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  • Cindy Lee

Boundary-building gone wrong

[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.] Last time, I asked you to give an honest account of your restrictions and non-negotiables in your job search.


Why would you put these limitations to your search? So that you can focus your efforts and make worthwhile choices. If you can’t clearly identify the things that conflict with the standards you uphold, you’ll have a very difficult time navigating your career with integrity.

Though this is just one out of five concepts we’ve covered in defining who you are for your job search, it is the LEAST forgiving. If you misunderstand or misgauge yourself in the other aspects of core values, personality, skills, and passions/interests, it’s less damaging on your ego and your soul than if you break a critical boundary and experience pain or anger in some way.


Keep in mind that each person has his own set of unique boundaries and limitations. So, it would be unwise to ignore this component and even less wise to copy other people’s list. While it takes a bit of work up front to identify your boundaries, it saves time and heartache in the long term. It can be quite liberating then to explore the realm of what is worthwhile, because you can clearly see what is not acceptable.


Let’s do a quick run-through of some ways to tighten the list, as there are some potential pitfalls to creating these parameters/boundaries. Also, some tips to avoid/address these pitfalls and real-life examples (some actual quotes, some paraphrased) –

  1. Judgment and Censoring – if you leave out the “small” concerns or tackle only the “noble” ones, the ones left untouched are the ones that end up becoming the silent killers or the invisible sabotagers.

  2. Tip: There is plenty of room to evaluate your concerns, but there is no benefit to judging or censoring them. What’s important to one person is not the same as what is important to the next. Create parameters that are true for YOU because these concerns likely will impact other areas of your life, whether you are aware of it happening or not. It’s to your benefit to consider the concerns now rather than once they’ve already done their damage.

  3. Example: “I heard it’s normal to commute for an hour each way around here. I feel silly saying I don’t want to go more than 20min…” Commute time may seem like a small concern. For some, it’s simply logistics, and they can even find other things to enjoy doing during their commute. For others, it’s an emotional drain, and by the time they arrive at their destination (work/home) they are in a terrible mood. If you fall in the latter category, make sure you have a realistic boundary for your search – being in a terrible mood will impact your performance at work and your presence and joy at home with family.

  4. Some other examples:

  5. “I guess I should take this job because I could do it… I’ve done [this type of work] before. But I’m really not that interested in it. I shouldn’t be this picky anyways… right?”

  6. “Everyone works long hours nowadays. I don’t want to be seen as the lazy one.”

  7. Using OTHERS’ Boundaries – you’ll end up setting the wrong constraints and parameters if you copy what others do or follow what others say you “should” do versus what’s TRUE for your reality. Whether you’re aware of the fact that you’re doing so or not, the end result is the same – you won’t really get what you need or are looking for.

  8. Tip: I’m NOT saying that what others say is wrong or that you should only do what you want. There is often merit to others’ advice and we do have responsibilities to uphold. The key is to establish your own set of boundaries, ones that you choose for yourself and for which you can be held accountable. So, if others’ boundaries aren’t true for your situation, then don’t use them. But if you decide that the conventional boundaries are right for you as well, then they become your boundaries. The outcome looks the same, but that invisible step of CHOOSING them for yourself is critical in your ability to successfully act within those boundaries. ** This is closely connected to knowing where YOUR values lie. **

  9. Example: “All my classmates are applying to [the preferred big name companies] but I’ve heard they tend to make you do entry-level type of work. I really want to pursue [this other good job opportunity], but I feel like I should try to have [one of those elite companies] on my resume… ” There is merit to conventional wisdom such as building a strong resume with experience from well-known companies, but that does not mean you won’t get strong experience elsewhere. If your focus is to get a guaranteed resume-building job, then you can adopt that boundary for yourself. If your preference is to have a strong work experience, or even to find a job where you’ll love the work and stay and grow at a company, you’ll want to set your boundaries accordingly. What’s most important is to get clear about what you are looking for, so you can choose the option(s) that are right for you.

  10. Some other examples:

  11. “Other people get online and take work calls on the weekends. It’s just part of the culture nowadays.”

  12. “I need [$x amount] to cover my family’s expenses. But maybe I should just take what they’re offering… it’s pretty decent with what’s out there. If I try to negotiate, they might just give the role to someone who will take less pay.”

  13. “It’s not a job I’d like to do, but my dad says that I should just take it and get my foot in the door and hope to someday end up in the department that I do want.”

Are there more requirements you could add now [back] to your list? Are there ones you had to re-evaluate once you realized you had subconsciously adopted someone else’s boundaries?


This is not all… next time I’ll cover ways in which you might feel led to compromise your boundaries or what happens if you break them completely.

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