Whether as an employee or business owner, I’ve been guilty of taking work challenges and setbacks too personally. As a recovering people pleaser, perfectionist and overthinker, I’d learned to associate being good and how much I tried with what I believed “should” happen, making work disappointments and frustrations into signs of failure or rejection. Some of what I took personally triggered paralysis, woundedness or a u-turn. Other events resulted in stewing, anxiety, exhaustion, or rewriting email replies until they were shorter and less passive-aggressive (cough). Taking things too personally ultimately dented my confidence.

Something shifted, though, several years back and has gradually evolved. I started seeing any and all challenges and disappointments as an opportunity to uplevel my boundaries in some way, albeit sometimes with gritted teeth.

  • Hiring a responsibility-dodging, gaslighting contractor taught me to trust my gut with work even if it doesn’t make absolute sense immediately. The experience also got me to deal with the buried childhood trauma it triggered.
  • Working with a literary agent whose hot and cold behaviour reminded me of the emotionally unavailable men I used to date gave me so much clarity about who I want to collaborate with, my values and saying “I’m out”.
  • A client who thought that paying meant they could make inappropriate requests prompted me to put processes and communications in place that made my boundaries and expectations clear. Aside from eliminating that issue, embracing issues in this way meant lots of other processes that made work life so much easier.

Let’s be clear, though! I still get stressed out, anxious, angry, etc., by work challenges. I’m only human!

I’m totally down for the whole gratitude thang and noticing what we can gain from a challenging and unwanted situation. What I’m not into is bypassing my emotions.

But thanks to my work boundaries, I don’t get derailed or defeated by challenges, nor do they occupy my psyche for months or years on end.

I let myself be pissed off or have a good moan. And then I have a chat with myself. When it’s a series of experiences over time, compassionate self-reflection lets me notice the baggage behind my response. Either way, I move forward with more awareness and boundaries.

Self-compassion instead of taking things so personally allows you to recognise your contribution to your emotional, mental, physical and spiritual state. This doesn’t take away from what the other party did or your very real disappointment, but it does let you take better care of yourself while distinguishing your responses from other people’s stuff.

If you don’t plunge into the abyss of shame and self-judgement, you have a lot less stuff to clean up. You can respond from a boundaried place that doesn’t put your self-esteem on the chopping block. Remember, boundaries are two-fold. Yes, the other party is doing something or the challenge exists. Still, how can you be even a little bit more boundaried?

Check in with yourself.
  • This thing that’s gone wrong, is it because it doesn’t work for me anymore?
  • What is this challenge trying to show me that I couldn’t see before?
  • Is there a process that this situation invites me to put into place?
  • Is there an overdue no here that needs to be said?
  • I’ve simmered about this issue for a while. What do I need to say, do or let go of?
  • Is it possible that I don’t have to do as much as I have been?
  • Does this problem mean Armageddon, or am I more okay than I’m letting myself be?
  • Is there an opportunity in [this challenge]?
  • Even though it won’t change the person/situation, where can I be kinder to myself so that I limit the impact?

Having healthier boundaries is about shifting your response even a little to make it different to how you responded before. This is forgiveness in action. Being present, adjusting your response, allows you to acknowledge and let go of the past so that you can take better care of your past, present and future self.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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