“If you spend your life pleasing others, you spend your life.” – Cheryl Richardson
Looking back on my life, I see that for a long time I struggled to take care of my own wants and needs and didn’t make them a priority. I used to find that very uncomfortable, and sometimes even selfish. I was a master of giving, but I faced serious obstacles to receiving. By nature, I am a nurturer. I find tremendous joy and fulfillment in giving, so the old me used to offer plenty of time and energy to everyone else (my family, friends, and employers). I was always doing my best to please others and make them happy. I still believe there’s nothing wrong about that, and that my only mistake was treating myself as less important.
One of the most difficult things I had to learn was how to say NO to things I didn’t really want to do without feeling guilty, or overly worried that I might hurt or upset someone else. I struggled with this in my personal relationships (like when I saw a movie in town on a Sunday because a good friend had asked, even though my body only wanted to sleep and recharge), but not only in this area of my life.
During the years I spent with the corporate world, this was a big challenge, as well, whether I was saying yes to tasks that were not part of my job profile or volunteering to take on new projects when I already had a lot on my plate.
Years ago, I almost got burnt out at work. I was working ten hours a day as a rule, plus weekends. I couldn’t sleep well, and I generally spent my weekend time recovering from stress through overeating. One day, I collapsed. I often saw my colleagues leaving the office after the normal working hours, while I was doing overtime on a regular basis. I blamed myself for being less intelligent than my peers, thinking that my brain couldn’t handle my assignments at the same speed. In other words, I thought I was stupid.
I had a chat with my manager about my workload, and that was transformational. I told him it felt too hard to handle. I will never forget that manager’s words: “Sara, I do appreciate your hard work, and I’m very pleased to have you on my team. However, I want you to know that I only expect you to run the daily business. I have never asked you for perfection, but for good enough.”
That was mind-blowing. For the first time ever, I came to understand that “good enough” had never been part of my repertoire. I couldn’t define what that was. I wanted things to do everything perfectly so no one could hurt me or blame anything on my performance. I was an overachiever, identifying my human worth through my professional results and accomplishments.
I was raising the bar so high that my body couldn’t cope with the expectations I had set for myself any longer. Nobody else was responsible for my situation, but me.
So here’s what I’ve learned from that experience: today I do the best I know and be the best I can be in every situation, and I aim for progress instead of perfection. I know am not a Superwoman, and that we all have good and bad days.
To me, setting healthy boundaries was a learned practice, and here’s where I am today:
If it sounds like a “should,” I don’t do it. I go for the things that feel like a want. My wants come from myself, instead of being imposed on me by others. I know my time is my life, and it’s never coming back. It’s not my job to please others, and I don’t feel like I owe anyone any explanations or apologise for the way I am spending my precious time, and with whom. We always choose how much we give.
I have learned how to say NO to things I don’t really want to do without fearing I might disappoint others. Saying no doesn’t mean I dislike or reject the other person. I know I can’t disappoint anyone. People disappoint themselves with the expectations they set for whom they want me to be and what they expect me to do. It’s always about them, and it has zero to do with me. If they truly love me, they would understand.
Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship might look selfish to the outer world. In reality, it is a form of self-respect, self-love, and self-care.
And now, I would like to hear from you. Do you sometimes feel hard saying No to things you don’t want to do? If so, what stands in your way?
Sara Fabian is a Women’s Empowerment & Career Coach and inspirational speaker, on a mission to help professional women to discover their unique strengths, gifts and talents, boost their confidence, find their calling and live a meaningful life of purpose. For weekly inspiration, subscribe to her free newsletter at www.sarafabiancoaching.com or follow her on Facebook.