Sunday, June 14, 2015

13 Tips for Establishing Healthy Boundaries at Work and in Life

Hello New and Returning Readers,

Many apologies that I have not been blogging as much.  I have been getting your comments and emails.  It’s been a very busy year so far and I can’t believe half of the year is almost over.  Wow!  Time flies when you are having fun!  

It’s startling to me how things seem to be getting more amazing every year, and until you try something new or different, you don’t realize how much more your happiness can grow exponentially.  If you’ve read my blog since the beginning you know I am strong believer in creating your own luck, planting seeds consistently so they can come to fruition later, not making things worse, and controlling what you can, because you can’t control other people or circumstances.  The inspiration this latest blog was spurred for 3 reasons.

First, I read a quote that put that message in the most concise way I had ever read it.  

You can never have a happy ending at the end of an unhappy journey; it just doesn’t work out that way.  The way you’re feeling, along the way, is the way you’re continuing to pre-pave your journey, and it’s the way it going to continue to turn out until you do something about the way you are feeling.  -Abraham Hicks

Second, without much thought or effort, I’ve changed a couple things by lucky coincidence that have made a big impact like dominoes that will permeate in other areas of my life.  I can attribute these to exemplifying my happiness to becoming the happiest I’ve ever been.  And you know I was pretty psyched about life before!  :D  Here are some little things that made a drastic difference.

1.      I sleep with an eye mask that also covers my ears and the entire bridge of my nose so no light can seep in from under. 
2.      I am less a raging night owl.  There was actually a period of a couple of weeks where I was waking up at 630am every day to work out, sometimes twice a day - a pilates class and then walking 4-6 miles too.  Prior to that, it was not surprising for me to be up until 3am or 4am and then to catch up on sleep all weekend by sleeping in until 2pm or later.  I now sleep between 12am-2am and will take the rare nap when needed on the weekends.  
3.      I have a routine where I go grocery shopping every Sunday night to buy my food for the week.  The money I was spending on eating out 3x a day can be put towards fun things or even more for my savings accounts.

Third, I’ve been asked for advice a lot - from a family member about negotiating a salary and an employment contract, a friend on how to interview and prepare for a job, a loved one on how to make the better decision, and with 2 friends who are budding entrepreneurs, and a couple of others.  I also am navigating my way through the barrage of requests in my personal life & hobbies - whether to become a committee member where I volunteer, taking a meeting, or doing a favor however big or small.  

Now, onto the reason for this post.

I’ve written before on learning how to say no.  And in consulting with some of the people above, I also realized a part of it was tied to self esteem/confidence, knowing what they wanted, or establishing priorities.  These changes require a tremendous amount of time and effort.  However, the deeper realization came that it’s more so about awareness, having healthy boundaries, and you yourself are an investment worth protecting.  Right now, whether you believe it or not, you have talents, time, energy, and skills unique to you that must be safe-guarded for the mere fact that you are alive and no one lives forever.  Only you can live your life, no one else can live it for you, so only you can be the first line of defense to protect your own well-being.  Of course, this is assuming you are not a conjoined twin.  :)

I’ve given a lot of thought to being an effective EA, living life well, and learning and growing for many years.  And on that journey, I’ll share an actual incident that happened to me shortly after college.  By this point I had been working for maybe a year or two.  Near our office was a small little mini mart type shop similar to what you might find connected to a gas station, but a lot nicer.  One day, I was walking out to lunch and I ran into a co-worker who was on their way back to the office after having eaten.  This person wasn’t in my department, much less on my floor.  I didn’t know them well and if anything, we only knew each other because we worked at the same company, but did not work together.  I knew them more or less in passing.  

They stop me and say, “I didn’t have a chance on my lunch break to go buy my lottery tickets.  Here’s some money, would you go buy it?”  I was so shocked at the request that I didn’t know what to say except yes.  Meanwhile, my inner dialogue was annoyed, asking what sort of person blatantly asks for a favor like that, why should I spend 15 min of my lunch break to do a personal favor because they didn’t plan well or remember, and how would I prepare myself in case they asked me again tomorrow or everyday going forward.  Luckily, it never happened again and like a dutiful, obedient person, I ended my lunch break early to walk to their office and hand over their change and lottery tickets.

There was nothing in the situation where the person asking for the favor should have believed I owed it to them to do it.  They weren’t my boss, they weren’t even senior to me on the org chart, we were barely acquaintances, and I didn’t owe them a favor.  I might have seen that person once a month in the halls.  And yet, from their PERSPECTIVE they thought it was totally fine to ask because they needed something.

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve always been interested in learning and growing as a person so I will read all sorts of topics.  And even though I’m not a parent, I read that the latest trend is NOT teaching your kids to share.  To quote the blog post by Joe Martino:

I think it does a child a great disservice to teach him that he can have something that someone else has, simply because he wants it. And I can understand the desire to give your children everything they want; we all have it.  This is not how things work in the real world.

With this new trend, I’m pretty confident that person who asked me to buy their lottery tickets or anyone reading my blog came from the SHARING IS CARING movement.  So we may have a hard time establishing boundaries, setting expectations, saying no, and grapple with taking care of ourselves, even before or supposedly at the expense of others.  As kids we were raised to share upon demand - whether it was having to give up the toy or expecting the toy without waiting just because we asked, which shapes our minds as adults too.  Once you learn to be aware of an unreasonable request or situation, to trust your gut, and establish boundaries, THEN saying no, negotiating for what you want, and asserting yourself becomes much easier, and if I dare say, natural.

While EAs should and are often expected to help out and wear many hats, there are still lines that need to be drawn.  I’ve heard from others where they were asked to run out and get lunch for their more senior co-worker, and then never reimbursed either because they were too shy to ask or felt it was inappropriate.  Even though the person said they’d pay them back they never bothered to remember they owed money each week they asked for lunch to be picked up.  I do agree that money is a very touchy subject.  Unfortunately, this meant they  lost out on hundreds of dollars.

At some point, the healthy boundaries help you draw the mental line where you acknowledge to yourself you are a separate person with your own wants, needs, desires, and opinions and it’s okay to talk about it and be your own individual.  So this post is less about how to do x, y, z in a specific order and more about how to simmer on the below 13 points.

1.      Realize that it’s not that people are “against” you, but rather they are just FOR themselves.  
2.      Anytime someone tries to rush you into a decision, it’s probably an emergency and priority for them AND NOT YOU.
3.      Anytime you unhappily make an exception for something, it’s hard to resist doing it again since you’ve already taught or shown the other person that behavior/decision is acceptable/okay.
4.      You must have bare minimums or requirements of what is acceptable or allowed so you know what you are basing your decisions on and why.
5.      Stop, think, ask for more time to make a decision, and ask yourself why you should do or not do x, y, z.
6.      Even if you have to say no, do it nicely.
7.      No one has the right to tell you that the way you feel is wrong.  They may disagree, but you are allowed to have your feelings.  They don’t get to decide how you feel.
8.      Be okay with re-visiting or re-opening the issue at a later/better time if you feel like you didn’t get it quite right.  
9.      Practice saying no, or you’re uncomfortable with something, or you will need to get back to them so when you are in a situation, your response is not automatically yes because you felt uncomfortable or didn’t know what to say.
10.  Don’t be surprised if people will make you say no or decline 2-3 times until they realize you’ve made up your mind.
11.  Be honest and let the first thing out of your mouth be what you are feeling:  Wow, I don’t know what to say.  or Hmmm…  I’m a bit surprised.  or I’m listening; I just to need to process what you just said.  Name your feeling then gather your thoughts on what you want to say.  
12.  If the person you decline gets angry, upset, or don’t like your response, that’s not your issue.  It’s theirs.  It’s okay they disagree, it’s not okay that they try to make you feel bad for it.
13.  Do your best, be patient with yourself and others, and know life will forever be a learning curve.  

I hope these tips help!  If you have any to add or a story to share, please do so in the comments.

***New “rule” - when you ask me a question for anonymous advice and I answer it, could you write an anonymous comment so I know you're the one who ASKED and read the post? :) As always, I usually tweet any new posts I have. And anyone can email me questions and I respond only via this blog, not to your personal address. I also write over at under Hollywood Executive Assistant.


  1. #2 is SO true yet I had never realised about it! THank you for these tips :)

  2. Hi -

    I always enjoy your posts. I love the way you write!

    I want to comment on #7 (“No one has the right to tell you that the way you feel is wrong. They may disagree, but you are allowed to have your feelings. They don’t get to decide how you feel.”). I think there is another side to this and that in addition to people not telling you how you should feel, people should also take responsibility for how what they say affects others. A person once said something to me that I found completely offensive, and his response was that he did not intend to offend me, so the fact that I was offended was solely my problem and he did not owe me any type of apology. I disagree with that thinking 100%. People do not have the right to say something offensive and absolve themselves of all responsibility of how their words are interpreted on the other end because they claim to have not intended to offend.

    Lastly, you mentioned that quote about how teaching children to share was a great disservice and the people should not think they deserve something that someone else has. There is, I suppose, the belief that someone will ask someone for something and if he/she does not give it to the person, the person may respond, "...but sharing is caring" to convey that the person should rethink the decision not share, lest he/she be accused of not caring. However, there is another way to interpret sharing is caring. In this other definition (the one that I teach my children) people have the option of sharing what they have with others as a way of bridging gaps, making friends, or helping those who are less fortunate (i.e., showing that they care for others). I would never think that someone should share something with me. That seems ludicrous. Do people really think that way?

    I look forward to your future posts! :)

    1. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantJune 16, 2015 at 12:52 PM

      Hi Anonymous,

      Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment! I am so glad you enjoy my posts and my writing.

      For #7 - I do agree there is another side. People should take into account other people; it's the only civil thing to do. Perception, is a very subjective thing and perhaps the right thing to do is say what could be taken as offensive in the most polite way possible. (That orange shirts doesn't look bad, but peach pops more on you! Try the peach shirt too!) or just not say anything at all maybe.

      I think the difficult thing also is something will always offend someone and it's hard to know what will be that hot button for someone else. It could be as mundane as someone is or is not a cat person or a dog person to politics/money/etc. Not everyone agrees 100% on everything so it's in the delivery of the info that is crucial because life is not all roses, people are different, etc.

      RE: sharing/caring

      I do agree with the way you are teaching your kids to share is a great model. Perhaps it's semantics on my end really... I view your method as GIVING THE GIFT of letting someone borrow the toy or helping out the less fortunate. Being selfless and thoughtful is the message.

      In the past, I believe the sharing model was more along the lines of if someone asks you must share right then and there EVEN IF YOU DON'T WANT TO, you didn't have a choice. Whereas the new trend is more, you can have a turn AFTER Suzy is done. What's unspoken is if Suzy is never done and recess is over, well too bad, because that's how life is. Kids are given the option to say no, to recognize their feelings, to learn patience and the world is not their oyster. Now it's more the first person that was there has right to sole access to the toy without sharing or being interrupted and then gives up the toy for someone else when they are ready.

  3. I'm so happy I found you! Thank you for sharing your experiences and expertise on a topic (and high level executive assistance in general) that doesn't always get the attention it deserves.

    1. Caterina - And I am so happy and grateful you found meeee! Thank you for being a reader, leaving a comment, and letting me know I write for a reason and people do read my tiny little blog! :) I hope you have a great weekend.