I once did an exercise with a coach who asked me to imagine the billboard of my life with one message on it. Like a piece of pop art, I saw ‘BREAK OUT!’.
Breaking out of the rules seems an odd mission for an ex-Deputy Headteacher who spent a lot of time making and reinforcing them. The rules in school were generally about keeping people safe and ensuring an environment conducive to learning. I am starting to see boundaries as breaking out of received wisdom, rules and habits which hold you back and making your own rules that build you up, keep you safe and help you learn. Personal boundaries.
Last week I talked about boundaries and ended with an intention to go to a wedding sober. The wedding was stunning and not drinking was almost easy. Two things were different in the way I went about sobriety;
1) I had set an intention in my last blog and felt a sense of accountability. This meant there was no doubt in my mind and I wasn’t deciding or battling with should I shouldn’t I during the wedding which would have been exhausting.
2) I did not apologise for my boundaries as I may have done in the past ‘I am really sorry but I am not drinking’ or shout about it ‘I just want to let you know -I am NOT drinking!!!’.
Instead, I quietly and confidently declined alcohol. All I got back was quiet admiration from others. I noticed a narrative popping up in my head as the disco started up ‘I can’t dance as I don’t have the drunken energy surge everyone else has’ but what I realised was that I had a confidence surge and more energy to dance provided the music was good and uplifting. In noticing the narrative, I was able to unhook from it and make up my own rules or indeed boundaries.
A lack of boundaries seem to be inextricably linked to SCARCITY and FEAR. The fear is ‘I am not…enough’. In my case last week it could have been ‘I am not fun enough sober’. We are all subject to scarcity in our culture. So many social and economic rules are based on scarcity to keep us buying and trying to be better. Pushing back from this means swimming against the tide. This can sound exhausting to some people but the leaders and professionals I serve a lot of rebel energy for doing things outside the box in order to make a difference so this is very appealing.
As with my wedding example, we have to spot the narratives if we are going to unhook from them. Two scarcity narratives which I sometimes spot are ‘I will be better when…’ and ‘I will do whatever it takes because I can make…..happen’. Both of these nasty narratives are boundary bulldozers and energy drainers. It has always given me a huge confidence to know that I could make stuff happen, that I could usually succeed if I put my mind and attention to something. The beauty is the intentionality and determination which is a strength but giving away all my time and energy in the belief that one can only achieve things by throwing the kitchen sink at it was a recipe for burn out. My work patterns were crazy and they didn’t need to be. If I had been clearer about my strengths and accepting of my challenges I could have made things happen and still had energy to spare. I could have collaborated and empowered those around me more.
I needed to break out of narratives in my head but also of those in my working culture. There is a deficit narrative in so many work cultures; ‘What can’t you do? What do you need to work on? How can you be better?’. I am all in for growth but it is growth in the areas of our strengths which will get us the most leverage. For those of us with spikey profiles (exaggerated strengths and weaknesses) the narrative of being an ‘all rounder’ or of striving to iron out weaknesses is particularly wasteful of our energy and magic. The boundary dams burst.
So recognising and getting clear on using your strengths might be a first step towards breaking out of the rules of scarcity and making your own rules/ boundaries.
Take the VIA strengths test here and start strength spotting and boundary building - you are more than enough!
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