“I had outsourced my self-esteem, validation, and self-worth as to what I accomplished, did people approve of me, did I do a great job.” – Melody Wilding
Do you know anybody who’s running on the vicious hamster wheel of career dissatisfaction?
It usually looks something like this: you’ve just accepted an offer for a really cool sounding job at an amazing company.
You’re getting paid more, and the work sounds pretty exciting. In short, you’re totally pumped.
You start out, full of hope, dreams, unicorns and puppy dogs that never pee on the carpet. You really want to make a good impression and set yourself up for future success and opportunities, so you work really hard.
It starts with you putting in a couple extra hours — you want to impress the boss, and definitely don’t want to arrive at work after she does (or leave before she does, either). So you make a habit of showing up early.
Or maybe the boss asked if you had the bandwidth to take on one more teeny project on your plate. It really doesn’t seem like it should take more than about 3-4 hours a week, so you figure you can squeeze out those hours somehow, so you say Yes and start the next project.
Or perhaps you were in a big meeting with a person who leads the department, and he called you “kid” or “honey” in front of the team. Or in private. Or in an email. And while the hair on the back of your neck stood up, you stayed silent. Because he’s the boss. Right?
And then, as weeks go by, you start to notice that what you thought was your Dream Come True job is actually starting to feel like your nightmare.
You’re tired. You’re not thrilled to get out of bed in the morning anymore. You've stopped setting boundaries. You’re resigned to complaining to all your friends, and mentally decide that this job must be like all the others. Until you start looking at job ads, that is, and start seeing some seductive or tantalizing new job postings. “This sounds kind of like what I’ve done, but with a twist. This could be the jolt of adrenaline that my career needs to feel revved up again…”
And then you’re on the hamster wheel of job dissatisfaction, where all jobs end up being terrible and you give up on hope, dreams, unicorns and house trained puppy dogs.
Sounds pretty terrible, doesn’t it?
Before you head down the toilet bowl of despair, I want to tell you the first thing I know to be true: it doesn’t have to be this way.
But the most important thing that I know to be true is: the difference between satisfaction and dissatisfaction in career is often as simple as setting better boundaries to protect yourself.
Boundaries in work can be confusing — because sometimes the idea of setting boundaries sounds like something your parents would lecture you about before you’d go out on a date in high school.
“Remember: no means no, Scottie! Don’t do anything you don’t want to do! Make good choices!!!”
But setting boundaries are a fancy word to say: I have rules I use to teach others how to treat me.
When you have “flexible” boundaries (which usually means boundaries that you don’t enforce…so not real boundaries), there are some clear emotional warning signs that will let you know when they’ve been violated.
Have you noticed any of these in your work life?
(1) Resentment: defined as to feel bitter or indignant because you feel you have been forced to accept someone or something that you do not like.
If you’re wondering if you’re experiencing resentment, read this story to see if any parts of it resonate with you:
Amy was pumped to get the chance to try something new and start writing marketing materials for her boss. She was excited about being offered the experience that without stopping to talk about the effect that adding another project to her plate would have on her stress and time management, she raised her hand and said Yes to write weekly blog posts for her company.
Only a few weeks in, she was feeling overwhelmed by how much she was learning, and started feeling exhausted by completing all her prior job tasks as well as expending 10 hours a week to do the new blog posts. Because she didn’t want to let anyone down, she started compromising on her other values to get it done, canceling after-work plans with friends and missing workouts. She hadn’t realized that by agreeing to take on something new (and wanting to show her enthusiasm), she ended up overstepping her boundary on the total number of hours she was willing to work, and soon started to become bitter about the project.
Despite being annoyed that the work was taking so much time, instead of talking to her boss to re-negotiate her workload, she started directing that anger at herself, being frustrated that she didn’t pick up the new skill fast enough and wasn’t good enough at writing strong copy quickly. But she reached a breaking point, and Amy talked to her boss about the issue. Rather than helping her change her projects around to solve it, her boss held her to her original commitment to complete the work, wasn’t flexible, and asked her how she could get more creative to make it all work.
If any of Amy’s story feels familiar to you, you’ve experienced workplace resentment.
Resentment is tricky because it often shows up when you’ve ceded away your personal power by agreeing to (or not agreeing to) something that you wanted. This can often happen when you accidentally traded what you wanted in the short term for what matters most in the long term.
However, that often means that resentment is something that you can partially or fully reverse with setting stronger boundaries with your boss or coworkers upfront.
(2) Guilt: defined as a feeling of worry or unhappiness caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong.
Guilt can show up in your work life when you’ve overcommitted yourself, under-delivered on a project, or perceiving that through your contribution (or lack of contribution), you’ve let someone down.
Note that guilt isn’t the same as shame. As Dr. Brene Brown aptly points out in her most recent TED Talk discussing her research on shame:
“Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior.
Shame is, ‘I am bad.’
Guilt is, ‘I did something bad.’”
“Guilt: I'm sorry. I made a mistake.
Shame: I'm sorry. I am a mistake.”
“Shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders…Guilt is inversely correlated with those things. The ability to hold something we've done, or failed to do, up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It's uncomfortable, but it's adaptive.”
That idea — holding up your behavior against who you wanted to be in that moment — is exactly where you can see where a boundary was missing or broken or needed to help you be at your best. From seeing how you wish things had played out instead, you can visualize new opportunities to say “no” to the extra task, or negotiate for a longer deadline, or request help.
(3) Anger: defined as a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility that makes you want to hurt someone or be unpleasant because of something unfair or unkind that has happened
Anger will often manifest itself in this way: Rebecca was working at a job that would look like anybody else’s dream job fighting to protect minority rights on Capitol Hill. She was in a meeting with her supervisor and most of her colleagues when the tone of the meeting’s conversation started to shift to be a bit more informal. Her supervisor might have thought he was making jokes and breaking the ice, but he attempted to do it by making repeated comments about her appearance in front of the whole team, including referring to her as a “girl” and as “sweetheart.” She was trapped in a public venue with this person who wielded a lot of power, and felt she had no recourse to protect or defend herself from his sexist, inappropriate comments. Despite trying to redirect the conversation unsuccessfully, he continued with his misogynistic comments and she started fuming, shut down her contributions in the meeting, and had a firey rage burning inside of her by the end of the meeting.
If you’re angry, the chances are good that you’re sensing or experiencing an injustice. It could be something like having been looked over for a promotion or new project, or seeing people (including yourself) being treated in a way that’s out of alignment with your values.
Anger can be an incredibly motivational emotion to use as momentum to make a change, so it’s a great place to start with setting a new boundary, whether directly and explicitly with your boss or colleagues, or indirectly through your behavior.
Tell us in the comments: have you noticed any of these “red flag” emotions in your work that are a signal it’s time to draw new or different boundaries in your life? What kind of tools and techniques did you learn from the podcast episode? How do you need to teach people to treat you?
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Relevant Links and Resources:
Learn more about Melody at MelodyWilding.com
Follow Melody on Twitter here.
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Transcript from Episode
Scott Barlow: Welcome back to Happen to Your Career. I am so ridiculously excited to be here because of our guest. I have a ton of respect for her based on how she approaches the world and we have a ton of common interests. I think you will find the same thing. Welcome Melody, how are you?
Melody Wilding: Very good Scott. Thank you for having me.
Scott Barlow: Absolutely. Before we hit the record button I told you there were a few topics I was excited to get into because you have such expertise and affinity particularly around boundaries and working with introverts. We will get into all of that. I’m so curious about your story. My team and I have done some research and I think you have an interesting story. I want to talk about that first. How do you describe what you do now? I think you do a plethora of things. How do you tell people what you do these days?
Melody Wilding: That elevator pitch has been a work in progress over time which is a good sign because it means we are all evolving all the time and we get a little better at describing what we do. I’m working to hit that sweet spot. In short I’m a coach and a social worker. What makes me come alive is working with ambitious high achieving individuals and helping them manage the emotional and psychological aspects of having a successful career.
Scott Barlow: The emotional and psychological aspects. I feel like we could have a 17 hour conversation just on those two pieces and that may not be enough time. Where did that start for you? You haven’t done it forever. It doesn’t seem like there are many licensed therapists that are also coaches out there in the world. Is that true or am I misperceiving that?
Melody Wilding: I think something that has been interesting to see is that recently, definitely in the past two years or so we are starting to see this change in a good way toward companies and traditional executive coaches and leadership experts starting to talk about well-being, psychological and emotional, at work. I think that is because – as my story is one of burnout and misalignment with my career over time that led me to make these major shifts and see how some of these factors we may talk about in counseling around self-worth and identity, boundaries, relationships, how it all manifests at work because we spend like 70% or 80% of our time daily at our careers. Whether going into an office or working on our businesses. It’s such a huge part of our lives. It’s not something to be shamed. We are starting to see shaming of the hustle, don’t work so hard, and take care of yourself. Those are positive messages. But personally I’ve been driven by value and strength of ambition and discipline. We can get into my story because that is a huge blueprint of how I came to approach the world in this way. I’m happy to share that.
Scott Barlow: Where does this type of interest come from particularly the parts around ambition and the psychological aspects? I’m guessing, I may be wrong, you didn’t roll out of the womb, and say yes psychology!
Melody Wilding: A little bit actually. I’m a natural empath. Hopefully a lot of others may identify with being someone who senses the world differently. I could always pick up on dynamics happening around me without people saying anything. You can call it intuition or gut feelings whatever you want. I’m a high empath. I think it stems from growing up in a family of entrepreneurs. My family growing up owned a series of their own businesses. That is how I got my name. They were involved in the music business. It all comes together. I think that was really the blueprint of how I came to approach life and work through that lens.
When you grow up in a family of entrepreneurs, until I was about school age, about your children’s age, I didn’t realize people went to an office and went to work and came home at 5. Okay honey, I’m home from work drop of the briefcase. I never had a sense of that until I got into school and my friends parents could pick them up from activities. On holidays they weren’t at the family store working all those hours. The plus side is I had amazing models for work ethic and what it meant to build a business and company that was meaningful and successful and do things that personally mattered. My parents did that because they cared about their business. Even know in retirement they choose to work and volunteer. Having that modeling growing up I naturally loved working.
The downside was I was very attuned to how enmeshed our lives and relationship as a family was with the business. The sacrifices that came with that. Like with holidays you were working until all hours of the night. I understood my family couldn’t always be there at important events for me. It might sound sad but I respected and admire them because they were working toward a better life for us as a family. They were showing me a different option or way of doing things that didn’t have to be what everyone else was doing.
Scott Barlow: This is fascinating. This is where my head is right now. You saying as I was growing up this is my impression of the world. We were talking about my kid’s ages. I am conscious of that and my wife and I discuss what type of world we are creating for our kids. Part of how we got to this business currently is I wanted to be involved in those little things on an ongoing basis. I was fortunate when I worked in the corporate world I was able to participate in the big things as well like plays and soccer matches. Ironically I have found too that entrepreneurship can enable other areas. It’s an interesting combination of what you mentioned growing up having that representation of being able to do things and focus on things that personally matter and your parents. I’m curious, after you got to experience that, how did that begin to shape you as you went to college and other areas of life? What happened?
Melody Wilding: Sure and to put a bow on the way entrepreneurship and that background can shape you, personally I feel it brought me that much closer to my parents. We were a tight knit team. Entrepreneurship teaches you you can deal with uncertainty and conflict that is the essence of gaining confidence and resiliency. I can see that framework and lens I come from saying that if something isn’t working in my career I can get through this. I’m a resourceful person and I can make something work. I’m starting to see how other people in my life without that background don’t trust themselves in that way. I see it as a tremendous gift. It started to shape me because I saw firsthand this intersection of psychology and work and life and saw how intertwined all of it was together. If things weren’t going so great it could bring up conflict at home.
We carry things, life affects work and work affects life. Sometimes you bring things to work and you may act out. Anger and frustrations in certain ways. I became so curious and fascinated by human behavior in general. Why we make the choices we do and do what we do. I am a curious people person in that way which drove me to psychology. I studied how we form memories and interpretations of ourselves and our lives and what meaning we take or make from those things. I think that pervades so many areas of our life. How are you choosing to define what this situation is going to mean for you and how you will let it shape you and who you will become. For career changers that is a huge thing.
I followed that path all through school, worked at research laboratory, ran a research laboratory for many years, and then the empath in me wanted to deal more with people on a direct basis. They say you teach what you most need to know. For me being a naturally ambitious person with that background where I was your typical overachiever. Someone that had to be the straight A student, a perfectionist, type A. That achievement mindset followed me into school and as I began to get into my career, the first few years I saw how the flip side of that strength started to come out in terms of I had outsourced my self-esteem, validation, and self-worth as to what I accomplished, did people approve of me, did I do a great job. I got so wrapped up in that and lost some of my autonomy. That freedom and independence I valued growing up that my parents had created. I needed to function, I put myself in situations where that was stifled out of me and had to go out a difficult process of learning my own boundaries, strengths, and qualities and what I really wanted out of my life and career and reverse engineering that into the business and life I have today.
Scott Barlow: Melody do you remember what event or set of events caused you to begin to realize that?
Melody Wilding: Absolutely. The moment sticks in my mind and I can still feel the misery of it. Let me take you back there. I say this with my clients as well, if you are someone who is a rule follower, a successful person, we are brought up in these systems and taught if you do the right things, do well in school, pick the right major, follow all these steps then you will be happy. The world doesn’t work like that. It’s like this big insight that hits you. I felt like I had done everything right and ticked all the boxes. Went to skill, got my undergrad degree, top of my class, and got my masters, ready to conquer the world. This was right after the recession and recovery process. The job market wasn’t great. I took a job with a salary that was less than I could live and commute on. I was commuting back and forth to New York City two hours, each day, to a job that was not a fit for me at all. It was a small environment in a room with three other people, not a lot of autonomy, but I intellectualized it away instead of listening to what I knew about myself – that I needed a high degree of being self-directed in my work. If you tell me to do something just give me a high level of what you need and I’ll take the ball and make things happen. I’m sure you can relate.
Scott Barlow: We like to make things happen around here.
Melody Wilding: Hence the name, makes sense now. I had this moment one day commuting. I had always had this entrepreneurial bug deep within me. I was listening to podcasts and taking in information about how to be your own boss, create a life of freedom, and do your own thing. Here I was literally trapped on this bus in between two gigantic men. I’m this smaller women in between with this podcast in my ears taking in this information and doing nothing with it. I sat there and was so tired and miserable, getting up every morning at 4 to get into the city on time with traffic. I was giving my life, time, power, and energy away. I sat there and was so burnt out – physically, mentally, emotionally. A hair-trigger event could set me off. One piece of bad feedback, a surprise email. I was so low anything could send me into that tailspin. Sitting there on the bus was the perfect encapsulating moment of feeling trapped. That was my lightbulb moment of saying this is not who I am and that person deep down, that kid that was ambitious filled with hope and positivity and being so excited about the world ahead of me spoke up and said this is no longer acceptable. You have to start making changes. I did, I had to look at all the ways I had let my identity, power and self-worth get wrapped up in someone else approving of me. My boss or sending someone my work, I had become so dependent on my work to make me feel good that I sacrificed everything else. My friendships, relationships, my body. I had to make changes.
Scott Barlow: What were some of the first things you did? You made that realization which is powerful but what happened next? What were some of the first steps?
Melody Wilding: At the time I was one of those people that walked in and quit my job. It was not a fit for me. It was difficult because I prided myself in never giving up on anything. It’s that people pleaser tendency which a lot of people contend with. You may feel desperate for work or income that you will sacrifice your priorities, values and take a job that may not be the greatest fit for your personality for the vision you have for yourself. You get yourself into a situation where you wonder why I agreed to this and it’s hard to get out of. I had to take a hard look at what I needed to say no to and what to say yes to. That was leaving a role that wasn’t the right fit.
Scott Barlow: Was it the same job you were just talking about with the three other people?
Melody Wilding: Yes.
Scott Barlow: I’m curious, was that your reality at that point in time did you have a healthy amount of cash stocked away or did you realize it was more important and you will figure out the other pieces to be respectful to yourself. What was the context?
Melody Wilding: I laugh a little bit. Because at the time I had an exorbitant amount of student loans facing me down. It was a little scary. I didn’t have your typical six month emergency fund in the bank. I had some. What was smart is I had enough living income coming in on the side because of the clients I was working with building my business in the early stages. I was okay to make that shift. That is where as soon as I realized what I needed to say no to and see what was working better for me. Working with clients, writing, coaching, that is where it started to click. Double down on the things giving me energy that I enjoyed doing that fit my vision for myself. That was a work in progress too. It goes back to the entrepreneurial thing where I felt like I didn’t fit into any box really nicely. I wasn’t the person who knew they wanted to be a doctor, engineer, or a lawyer. I was always that multi-passionate person who wanted to do a little bit of everything. The flipside of that is you never quite fit into one box. It’s hard to describe yourself sometimes. That ended up being my best career security. I could be diversified and not dependent on one income stream or area of my career to give me everything I needed.
Scott Barlow: That clearly made it much more doable for you as well. At least, there always seems to be a couple different pieces to that when making big life decisions. It seems like there is the perception of it which can be driven to decision through fear or manifesting alternative possibilities of what can happen and then there is the reality of it which actually makes things easier or difficult based on the decision. What was that like for you?
Melody Wilding: I think you bring up a good point. Change happens in stages. We know from research and understanding of how we approach change is you go through various stages, pre-contemplation, contemplation and eventually action. It’s an evolution of getting to that point and saying I’m ready to take action. You have to put different pieces in place, logistically, financially and making sure you are secure, health insurance moves, and psychologically. The mindset piece of anticipating. I work with a lot of clients that come to me at the point of burnout realizing they can’t go on where they are and need a change. It can be freeing to say I’m going to leave this job and finally going to take action on these things I said I wanted to do with my career. It’s important to anticipate it won’t be a big magic bullet from the outset.
For me I have self-doubt and imposter syndrome of who am I to think I deserve something better to leave this behind and say no. The self-doubt of will I make it. Knowing and anticipating that when you make a big leap into uncertainty all those fears will come to the surface. I love to encourage my clients that if you can expect it and learn to roll with it and see it as a sign you are growing and that is why it is flaring up and this is another opportunity to prove to yourself that you can do this that will be tremendously valuable no matter the outcome. Going through this process you develop resiliency and the core trust that no matter what happens you will get through it.
Scott Barlow: Interesting. I’m interested in your experience working with clients, particularly around how people are in making the decisions but also thinking of moving into new life situations. How they are taking those areas they realize they aren’t respecting themselves in and turning them into boundaries to do so moving forward. I’m fascinated and know it’s a big part of your world. What needs to be in place for that to happen?
Melody Wilding: It’s a great and huge question. It’s so personalized for so many people. I think what it comes down to, I mentioned before we started, I see the world through boundaries. What I mean is the rules and limits and practices we set up and approach the world from. In terms of what needs to be in place when thinking of a career change. I see people that come at the point of being completely depleted. So burnt out that they know they need to change but physically, mentally or emotionally don’t have the energy to do that. It’s important to realize if you find yourself there to ask if it’s a physical burn-out; can it be cured with sleep or vacation?
More often than not it is an emotional burnout where you have leaky boundaries or enmeshment, which I mentioned before, we let other people steamroll our needs, desires, self-respect and we don’t communicate those things. We aren’t assertive or speak up when we don’t feel like something is our responsibility. We do not push back out of fear of rejection or worst case scenario I’ll be fired and broke on the street or imposter syndrome of who am I to think I can speak up or express my opinion.
I tell my clients to look for areas where they have found three different emotions that can be triggers to see where you need to repair those boundaries. This is important for career change because if you don’t do this upfront and plug up these areas you will just recreate it in your next job whether it’s your own business or something else. You will recreate those dynamics.
Let’s say you are an entrepreneur and you are a people pleaser and have boundaries of agreeing too much and taking on too much you will work thirteen hour days and take on clients that aren’t the best fit. If you do go full-time you may find a boss that expects you to be a workaholic like them.
I tell people to look for these three emotions: resentment, guilt, and anger. Start to think about where those three things come up for you in different situations, with certain people, or certain aspects of your work. Those are three good emotional compasses to look for where you might have boundary issues that need taken care of.
Scott Barlow: Once I find and realize I have resentment here that keeps popping up or I’m experiencing guilt what do I do from there? What is an example of someone you have worked with and how did they work through it? What do they do next with that?
Melody Wilding: That is a great question. I think it comes down to looking, instead of beating yourself up, saying I should have done this and that. I hear a lot of people saying they need to get better at pushing back when my boss tells me to do something I don’t want to do. Reframe it to see it as an opportunity of where can you start being more assertive and happen to your career. Make them a reality. Enforce limits where you need. What does that look like? Let’s say you are running your own business. That might be defining what clients you work with and who you don’t. Who is that ideal client? If you try to be everything you end up being nothing. That is where boundaries and defining your limits come in. What type of people do you work with, and what do you charge, and saying no to clients that might not be the best fit. I you say yes they will be a drain on your energy and you will be resentful. It helps you do your best work if you define that.
Scott Barlow: A quick comment on that. I have found that decision to be one of the hardest and most valuable decision I’ve made in my business. Not looking at it as entrepreneur versus employee, but as being in control of your life and who you work with because that crosses over whether I’m working with someone paying me a paycheck or creating my own. Deciding who to bring into your life or not has been ridiculously profitable and makes me a happier person. We’ve turned down well over $100,000 in business that I can recall from saying no to people that we weren’t the right fit for. They were ready to pay but we’ve found we have more fun and saying yes to one of those people takes up a space for someone else that is a great fit; that we have more fun working with. It’s been a ridiculous amount of help in our business. Even before that I can attest working with the right people even when I didn’t have my own business was one of the best decisions in the last twelve years. I’m trying to validate everything you’ve said.
Melody Wilding: It’s tough because today there is something I call opportunity FOMO. It’s very real. It’s this sense there is always something more to do, another opportunity, networking event, another client to work with. Having that self-respect and understanding and being frank with yourself. It takes a lot of self-awareness and honesty to say, “This is who I am, and this is who I work with” and being able to say no. It’s not an easy task.
Scott Barlow: It’s been very profitable, though it’s counterintuitive. It has made our world more fun and I believe the people we work with more fun too.
Melody Wilding: Going back to what I was talking about earlier, especially for empaths or people on the sensitive scale, this idea of watching what brings you energy versus what takes it away and being very protective of that to preserve it because if you don’t the world will steamroll it. The biggest example I use is your inbox. Look at it. You are bombarded with other people’s agendas and them trying to get your attention. If you don’t protect that all bets are off. That is one of the biggest parts of finding happiness and meaning in work. I truly believe. Having that sense of personal agency and choice is so important and rewarding.
Scott Barlow: Instead of the cliché phrase, happy wife, happy life. Happy inbox, happy life. That is so interesting. I remember being very ruled by my inbox about 8 -10 years ago. Feeling the need to respond right away. If I fast forward, working on training my co-workers to not expect a response in two hours or something along those lines and ultimately shifting from inbox zero to what is most important. That is along the lines of what you are talking about. That was a major happiness shift. I’m curious what else do you mean?
Melody Wilding: I like to say you teach people how to treat you. You teach them through your boundaries and action. That is what you did by saying this is how I’m going to set rules and limits with my inbox and you communicated your needs and what would be happening in a respectful but straightforward way and not tentatively. I see that as well. I have clients who have some degree of flexibility in their role. They want to step out and take a doctor’s appointment or take a fitness class during the day and there is that internal crisis moment that is self-generated. What are people going to think of me, how I leave my inbox that long, people expect me to get back to them quickly? We’ve set up that dynamic. It’s up to us, I encourage people to see what power and agency, what level do you have in this process.
For example, I worked with a client who had people grabbing time in her calendar and popping into her office or pinging her on Slack. It’s up to us to manage those inputs and put in place some of these rules. I’ll be available these hours of the day if you have a question come find me. Be open and welcoming but expressing what you need to get your work and feel happy doing that. People don’t take ownership like you did that it’s okay and communicating it in a way that is self-respectful and assertive. Saying do you think that you could not maybe schedule meetings at that time because I would appreciate it rather than punting the ball forward and saying I’m only available Mondays and Wednesdays. For me it’s saying I take calls on these days and here are some times I have open, find what works best for you. It’s proactive and friendly but instead of focusing on a deficit of not being available you are focusing on the next positive step. That is an example, on a small scale of a boundary in action.
Scott Barlow: That best training on boundaries in my entire life was when I worked for target in HR; nowhere near the customer service desk. For many positions you go train in all the areas to get an idea of what people are experiencing. Working the customer service returns desk and being forced to say no without actually saying no and turning a terrible potential experience to a positive experience was one of the most useful things in creating boundaries in other areas of my life. As weird as that is to say.
Melody Wilding: I’m curious to hear what worked.
Scott Barlow: When I think, you have a ton of experience so I’m curious what you have seen, when I think back to when I’ve had to draw the line and create boundaries and do so in a way that allowed people to feel not perfect, but good and improve a relationship instead of tearing it apart, it’s always been about how to communicate my needs and agenda without stomping on theirs and crushing it and throwing it back in their face. It’s been a lot about saying no without actually saying no. Does that make sense?
Melody Wilding: It does. I think there is a misconception that boundaries have to be a mean thing. No is a full sentence. You can just say no. That is important for people like myself that are people pleasers and overachievers. You want to explain every reason and justification as to why it makes sense and why you are doing it. You can just say no or not right now and that is fine. It comes down to clarity and trying to understand, especially in customer service, to tune in and use your empathy to understand people and their needs and find what the person really wants out of the interaction and can we find a mutually beneficial solution. Coming at it to collaborate instead of being defensive.
I know I used the word self-protection which it’s important to protect your own energy in that interaction but you don’t have to be mean or defensive just be attuned to your limits and finding the middle ground of not sacrificing yourself and also not being cold and turning yourself off to people. There is such a thing as healthy dependence. I talk about communicating with the people in your life especially when you are entrepreneur because life and work mix so strongly. Everyone is so busy today and it’s wonderful to find pride and joy in your work but it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. You may have to say no to your spouse and friends and keeping that communication open and going is another way of exercising healthy boundaries. I’d love to hear if you have any insights about that.
Scott Barlow: I was running over my past quickly, as you were talking and I very much feel like Alyssa, my wife, and I have been through a couple businesses, and interesting I say been through, because there is that experience that it is a very integrated life experience. Neither of us have been good with boundaries until recently, like the last year or two. We’ve gotten to the point where we both feel comfortable with being able to say I need an extra two hours because this is an important project that will impact the business in this way and that means I won’t be available until 7 pm. Being comfortable with that. We’ve had the discussion many times where we want the best thing for the other person and are willing to bend over backwards but we sabotage those efforts. I’d think I’m not being available to her or my kids and I just need to push harder and end up still needing the two hours. Rather as soon as knowing it, being clear and communicating its importance. As it turns out that is all we want from each other is that communication and respect to be blatantly upfront even though it’s hard and there is fear. I feel like it’s been recently that we have gotten more comfortable.
Melody Wilding: I think you bring up an important part that other people around you whether it’s your boss, partner, or clients they can’t read your mind. We forget it because we get caught up in internal drama. We escalate our own expectations of ourselves and let that trip us up instead of doing what you did of cutting right to the chase and talk about it instead of letting it become a monster in your head gaining a life of its own. It’s a work in progress. As your needs and priorities change so do the types of boundaries and balance you will need. Having that baseline understanding is so important.
Scott Barlow: Bringing this back around with those feelings you said to look for. That was a place where I was often the one needing more time to work, I was experiencing guilt and vice versa Alyssa felt resentment because I wouldn’t communicate and that is what she wanted. Those are perfect examples of where those feelings would crop up and we would ignore it and just tolerate through. That wasn’t fun or healthy.
Melody Wilding: Sure and that importance to, which has come up in my own relationship. We have worked on it. My boyfriend is one of those people that habitually underestimated the amount of time things would take him. I had to realize to check my reaction, to own my reaction, and realize it was coming from a place of me feeling like I wasn’t good enough or valuable enough for him to pay attention to and it fed into my insecurities. It came down to a practical matter of sometimes all it takes is adding, if you know that tendency to overschedule, add some buffer time to each task. Add 20 minutes longer than you think it will take if you tend to estimate unrealistically. Communicate early and often. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s so much better to let someone know. The core tenet of boundaries is to enforce them in the moment rather than letting it stew because it turns into a bigger messier problem. Knowing your own triggers and being able to spot them.
Scott Barlow: What is an example of someone you have worked with or in your life where they have been able to successfully navigate boundaries and had to have more or one conversation to do that? What did it look like?
Melody Wilding: One that may be helpful for the audience. I’ve worked with a lot of clients who find themselves at a career crossroads. They like their job but it's ehh. It’s not doing it for them. They have taken all the right steps and followed the progression to get this good job that from the outside is a good job with a good salary but they still aren’t happy. Examining the environment, and the tasks, and going through the process, energetically what gives them energy and what takes it away? It could be certain people or the office environment. It may become one of their must haves in their next roles. Being in an environment where they can brainstorm with their team. I’ve had clients like that who have worked as an independent contributor with no collaboration or creativity but once they realize it gives them restorative energy, knowing yourself, if you are an empath and you need space to recharge during the day and throw yourself into creative projects and get deep focus, you aren’t in an environment where there are meetings draining you throughout the day it’s important to know that. Those are important boundaries. You need to build that structure. Reverse engineer that into your next role.
Scott Barlow: What is an example of someone you’ve worked with who has that situation?
Melody Wilding: I recently worked with client, she recently graduated, high achiever, ticked all the boxes and fell into doing administrative type marketing work and it was great job that paid well, which she had student loans. Logically it made sense but inside and to her she was wasting away. She felt burnt out, depressed, and unhappy. She would beat herself up that she should be happy. It’s not that bad, I can deal with this. Going through this work and realizing and look at what she feel guilty, resentful, or annoyed about in her work. She really wanted to be in an environment with direct mentoring and working on creative projects and more input into the strategy rather than just execution. That is very different. She had to figure out and prioritize what was most important to her and her own goals. She hadn’t taken ownership that she wanted to pivot into a different field. She was working in manufacturing and she wanted to be more in a mission, cause-oriented organization. Not necessarily a nonprofit because she realized the income cap. She wanted to have upward advancement for salary, but getting honest about all of that was important.
I have other clients, one I’m working with has been in a corporate environment, traditional, for many years but wants more flexibility, autonomy and self-direction over her work. She is going through a similar process as me with how can she run small experiments on the side to verify if she will enjoy running her own business or will she face things she doesn’t like still like invoicing and dealing with servicing clients. We are testing that. I think it comes down to self-awareness and knowing your own priorities and goals.
Scott Barlow: Very cool. Speaking of boundaries I just realized we have spent well over an hour. I want to be respectful of your time. Do you have another couple minutes? I have a couple more questions. I so appreciate it. I’m super curious, once people have identified these pieces in their lives that are important to them and realize they are experiencing guilt or resentment and realize they need a boundary there and need to have a conversation, we talked a little about that conversation, but how do you advise people thinking about that piece and what that conversation should look like? I know at times it’s not always the case that you draw boundaries and have conversations but it seems like some of the biggest ones often need to have conversation. What is your experience?
Melody Wilding: It’s a great question. It depends. Some of it is internal work of realizing how you have to change yourself especially when it comes down to your schedule or space, physical or logistical boundaries. Carving out time in your schedule if you are someone who needs that self-reflection or need more self-care. No one can make that happen for you. You have to carve it out. There is that piece and the internal control you have over it. Like you said our lives are intertwined, other people are involved. I worked recently with a client where she was an engineer and doing a lot of data analysis and not something she enjoyed. She found herself getting distracted when opening up documents because the frustration would well up. She’d throw her hands up and say I want to quit I hate all of this. We had to work hard to regulate that back down and give strategies to work with those emotions when they came up. Work with those thoughts.
Scott Barlow: What was one of those strategies?
Melody Wilding: Monitoring the triggers and her own inner dialogue because she was beating herself up because she was letting it mean that because she didn’t like this type of work that she wasn’t good enough. They aren’t the same thing. She was trying to force herself and barrel through. If I work harder, as long as I’m good at everything, I’ll be happy. That is a false equivalence. Her realizing that and it took having a conversation with her manager and coming to the table with a plan, being proactive, to say this is what I’m working on right now but I enjoy doing this other work. For her it was dealing more with clients and strategy and project management type work than just data crunching and analysis which fed her logical and engineering side but she had this great coaching, building relationship strength that wasn’t getting fed. It took having a conversation with her manager that worked with her to give her opportunities. Everyone will have a different application in what it looks like. There is a saying, your life grows in proportion to the number of difficult conversations you are willing to have.
Scott Barlow: I love that saying. You are the only other person that I’ve met that has quoted that.
Melody Wilding: I think Tim Ferriss has said it. I want to give credit where it’s due. It’s such a confidence builder to realize you can have this conversation. You may build it up with all the bad things they will say, and what they will think about you, and they may reject you. But then you realize that getting it out they are is a sense of relief and to realize that you will be fine, you won’t die, and you will get through it and things will probably be better because you have gotten it off your chest and no matter what it will lead to a more productive conversation for yourself. That can be freeing for people. You mentioned that biggest shift that happens that I see with my clients again and again is this sense of feeling like you are in control. Not in a desperate way where it’s over control and perfectionism and holding tight to everything but that sense of calmness that you’ve got this. Rather than everything happening to you.
Scott Barlow: I love that. It’s part of how our company came to be for people to take control in areas where they don’t feel like they have any. That is several wonderful examples. Thanks for sharing that. I’m so appreciative that you have given me extra time today. For people that need more Melody, where can they get more?
Melody Wilding: They can find me at melodywilding.com. On there I have a free course that people can go through that touches on a lot of the points we’ve talked about today but mainly around managing these messy feelings of self-doubt and how to become more confident which goes back to boundaries and being more assertive for your wants and needs and your vision for yourself so people can check that out to.
Scott Barlow: Melody I so appreciate the time and extra time and all the valuable insight and for sharing your story. Thank you for much.
Melody Wilding: It was my pleasure, Scott. Thanks for having me.
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