Setting Boundaries: Saying 'No' to Overcommitment for a Balanced Life
It was mid-day in October of 2016 and I sat at my kitchen table with tears streaming down my face.
My firstborn was 4 months old and I found myself crippled by overwhelm in trying to figure out how I was going to continue to grow my business and be the mom I wanted to be.
I was bursting at the seams with guilt for wanting to work and beating myself up for not wanting to work. I felt hopeless, which was a feeling I hadn’t felt since my rock bottom of 2010. I was defeated and didn’t see a way in which my two worlds could blend.
But just like 2010 I knew I had to make a choice, and while my choice then was forced this resembled the same feelings. I knew there had to be a way I could show up for him and still create impact in the world through my work.
As female founders and women in leadership, we wear multiple hats and juggle numerous responsibilities daily. We have a natural drive to excel in our businesses, support our teams, and meet our personal and family needs. We want to not just do it all, but be the best at everything we do.
This desire to be helpful and reliable leads us to say 'yes' to every request that comes our way, even when we are already stretched to our limits. While our intentions may be noble, the overcommitment takes a toll on our well-being and hinders our ability to be (or perform) at our best.
The struggle with overcommitment is a common challenge we all face. We may believe that taking on more tasks or responsibilities is a sign of strength or dedication. We want to be seen as capable, dependable leaders, and we fear that saying 'no' might be perceived as a weakness or lack of commitment.
I had the desire to be a leader for my clients, the audiences I speak to and my children. My heart wants to help every single person on this planet.
But, I had to make peace with the reality that I can’t do that - without sacrificing myself in the process.
Constantly saying 'yes' without setting boundaries can lead to burnout, reduced productivity, and strained relationships. Our personal and professional lives suffer when we spread ourselves too thin, and we often neglect our own well-being in the process.
I knew that I was overcommitting myself at the expense of myself, and it was time for change.
Setting clear boundaries saved me, and has brought me here.
I want to share with you how you can achieve a balanced life while maintaining your reputation as a strong and capable leader.
The Pitfalls of Overcommitment
Overcommitment can sneak up on us, especially when we want to be supportive and helpful to our teams, families, and communities.
I broke down because I realized that not only was I overwhelmed, I was losing myself in the process of being there for everyone else.
When we take on too much, we forget about the quality we are really giving - whether that is to our clients, families, or friends.
When you are saying yes to everything your attention is divided and you can’t truly focus on what’s important or the most critical things. Not to mention the chronic stress that takes a toll on our mental and physical health.
Every time you commit to something, you remove something else - and for most women leaders this is your personal time for yourself or the time you have with the people you love. This creates a ripple effect of guilt from a lack of presence and has us feeling like we are never enough in any area.
The Myth of the 'Yes Woman’
Society often glorifies the image of the 'Yes Woman'—the woman who can do it all and never says 'no.' This notion creates unrealistic expectations that we must be available for everyone at all times, no matter the cost to ourselves.
Yes I can take that meeting, yes I’ll be at that event, of course I’ll be at the play date, absolutely I can bring that to you… Sound familiar?
This was me too.
While it's essential to be supportive and collaborative, it's equally crucial to recognize our limits and the value of setting boundaries. Saying 'yes' to everything may temporarily boost our image, but it can be detrimental in the long run.
This lack of long-term thinking creates a mountain of regret, the worst pain to live with.
I realized at my kitchen table that day a lesson I had learned before. That was, my situation was a product of my choices.
And like my mom told me when I called her the first time I went to jail, “You got yourself in there, you can get yourself out.”
Knowing that I had the power to change my circumstances and taking the steps to change them has always been what changes my trajectory.
This was no different, I knew I wanted to live differently and I knew my first step was getting clear on what I would and wouldn’t allow for my life.
And that’s when boundaries became my best friend.
The Power of Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries is an act of self-care and empowerment. What most women think will cause hurt and make people angry, which sometimes it does, actually creates respect.
It allows us to define our limits, protect our time and energy, and create a healthy balance between our personal and professional lives.
I knew that I could no longer be available 24/7 for my clients, and I needed time for myself to breathe to be the mom I wanted to be.
When we set clear boundaries we prioritize what truly matters to us, then you can give your time and energy to what fulfills you most and is most essential for your well being.
Your productivity actually increases because you are dedicating your full focus without guilt of needing to be elsewhere. Wherever you are, is where you are supposed to be and you have made peace with that.
Even when it comes to having time for self-care outside of work and time with your family, you’ve set clear boundaries knowing that maintaining those gives your children a mother who is taking care of herself so she shows up better for them.
And one of my favorite parts of setting boundaries is how it actually strengthens your relationships. When people are clear on what you want, the communication and honesty creates a mutual understanding that brings you closer.
You don’t want to live with regret of overcommitting or never being there for yourself or the people you love, and in order to now have a one-way ticket to Burnoutsville you’re going to have to say no.
I’ve had many years of saying no and having 3 kids, a marriage, a household and multiple businesses that I care about - I haven’t always said no gracefully, but I’ve learned a lot along the way I want to teach you.
Ways to Say 'No' Gracefully
1. Reflect on Your Priorities:
Identify your core values and long-term goals to understand what truly matters to you. Use these as a compass to determine which tasks align with your objectives. Make decisions with the long-term in mind, how will this affect you or your family in a year from now?
2. Practice the Art of Delay:
When presented with a new task or commitment, avoid giving an immediate response. Politely ask for time to consider the request and assess whether it aligns with your priorities. My favorite response when I am put on the spot is “Let me check my calendar.” This gives me time to discuss with my inner people-pleaser and make the right choice.
3. Use Empathetic Communication:
When declining a request, express gratitude for the opportunity and use empathetic language. Acknowledge the importance of the task while explaining your current commitments and limitations. And sometimes a “no” can be a “not right now”...
4. Offer Alternatives:
If possible, offer alternatives or suggest someone else who may be better suited to handle the task. This shows your willingness to support the requester while respecting your boundaries. I love having a network to refer people to when I am at capacity, then everyone wins!
5. Set Boundaries Early On:
Establish boundaries from the beginning of new projects or commitments. Clearly communicate your availability, preferred communication methods, and any limitations you may have. My clients establish new standards and ways to communicate those standards across the board and it’s a game changer for their stress and overwhelm.
6. Practice Saying 'No':
Saying 'no' can be challenging, but practice makes it easier. Role-play scenarios with a trusted friend or colleague to build your confidence in gracefully declining requests.
At the end of the day, we don’t want anyone to be upset with us for saying no - but remember that if you have to choose between making someone else upset or making yourself upset… you only have to live inside of one of those bodies.
That day at the table was the breakdown I needed to challenge me into change. From that moment on I have known how I want to show up for my family and my work, and stepping outside of that is rare - I am still human, you know?
Saying 'no' to overcommitment is a powerful act of self-preservation and prioritization. Setting clear boundaries allows us to protect our time, energy, and well-being, enabling us to excel in our personal and professional lives.
Setting boundaries is an essential skill for a balanced and fulfilling life. Embrace the power of saying 'no' gracefully, and you'll find yourself thriving as a strong, capable, and empowered leader. Remember, saying 'no' to the wrong things allows you to say 'yes' to what truly matters.
And if you need help getting through your overwhelm so you can build a significant impact without sacrificing yourself or your family - book a call with me here.