrecked. They either didn’t have limits or, had pushed way past them. I kept thinking we might see a Medevac on the mountain. Not good. Note: The fabulous jumpers in the photo are my friends Betsy Doughty and Emma Nicoletti participating in the Warrior Dash, an extreme running/obstacle course event. Their limit was sticking together through the entire course. They did and both came through the course with their well-being intact.
Although these examples are from the sporting world, it applies to the professional as well. An example is having a limit around how much money and time you’re willing to pump into your business as a new entrepreneur. As I mused on this topic there was a pretty furious volley going on about boundaries on Twitter. Here are some of the juicy tidbits:
@iamkendal: …one area of life tends to reflect others. Even in the extreme sports context, there’s more going on.
@heizusan: I keep my boundaries very broad, but iron-clad steel. You get lots of wiggle room, but 0 tolerance for “leaving the premises”.
@campsteve: People who say they don’t have boundaries don’t know themselves.
I agree with @campsteve’s comment. And? It’s also true about limits. You have to know yourself. Know what’s ok. And…what’s not. To know that you actually have needs that need to be respected in your business, your relationships and with yourself.
If you don’t have boundaries and limits you’ll get hurt in life–metaphorically and literally. The lack of the them can breed frustration and conflict with others if they’re not well set AND articulated. Pretending you don’t have boundaries or repeatedly ignoring them will raise your cortisol levels. Otherwise known as the stress hormone, elevated levels of cortisol are associated with a weakened immune system, impaired brain function among other yucky stuff you don’t want.
Save yourself from inner and outer conflict and just set some boundaries and limits. Your business will thank you. Your friends, family and colleagues will thank you. Your soul will thank you.
Being an engineer, my dad’s pretty much a math genius so even though I’m not I like to express things in terms of equations. So for the math nerds out there here it is:
Boundaries = well-articulated external rules for others
Limits = clear internal rules for yourself
Boundaries + Limits = a well-articulated business and life that supports you. And that = happiness in my book. Without boundaries and limits, life is just a roll of the die.
What kind of boundaries do you have?
What limits do you set for yourself?