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Better Boundaries, Better Business, Better Life – Part 1: What you can learn about your business from Poison Oak

It’s time to talk about boundaries, people!

This is a subject often broached in personal development… holding boundaries is considered essential for maintaining emotional health (for example, you may choose not to spend time with a particular friend who drains your energy). But boundaries are rarely discussed in a business context.

And yet, boundaries in business are crucial if you want to run a business with integrity —  and actually enjoy doing it.

I see my clients face SO MANY challenges in their businesses that are directly related to boundaries that are too loose or even nonexistent.

So let’s dive in. In Part 1 of this post, I’m going to tell you the two main reasons your business needs boundaries… and the one secret to creating them.

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll walk through the 4 most common ways boundaries are crossed in your business (and how to avoid this).

Your business needs boundaries for two main reasons:

1) So that your business has integrity

Imagine a river and its banks.

The bank makes the river a river. Without it, we have… a puddle. Or maybe a delta or something (which is lovely in its own right, but not a river).

Without structure — a boundary to contain it — things get kinda messy. Erosion happens, contaminants find their way in, and the flow can get off course and unpredictable.

With strong banks, the power of the river is channeled successfully. The banks hold the river so that the water can flow, twisting and turning, rushing and trickling, out to the sea.

Similarly, your business needs structure, and specifically boundaries, to not only contain it, but to DEFINE it. What is your business and what is it not? How does it operate and how does it not?

The boundaries define the business.

This definition gives your business integrity. What do I mean by integrity? It gives your business strength and reliability. Something that your clients and potential clients can know and count on. Something that YOU can know and count on, too.

(This feels really good when you nail it, by the way).

Now of course (and we’ll get into this in a moment), your banks can be too high… ever seen a levee break?

2) So that YOU don’t burn out

Now we get to talk about poison oak. You didn’t think I could make an analogy about poison oak in a business blog, did you?

Some people think that poison oak is just there to make you extremely itchy. It’s not. My herbalist friends have taught me to respect poison oak and call it, “Guardian Oak,” and there’s a good reason for this.

Guardian Oak grows at the edges of disturbed areas. Basically, humans come in and clear an area to build a house, and we disturb an intact forest in the process. And what sprouts up at those edges where it’s been disturbed? You guessed it — that’s Guardian Oak’s favorite hangout (which is why you often see it at the edge of a hiking trail).

But here’s the interesting part – I’m told the oak grows there to create a boundary between the disturbers (the humans in this case) and what’s left of the healthy, intact forest.

It’s saying, “Please do not pass, I am the guardian of this forest, and my job is to keep it healthy.”

If you go messing around in the oak, you are most likely going to get a nasty rash, and there’s a decent chance it’ll stop you from trying to disturb the area more, no?!

Ok, that was a long-winded way of saying that sometimes you need to create a boundary around yourself to keep the forest of your life intact.

You need to protect yourself, your health, your well-being… from the disturbances (aka, humans who want things from you!) so you don’t get burned out.

So how do you create good boundaries?

Before we dive into the 4 main ways our boundaries are crossed in our businesses, I want to tell you the secret to creating proper boundaries.

Boundaries must be flexible.

Like a tree swaying in the wind, a boundary is strong and rooted firmly in the earth, but not so rigid that it breaks during an average rainstorm.

It has to have give.

I always tell my clients: Make your boundary. You can always make an exception.

People have this idea that if you make a rule, you must rigidly keep it. But if you did that, you would not have the opportunity to try new things, take advantage of new opportunities, and learn stuff you might not have otherwise learned.

Of course if you always cross your boundary, then we’re back to the whole bank-less river thing (not a river, remember?).

It’s a balance.

But just like a plant has a porous surface, allowing water and oxygen is through its openings, a good boundary has some permeability.

So how do you decide when to be flexible, when to bend a boundary? Each situation is different. You need to go inside and ask yourself if it feels right to you to bend your boundary in this particular case.

Sometimes it will be a resounding yes! I am THRILLED to offer my work to this person at a discount because she’s amazing and she needs this work and it feels in service and I need the practice anyways.

And sometimes, you will get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach that will say, Do not even think about lowering your rate to work with this person, they’re just going to keep asking for more, and frankly it already feels shitty.

Please listen to this voice. And then make a case-by-case decision.

Now stay tuned for Part 2: 4 Commonly Crossed Boundaries in Your Business (and how to Firm them Up!)

Boundaries are a hot topic at the January Replenish Winter Reflection & Strategy Retreat for Women Entrepreneurs. If you’re interested in creating powerful boundaries for a successful and fulfilling 2019, I hope you’ll join us!

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