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  • Cindy Lee

Beware of doing some real damage…

[THIS POST IS PART OF A SERIES ON NAVIGATING YOUR CAREER TRANSITION WITH INTEGRITY, WHICH IS OPPOSITE FROM YOUR TYPICAL "BACKWARDS" APPROACHES TO JOB SEARCHING.] We’re at the tail end of completing your job search criteria as far as knowing yourself well enough to navigate your transition with integrity. We’ve discussed core values, personality, skills, passions/interests, and constraints/parameters as five key aspects that define who you are as a candidate for employment – as you’re establishing a solid list of constraints/parameters to your job search, let’s strengthen your list of boundaries because it is the least forgiving of the five concepts we’ve been covering.

We discussed the freedom to explore within the safety of your boundaries; now we’ll face what happens on the other side when you choose to overstep or compromise these limits. Just as each person’s list of boundaries and limitations is unique, the weight of importance on each limitation depends on the individual. The damage done if you fail to uphold your boundaries depends on how much pain or anger or frustration it causes you.

BUT, one piece tends to stay the same – you will weaken your ability to trust yourself with each time you compromise your boundaries. This is a complex process which I’ll keep simple for our purposes here. Imagine a friend says he’ll do something but ends up letting you down. You’re gracious about it, but the next time he commits to something, you can’t help but have the slightest nagging thought that he might break it again. Though you want to trust this friend in his new commitment, you find it hard to freely do so. This is a completely natural reaction.

Now, internalize it. Basically, each time you soften or break your boundaries, some part within you is disappointed. The “hurt” can remain relatively harmless in your subconscious until the next time you set another boundary. Then, it reminds you of the disappointment from before and tries to prevent any further hurt. At the conscious level, this can seem as little as a glimpse of self-doubt or as huge as paralyzing fear. Whatever the case, the result is you’re not as “free” to explore possibilities and move forward as you were prior to compromising.

This sabotaging force within us is pretty powerful, so we don’t want to set these boundaries lightly. Continuing the list from last time, here are a couple more potential pitfalls in dealing with your constraints/parameters, again with some tips to avoid/address them and real-life examples (some actual quotes, some paraphrased) –

  1. “Softening” Your Boundaries – many different circumstances can cause you to shift where you’d ideally place your boundary. There are times when you learn more evidence that adjusting your boundary is a wiser decision… here, however, I’m referring to the times when you don’t exactly have helpful evidence yet nor an “educated hunch” – it’s more like a weakening of or backing down from your values. You rationalize and convince yourself that it’s better than where you’d place the boundary if you were to honor yourself fully. One common circumstance is when you feel a sense of scarcity – like, “there’s not enough jobs available, so I should really be willing to do what I normally would not…”

    1. Tip: If you feel you must soften your boundaries, prioritize your constraints/parameters and at least fight unwaveringly for your non-negotiables. If you MUST compromise on something, choose carefully and be mindful not to underestimate the “damage” it may cause like I mentioned under #1 last time.

    2. Example: “I’m a bit too old now to do the crazy hours. I did it when I was younger and single, but now I’ve got more important needs at home. But, well, I guess I could do it again if I had to…” The most honoring option here seems to be avoiding the “crazy hours” because you have higher priorities at home. But it doesn’t sound like a non-negotiable in this case. So, if you can’t get out of it, consider what’s expected of you in these “crazy hours” – perhaps you find working every other weekend doable because the kids are busy on weekends anyways, while working late on weekdays is a non-negotiable because you don’t want to miss dinner with family and putting the kids to bed for the majority of the time.

    3. Some other examples:

      1. “Maybe having my weekends free is a luxury I can’t afford right now.”

      2. “Many of my peers have started their own companies already. I do want to start one eventually, but I don’t think it’s my time yet. But, maybe I should start now anyways, as conventional wisdom says that if I don’t do it soon then I will miss my window of opportunity…”

  2. Breaking Your Constraints / Boundaries – if you intentionally go against what you consciously know is not good for you, you can end up unsettling something within you that can sabotage your performance or even paralyze you later. Similar to the scarcity concern in #3 above, usually the temptations to break your constraints come from an emotional or unexpected situation – sometimes rational yet often irrational. Often they are driven by some form of fear.

    1. Tip: Remember that the constraints you’ve established came from a very thoughtful and practical process. It’s likely that you also had a very strong experience that strengthens your conviction to hold a certain boundary. Your concerns are valid and your fears may be very real, but be careful not to throw it all back in the air because of new information and certainly not for a momentary lapse in judgement. Instead, refine and strengthen your list of boundaries in light of the new situation by creating a new constraint to address it, and DO NOT compromise it.

    2. Example: “This role doesn’t pay enough for me to cover my basic needs and bills. But, I’m sure if I worked hard there I can get promoted or at least some sort of a bonus. And I’ll keep looking on the side for something better. At least it’s a job and will pay some bills, right? I think I might just give it a try…” Unfortunately, bills are not like people who can extend grace. There are deadlines, and they must be paid or there are difficult consequences that can make your situation more complicated. 1) Perhaps you have some savings and thus a bit of runway, so you may decide to set a constraint that requires a salary of x amount to meet your needs and choose to hold off for an opportunity that matches. Or, 2) you may not have any runway and decide to take this role to begin paying some bills right away, meanwhile planning to continue looking for more suitable employment. If you choose the latter, you MUST establish a constraint that limits your time spent working in the role so that you actually have time to keep looking. More often than not, the role will consume your time and energy and it actually becomes more difficult to keep looking… and thus your work stress on top of financial shortage will exacerbate the stresses you faced when you were previously unemployed.

    3. Some other examples:

      1. “This new company says that they are pretty intense and hard-working. I’m driven and I perform well in that world, but I left my previous job because of the intense environment. My health suffered and I couldn’t stay any longer. But, I’m worried I won’t find anything else. Maybe I’m supposed to learn perseverance and take this new job to try again…”

      2. “It looks like it will take me away from my family quite a bit, but I wonder if I should just be grateful and take it. I know some people would love to have this offer.”

As I mentioned last week, a client recently got married and realized that her previous work lifestyle didn’t match up to the new lifestyle she wanted with her husband and community. (Her schedule included late hours, weekends, and 25% travel, and she now wanted her evenings and weekends back.) She brought it up to her boss and fortunately he was supportive. He suggested she propose some options of what could work, so she worked out a proposal that addressed the hours spent working late and traveling, but she “felt bad” asking for weekends off also. She figured the weekend phone calls would be manageable, and her boss signed off on the plan. Long story short, as the weeks progressed, her weekend phone calls increased since she was less accessible than before. Though she’d be with her friends and husband on the weekends, she was constantly stepping away to take calls and log in. This created an awkward tension in her relationships but even moreso within herself, and she began to resent this job that she previously loved…

Imagine if this could’ve been avoided by giving a full and complete account of her restrictions and non-negotiables for her new work-life situation.

I happen to know that her not completely honoring her needs and her boundaries led to a whole slew of internal turmoil revolving around losing trust in herself – she didn’t trust her ability to make decisions, to keep her commitments to her husband and friends, to do her job well, to maintain healthy boundaries between work and fun…

Can you further tighten your list of boundaries? Can you think of ways that can help hold you accountable to fully honoring and keeping these constraints you’ve established?

Stay tuned as I wrap up the series and tie it all together next time!

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