Monday night, one of my early days in business.
There I am, slightly (errrr) overworked, slightly frustrated and anxious because… well, how is everybody else getting so many clients and charging SO MUCH MORE than I am?
Notification: new email.
A client asking me to do something that is not really part of my job – and of course, taking for granted I’ll do it anyway.
The above, of course, is followed by a 45 minutes internal rant, performed while pacing up and down the living room whispering to myself “this is ridiculous” and angrily typing the whole story on my phone for my best friend to read.
Eventually, I decide that NO, it’s not gonna happen. I need to stand up for myself, set boundaries and stop letting people take advantage of me.
It’s a big NO, no no no.
It’s my business, my rules.
… maybe I could make a little exception and DO IT, but make it clear that I would NOT be doing it again.
After all, I am not that busy and I want clients to love working with me. Right? Also, deep inside I know I am charging a lot of money… maybe too much.. What if she gets upset and starts complaining and wants her money back?
Come on, it’s gonna take 30 minutes max – surely it’s worth it if it helps me keep the client?
LET’S TALK BOUNDARIES
To quote Brené Brown:
“When we asked people why they hesitate to set boundaries, the number one answer that emerged from the research was, “I don’t want to make people mad, disappoint others, or make them stop liking me”.
[…] What’s really interesting is that when we asked the same participants to describe or explain the consequence of not setting boundaries, the overwhelming response was resentment. Followed by anger. Followed by frustration.”
Failing to set boundaries can not only affect our mental and physical health but also eat away our ability to see our own business as an enriching and enjoyable part of our life.
But we all know that, right?
And still, for most of us “setting boundaries” feels like a constant struggle.
A MATTER OF POSTURE
Ever caught yourself all hunched over your desk, and reacted by – inadvertently – tensing all of your muscles in an attempt to sit up straight… just to end up slumping forward again within 10 minutes?
This very much reflects how I used to deal with boundaries in my early days in business – alternating between collapsing and posturing.
Collapsing is giving in to all requests and it often comes from our desire of being liked, of feeling needed, and from our lack of confidence. Collapsing is compromising our needs and integrity out of fear (of losing a client, of facing uncomfortable conversation, of disappointing others…): we keep giving more, so that the person in front of us will appreciate us more, like us more.
We keep giving in, and giving more, even when that means sacrificing something that is important to us.
We keep saying yes, stretching ourselves and neglecting our needs until we eventually “snap”… and lean into the opposite, the “I won’t be a victim anymore”.
Frustrated and exhausted, we go from collapsing to posturing.
Posturing is all about force is our “as previously discussed”, “as per the contract you have signed” – it is overselling, acting superior and wanting to feel important.
RIGHT… BUT I STILL DON’T KNOW HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES
So what is the alternative to all of this?
If you have ever had to work on your posture or practiced yoga, you already know the answer: force and tension won’t take you far, but finding your core will.
As a business owner, you find your core when what you do and how you do it are perfectly aligned with who you are, and deeply rooted into why you are doing it.
As a business owner, finding your core comes from choosing to walk a path you can truly own as yours.
“Stress is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are” (Chinese Proverb)
When our actions and decisions come from such place we become beautifully strong and equally flexible.
And so do our boundaries.
“Did you just say… flexible?”
Yes, I did. Make your boundaries and give yourself permission to make exceptions.
People have this idea that being “good” and valuing yourself meaning making rules and rigidly keep them – no matter what.
Truth is, the secret to creating proper boundaries is to ensure they are strong and rooted in your beliefs, in your core, but not so rigid that they easily break under pressure.
But how do you decide when to bend a boundary, when is it ok to make an exception?
The answer is simple: when it feels right to you.
Trust your intuition, trust that voice inside you.
If all that voice is saying is “don’t even think about it, you don’t even WANT to work with this person anyway” – STOP. Breathe.
“No” is the right answer. And one that doesn’t need to be justified or explained.
And by the way, my favourite “no” answer comes from Shonda Rhimes: “I am unable to do that”.
It just feels right and complete to me. It feels good.
AND WHAT ABOUT SAYING… YES?
“Yes” is also an answer that does not need to be explained or justified.
So when it feels right to you to bend your boundaries, just do it. Know that you don’t have to be ashamed or justify it – to your photography friends, to your favourite Facebook group or to your mentor.
After all… your business, your rules.
Feeling on the brink of burnout? Read our guide “Photographers on the brink of burnout“
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