I’m setting boundaries and ditching my guilt

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“Stop dreaming of changing the world through institutions, and start doing it through people.”

I wrote this to myself about 6 months ago, and came across it as I was flipping through my journal recently. For me, it’s a statement of profound wisdom. It’s also one that is guiding me to make some pretty important decisions.

For the last 20 years, I have worked in large institutions – at 2 post-secondary institutions and in 10 roles in the provincial government. Throughout this time, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of major strategic transformations. I have disrupted, transformed, and renewed institutions in a new image – one that is inclusive, innovative, and focused on the future.

But in reflecting on my work throughout my life, I see a subtle thread that has woven its way through everything I have ever done. Like Shakespeare’s use of a play within a play, as I’ve worked on exciting and impactful projects, I have also cultivated relationships, grown leaders, and elevated diverse voices. In fact, when I look back at my career, the work I did to transform people stands out as even more important than the work I did to transform institutions.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this.

Well, it’s part of my origins story – the story of how my blog and The Art of Negotiation came to be. It’s also the story of why I’m making some tough decisions today.

How I cultivate satisfaction

As I began to reflect on my life and the impact I’ve had, I recognize that I have always taken immense satisfaction from helping people grow. I teach part-time for The University of Winnipeg, and approach my classes by integrating academic knowledge with real world experience. In course evaluations, the most common thing I hear is that students find my classes unique and valuable, because they don’t just learn theory, but how to apply that theory in real life.

As I have aged, I have realized this is one of my superpowers. Of taking complex information, theories, studies, and advice, and simplifying it into strategies and tools that can help people be successful. Luckily for me, that’s the thing that lights me up – helping others succeed.

I’ve also realized that my ability to bring people together escalates the impact of those strategies and tools exponentially. The magic that happens when enthusiastic and diverse people come together to learn and grow is life-changing. And so working with women in groups has become a cornerstone for my business.

If only I knew this when I was young

I developed my negotiation programs because I wish I had something like this as I was navigating my career. I look at the women in my network who are smart, dedicated, and resourceful. They take on challenging assignments, and they always deliver. They take every opportunity that’s presented. And they shine like the sun.

But there’s a dark side to this. And I don’t mean the kind that involves Jedi knights and intergalactic conflict. *insert eye roll

The dark side is that women are burning out. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the impacts of the pandemic on women – inspired by the 2021 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and Company.

The pandemic has been an inescapable force in our lives. But it’s not the only thing that’s contributing to burnout.

Our tendency to jump at every opportunity, commit to unrealistic timelines, take on more than humanly possible – these are big factors. And our reluctance to let others see us struggling, the vulnerability of sharing that we are not perfect – these are holding us back.

Women need to feel confident to set boundaries, say no, and negotiate as part of everyday life. And I have seen firsthand the power that comes with doing that as part of a community of women who are struggling with the same experiences. That’s why I love offering group coaching programs.

It’s also why I’m suspending my long-term one-on-one coaching practice.

Making hard decisions

Just as you struggle to say no, struggle to push back, struggle to find time to cultivate joy in your life, I do too. This fall, I was working full time, teaching two university courses, and running a cohort of my negotiation program. I was coaching two women and sitting on a very active Board of Directors. I was shining like the sun. But I was burning myself into a pile of ashes. I’m sure I have been a real treat to live with. Sorry family.

The thing is, I just spent the previous six months diving into the reasons I overcommit. I thought I had put this behind me. I had told myself I’d never be in this same situation again.

But, as I have been planning my next quarter, I have found myself, once again, taking on impossible workloads. Clearly the irony of my life is not lost on me. I’m writing this blog, after all.

Let me be totally honest with you. I would love to take the leap and do this work on a full-time basis. Maybe one day soon, that will be a possibility. But I am only one person, and still have a full time job. And more importantly, I deserve down time in my life to relax, care for myself, and cultivate joy.

So what does that mean?

  1. If you’re an entrepreneur, then I have an amazing offer for you. Fearless Negotiation: Essential Skills for Entrepreneurs is my foundations-level program for women who own their own businesses (whether you have 100 employees or none at all). It’s available in self-directed and live-workshop formats, with new dates being constantly added.
  2. If you are considering a job offer, working through negotiation, or need my help with a strategy session, you can always purchase a 75-minute Negotiation Prep Session on demand. Be sure to book a free 20 minute consult with me beforehand if you want to be sure we’ll work well together.
  3. If you were thinking about signing up for one-on-one coaching with me, I’m sorry. I have removed the offer from my website and I am not taking on any new clients for the foreseeable future.  That said, I know some amazing coaches and would be happy to refer you to someone great.
  4. If we are already engaged in a contract, we will continue working together and making great things happen.

I’m ditching the guilt

The great irony of all of this is the guilt that I’m feeling right now as I’m sharing these changes. I feel badly for not being there to support more women. I feel guilty – like I’m doing something wrong by limiting the amount of time I spend working.

But I know that guilt is in my head. I’m glad to say, evidenced by me posting this blog, I am able to overcome that guilt and set and reinforce healthy boundaries for myself. I wish that for all of you. And so it’s important that I honour that in myself. 

The truth is, I want to focus my energy in places where I can support the greatest growth of women. One day, I hope I can do that full time, every day. But until then, I will support the growth of women in a sustainable way, while honouring my energy, my time, and my joy.

I hope that’s a lesson worth learning for you too.

Keep learning!

If you are interested in growing your negotiation skills, sign up below to get my weekly newsletter, which features information, education, and learning opportunities that can help you negotiate more effectively. It’s free and you can opt out at any time. In the meantime, you can read more of my blogs on negotiation.

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