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Mid-year Musing #5: Generative boundaries

boundaries flowgame musing Aug 12, 2019

When I was young, I watched a steady stream of Roadrunner cartoons. Wile E Coyote tried everything to get that roadrunner, but always found himself holding the short end of the stick, or running off the edge of the cliff. I was like that too with my own energetic pattern.

I have a very determined will and I when I can see the end of the task in sight I tend to keep going — even if it’s 3:00 in the morning! It took me a long time to learn that my will is stronger than my body. I would often work myself into tiredness, or worse, illness.

So I began to practice in my mind. I put a neon sign at the edge of the cliff with a big, flashing arrow. Time and again I would notice that arrow as I went flying by. Oops, I did it again!!! It took me a long time to sync up my mind and body and to realise that they were better together (and still colleagues will tell you that I have a great capacity for work when I’m excited about it!).

Recently while playing a Flow Game with women about courageous leadership in Montreal, I had a chance to think about setting boundaries. We were talking about how so many of us have competing priorities — at work, at home, with our partners, children, colleagues, families. These demands stop us from spending time on the most important asset we have — ourselves.

Somehow we always come last on the list. Those attributes that make us so impactful in the world — our empathy, compassion, love, drive to achieve, ability for problem solving, desire to be of service — can also get us in trouble, having us say yes to far too much. We drain the tank so there’s nothing left. We don’t like setting boundaries because it feels like we’re closing the door on opportunity.

What we so often forget is that there are two sides to saying no. It is inherently true that if you say no to something, you are saying yes to something else. I once was housesitting a place with a self-contained studio space across the small garden. A few different friends wanted to move in there. While my head clearly knew that was not a good idea, my heart felt guilty about not sharing the resources I had. As a close friend — who is also a very good coach — said to me at the time: “Make peace with your no.”

During the Flow Game I called this setting generative boundaries. Every living organism has boundaries, otherwise it would have no shape. A cell boundary means it has a perimeter to protect it. That makes the boundary generative. It protects and enhances life.

The biggest question therefore is: what kind of boundary is it? A cell boundary is permeable, meaning it can take nutrients in and expel waste. If it had no boundary it would be overrun or consumed by something else. If a boundary is elastic, or rigid or fragile, it makes a different impact on the organism.

A boundary makes clear what is okay and what’s not. Brené Brown has noted that one of the most surprising results of her research is that the most compassionate people are the most boundaried. Boundaries make generosity possible.

So while you have some time during mid-year, take a moment to reflect. What generative boundaries do you need to have in place? How can your boundaries help protect and enhance your life? How can saying no to something make you an amazing YES to those things you want to give your heart and spirit to?

The world doesn’t need more programs and projects, more goals and striving. It needs people who are a wholehearted yes. Generative boundaries help make your yes a true one.


See Mid-year Musing #4 here. Photo by Calvin Ma on Unsplash

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