Urgent Boundaries

I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was giving me a lesson in boundaries. He said, after expressing how a client wanted him to drop everything and take care of her need, “Lack of planning on your part doesn’t make it an emergency on mine.”

Lack of planning on your part…

… doesn’t make it an emergency on mine.

I wrap the words around my tongue, letting them pass before my eyes through my brain.

Lack of planning on your part….

… doesn’t make it an emergency on mine.

Boundaries, quadrant II, time management, being thoughtful, being considerate. To me, all these things are wrapped up together.

It isn’t considerate to assume that someone leads the same life as you. As such, it isn’t considerate to assume someone can just pencil in a meeting with you because suddenly you’re faced with a grave deadline.

It is shortsighted to overlook someone’s timeline, assuming they can do it all. And it is hard but needed to enforce those boundaries, otherwise your emergency does bleed into others.

I am thinking of a myriad of examples where we fail to live in quadrant II. And, lately, I’ve been speculating the motivations.

I have a revolving task list. That is, for my paid work, the tasks I do repeat, and repeat often. I have to open the mail with a colleague every day. I have to go to the bank and deposit money, every day. I have to work around these things, and the daily tasks are easier. I also have monthly tasks, some are shorter, and some need thought. For the ones that require thought, I often push them to the back burner, using the drop dead deadline as the deadline to reach, not the ideal planful deadline. Why? Because these things take time, and given the structure of my job, it is set up to do quick tasks more efficiently than my preferred thoughtful tasks.

So, my task list stays full of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. And, if someone wants to add something new to my plate, I often decline because of the monthly tasks, looming over, never given time to attend during the day. And, sometimes, I’ve noticed that when I do get them done, I feel lost. I have plenty of other things to do on my task list, but once that super important looming thing is gone – I feel a sense of inexplicable loss. In the¬†moment, rather, it feels inexplicable, but in reflection it feels like loss of importance. Is my worth tied to this one, silly task? It is odd, because if done regularly, and insisted upon to be done quickly, everyone would be happier. I know, logically, that I’d likely be tasked with something more important – so why then do I cling to the status, frustrating, quo?

And, that, is why I think people work in what I dub, “pants-on-fire” mode. We can’t envision a more efficient, happier, more productive future, so we cling to what we know – putting out fires, living in quadrant I and quadrant III.

How do we inspire confidence, together?

As I consider how divided my time is, I’ve been wondering when and where I inspire confidence. I have about 5 buckets in which I dedicate the bulk of my time (no, sleep is not one of the buckets). In 2 or 3 of the buckets, I am confident I inspire confidence a large amount or all the time. But in 2 buckets, their focus has been pushed to the back of my radar, and I know, quite confidently, that I do not inspire confidence.

Then, as I consider the examples around me, I start get to get curious – how and where do we inspire confidence?

I’ve been watching someone in a role new to an organization I work with. This person has claimed years of experience at the task she is working on, but this person doesn’t inspire confidence. Some things this person espouses or creates seem spot on with the years of experience, but other things seem lacking and not well thought out. I have a periphery view, and I know that the work is being criticized – but from my vantage point – no matter how put together the task might actually be – the person is not inspiring confidence in delivery.

So, what does it mean to inspire confidence, and what can we do about it?

When I consider the things that don’t inspire confidence I usually go back to behaviors that seem ineffective or unsafe. For example, in another role, we are asked to consider our peers and whether we want to continue working with them. And, to the point that we will give a list of members where we say, “Yes, these are good members and we agree to work with them longer.” Well, a few of the members of this group have lacked in their duties. So, tonight, I even had to conversation with one – going back to the three or four things this person didn’t do that resulted in our lack of confidence.

Now, to complicate matters… on one hand, we, as a working group, want to trim the fat. We, and I mean the “ubiquitous” we, want highly functioning effective people who agree to do the jobs at hand. But, what happens when life intervenes?

In one instance, an individual has a slew of health problems that make the situation more difficult. In my personal space, in the places where I have failed to inspire confidence, I have taken on too much – or rather, I’ve felt compelled to finish off obligations without understanding or knowing how other roles would evolve and infringe upon time. There is only so much in a day, and when the eyelids droop, it makes it difficult to compare one more thing or write another email.

So, maybe the question isn’t so much – where do we inspire confidence, rather, where do we let our intuitions speak so that collectively we inspire confidence?

I always go back to this example of when my food club was running at its height. We had a group of people who grew to trust each other, they were highly intuitive, measuring each others needs against their own, and always wanting better for others than themselves. And, what happened was magical. A member would fail to inspire confidence and slack on their duties. Duties where they volunteered. And, other members said, “Stop. We love you. You’ve done enough. It’s okay to take a break. There are many more people who can do the job. They just need motivation to step up. But, it’s okay for you to step back now. And, when you’re ready, you can step up again.”

So, how can we inspire confidence together?

How can I help you make it better?

There was no, “Hi, how are you?” There was no, “Gosh, you haven’t been as present as you were before – what’s going on?” There was no inquiry into my life. There was only, “A few of us were wondering, what are you going to do next? Don’t you think it’s time to find a replacement?”

All I hear is:

“You’re not doing enough.”

“You’re not responsive enough.”

“You should be doing more.”

“You should be acting more.”

“You should be giving us more of your time.”

“You’re not a good leader, and we need a change.”

Accepting full-time work was a hard choice. I knew that things were going to shift and have to shuffle, but I wasn’t sure of the various impacts. Suddenly, I was giving one thing more time than I ever had before, while I was neglecting another thing I had previously devoted much of my time. And, now, the venues in which I split my time have crashed into each other, and the ensuing flames are not bringing comfort.

And, while everything feels like it’s burning around me, instead of firefighters, I have critics decrying why I started the flames.

So, I bought my reflection tool. I purchased my own copy of Safe People. The last time I read it was five years ago from the borrowed library copy. I have recommended it to others so often, ironically, I have started to forget the kernels. So, it was time to make it permanent on my shelf.

Cloud and Townsend tell us that the “critics” among us

“take a parental role with everyone they know. They are judgmental, speak the truth without love, and have no room for grace or forgiveness… (pg 22)

“Critics often deeply love truth and righteousness. Because they are clear thinkers, they can be good people to go to for information.” (pg 23)

This was a mistake I made. I mistook these clear thinkers, as well, for compassionate people. And, I confided in them. But, when I slipped, I felt their wrath. Cloud and Townsend further explain that

“If you’re attracted to critical people, you may find relief in their clarity of thought and purity of vision. But you’ll also find yourself guilt-ridden, compliant, and unable to make mistakes without tremendous anxiety.” (pg 23)

At which point, I nearly yelled to another our need for compassion. Ironically, as I question her ability to be “safe” for me, she recommends an interesting book I have put on my to-read list: Tattoos on the Heart.

And, then, as if to prove I am seeking more compassion my play list queues Jane Siberry and “Calling All Angels”, and the only refrain I ever here when I listen to this song.

Calling all Angels, calling all Angels
Walk me through this one, don’t leave me alone
Calling all Angels, calling all Angels
We’re trying, we’re hoping, but we’re not sure why

And, just a bit later, Bon Iver plays “Skinny Love”, a new favorite, and again, a chorus I can’t shake.

And I told you to be patient
And I told you to be fine
And I told you to be balanced
And I told you to be kind

Confrontation aside, it is often easier to notice all the typos, to shortly call out the mistaken dates, to vent in front of others about the perceived misdeeds of another.

It’s harder to ask if they noticed the typo or the mistaken date. It’s harder to go up to someone and tell them you think they are doing a bad job. Especially if the gig is unpaid.

But, what I was hoping for is what we were. I was hoping that it would be prefaced with a question or two, such as, “How are you?” I was hoping it would have been prefaced with some intuition, “Gosh, you haven’t been as present as you were, is everything okay?”

And, because I train myself to take things at face value. And, because there is so much to keep track of (I have over 600 unread emails in my email boxes (yes plural), right now), if it’s not a direct question, if it gets lost on a message board thread, then I might incorrectly perceive it to be okay, even though it’s not. And, the irony abounds, that in this day and age of communication choices, we choose only one or two (email or text). And we give up and say the other is unresponsive if they don’t answer the only two choices we chose to use.

All because it’s easier to critique. It’s easier to say you did wrong rather than, “How can I help you make it better?”

Sifting Through Safety

I recommended it for at least 3 years. I’d known about it for four or five now. A book by Christian psychologists: Henry Cloud and John Townsend,¬†Safe People, a book on understanding why boundaries are important and how to be aware of traits and people who exhibit behaviors in which we should protect ourselves.

The criticisms state the book merely suggests we avoid all narcissists. Perhaps that’s so, perhaps it doesn’t go deep enough for the individual in severely damaging relationships, but I have found that for many of us, it details why we have difficulty in relationships and what we need to do to be better in relationships.

Because of events that occurred when I was a child, I never seem to be able to get over them. As such, I hold people at a distance, slow to trust. And, when I bring them in closer, and they act as any human (as I do!) does, I rarely give them a second chance, and I further the distance. This puts me at a disadvantage in many ways. I make it harder for myself to get close to people, which makes it harder to have really rewarding relationships. Because I inherently distrust people, and I distrust and often question their intentions, I also question their intentions. Instead of assuming good, for myself, I assume ill. Even though I urge others to be logical, rational, and take things at face value. Even though I counsel others to forgive, to forget, to move on, to ask for forgiveness. When it comes to my heart, I cannot follow my advice. With so much (irrational) fear around being hurt, being betrayed, being bullied into things I might not want, I just keep people at bay. When things work on the surface they work. But, if I start to falter, and then my actions or inactions are called into question, and when they are done in a criticizing way, I retreat.

As a mother, this feels particularly challenging I know why I live this way. I know exactly what set of various experiences have jaded my own views. And, for the most part, I can keep them at bay. For the most part, I can live above the line, when I can control the other things. I can be logical. I can be rational. I can look at things and force myself to take them at face value. Unless, maybe, a confidence is betrayed. Or I feel as if I am put at the brunt of an unfair situation, such as being the scapegoat for a host of issues. And, then, I retreat.

I have been careful to guard against the situations that I was put in as a child, for my son. This is one reason I cannot wholly grasp onto Free Range parenting. I don’t mind the close eye I keep on my son, hoping to protect these young years from an unfair advantage, trying to control and challenge him in ways we can learn lessons through, manageably, lest he venture into the cold, harsh, realities of life too soon.

And, I wonder, what example do I set? Is it simply cowardice? Is it being too busy? Is it unbalanced? Is it too fear laden? How much does he see? How can I take Mommy’s mistakes and make them learning lessons for my dear son? How can I keep evolution spinning to betterment rather than sinking into the depravity of devolution?


Gossip or Venting? You decide.

It’s ironic to me that the easiest way to vent is the most public yet least visited.

I range between 1 and 20 page views on an average month. That’s not unique visitors. For unique visitors, the range is between 1 and 5. I’m not always sure if my stat counters are counting me, though they aren’t supposed to. Compare that to a Facebook reach that could be between 100 and 500 people.

Growing up, I was the misfit. For various reasons, some life experiences, some personality, I have never felt like I fit in. Perhaps everyone feels this way at some point. Growing up, watching my cousins, my siblings, and the kids at school though, it really did seem that I was the only one on the outside. Once I got to high school, and my pool of friends diversified, I was able to see how others, whom I liked, seemed to suffer a similar predicament. Our senses of humor were a little too odd, we were too smart, we dressed too strange, or whatever clique-ish measurement we were holding ourselves up against, we were different, and we didn’t fit in.

I cared probably until I was in my mid-twenties. And, suddenly the keeping up with the Jones’ didn’t matter as much. But, the thing I am still envious about, and the thing I still don’t know how to figure out, is that close friend who won’t betray your confidence.

We all have relationship issues. We all get mad at our sisters, our best friends, our husbands, our kids. People seem to turn to writing, holding it in, psychology, or best friends to work out their issues. Growing up a self-named misfit, I never felt like I had the best friend with whom I could hold all my deepest secrets. When I thought I found them, and I shared my secrets, I found the secrets were to deep and scared people away. There was no reciprocal or later sharing to further develop the relationship.

Now, as an adult, as a self-identified introvert, I am accepting of the trend. Apparently many introverts are like this. Apparently, this is not a unique thing. Apparently, many of us introverts suffer from only having a few friends and a questionable ability to refill the friend pool much like a volunteer organization needs to constantly refresh its volunteers.

So, imagine my surprise, as I began to color in my own path, when I stumbled upon a diverse group of friends who shared interests similar to mine. Imagine my surprise when I felt like I could trust them all. And, I start to open up, and I start to share, and sadly, eventually, the confidences are betrayed.

What is one advantage of the close friend? The close friend can allow you to vent your frustrations. The close friend can listen without judgment. The close friend might even be able to compassionately right you or point you in a direction when you may have steered off your chosen path.

So, what then, when the close friend serves more than one? What then when the close friend tries for bridging stories and it all just sounds like gossip? What then, when we try to decipher the complex relationships in which we all partake, and we use the close friend to help steer us right … but the close friend is being used by too many, and confidences are accidentally betrayed?

What then?

Action vs. Thought

In my consensus training, we were reminded the importance of stopping and not doing anything. This is in many regards the complete opposite of how we are trained. We are trained to do. We are trained to act. We are trained to keep in motion. We are not trained to stop, to not do anything, and to listen. This takes practice, lots and lots of practice, and it’s hard.

And, unfairly, I expect this trait of the leaders I am to look up to.

I want the blog words of my site to be centered around balance. How do we find the time for our families, for our work, for our volunteering, and for our dreams. Do we? Do I? Is it successful? Ever? When are those successes and how do we celebrate vs. all those times that we chide ourselves for not doing enough?

Action vs. thinking. It’s hard, and it’s hard to stop momentum of action and give the needed time to think. I was reminded the other day of how important, though, this sentiment is to me. I was reminded when I was asked to give up a small unimportant thing that was crucial to my job. I understood the reasoning for it, but the way the thing was, for so long, was good enough, and there was no problem. No complaints. It wasn’t a perfect system, but because it wasn’t wholly broken, the need to fix it, I thought was less important. Giving up the thing adds logistics to an already packed day.

What shocked me was the response. Why it was being acted on, in day four, meeting 1. Why this small thing suddenly, after over a year of not being addressed, it suddenly came to the forefront. Why was this small thing told to be acted upon? She asked me, “You don’t think it’s because I think you’re doing anything wrong do you?” I restated the logistic challenge. I don’t think she was doing anything except responding to what she was told to do.

What I was disappointed in, and I did not have the frame of mind to think of the coherent thoughts that would have put this in a diplomatic way, was to question, “Why, after a year of it being this way, are we acting on it now? Where is the transparency? What don’t you want us to see? Is this a power play by the other whom I already told you was difficult to work with? This feels more like a, ‘I’m putting you in your place,’ rather than doing best for the organization.”

Balancing action vs. thinking is hard. When you have the loud voice, the squeaky wheel declaring that a thing must be done, especially when you are new to a thing, it’s hard to stop. It’s hard to say, “Okay, I hear what you are saying, and I share your concern, but I want to find out why the thing is done the way it is before I go through with your suggestion.” It’s hard because in part it’s confrontational. No one likes confrontation. In fact, many people ask others to do the confronting so they don’t have to when they have to discuss what they decide to be a hard thing! Excuses will be made like, “It’s his/her job,” instead of putting our grown up pants on and saying, “This makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t understand why the thing is done this way, could you try to explain it to me?”

And, now I am worried. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that a trait commonly held over the years was an indicator of stopping and listening. Now, I am worried that similar mistakes of the past are going to be repeated. There is so much potential, so much hope, we need to think about it and envision it before we fully move forward.

We work on, “Don’t just stand there do something.” We need to find ways to incorporate, “Don’t just do something stand there.”

And, now I suppose is my turn to share the lessons of the past. It is my turn to say, “I am worried and this makes me uncomfortable. Can we talk?” I, too, like so many others, dislike confrontation. It makes my stomach knot. It makes me feel worried and distracted. But, I fear for the not-listening, so much. Hoping this will clarify my thoughts.