decide your boundaries
Photo by Ralph Katieb on Unsplash

Mental Model

You are responsible for your career and life. Everything is your responsibility – what happens to you and what you take action upon. Yes, read that again. Therefore, it becomes critical to know what is yours and what is not yours. Think of your life as a property line – it’s either in or out. There will be people and organizations that may take advantage of you, and control your life when they see opportunities that will benefit them at your expense. If you appear weak, people will prey on your compliance to please, keep the peace and fit in. You will become resentful, live outside your integrity, and may experience other challenges including addictions and depression. Problems in your personal life will negatively impact your career and prevent you from experiencing your full potential. Problems in your work life that bleed into your personal life will influence the quality of your relationships and happiness. A clear set of boundaries will protect you from the unforgiving realities of human behavior, hold you accountable, and reduce conflicts in daily life. Decide your boundaries and communicate them to take ownership of your life. It’s the only way to become free and live this short life on your terms.


Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for give me freedom.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (page 31)

The concept of boundaries is a logical construct. It’s easy to understand why it’s valuable and how it can be used to reduce problems in your work and personal life. When I reflect on many challenging times of my life that often left me feeling out of control and depressed, I could always trace the root cause back to a lack of boundaries or boundaries that I did not enforce. In some cases, it was my own lack of self-discipline that contributed to these challenges or when people or organizations took advantage of my kindness.

You may be wondering why and how is this topic of boundaries relevant to managing a successful and satisfying career. First, and perhaps most obvious, boundaries such as a job description with a clear set of responsibilities set you up for success, delineate where you will spend your time and how you will be evaluated. Second, problems can bleed from our private life into our work life and vice versa. Understand that our brains and hearts have a limited capacity and it’s hard to compartmentalize work from non-work. My experience is that problems in our private life often reduce performance and focus in our jobs. Bringing work problems into our private life such as a work addiction or always being available as a badge of honor will create other problems. It’s often challenging to flick a switch to eliminate thoughts of a challenging situation that may be driving fear and anxiety. Boundaries can help us reduce the likelihood of problems that prevent us from experiencing our full potential at work and home. Think of boundaries as a muscle – building and using them at work and outside of work benefit both aspects of your life.

I experienced a time when my life felt like it was falling apart and heading for a crash landing. Work, family, finances and my spirit were all feeling heavy with anxiety and fear. Using the references below to shape and upgrade my thinking, I reflected on these challenges and it became obvious that the lack of boundaries played a pivotal role in their existence. I proceeded to type out a set of boundary statements in a document for each aspect of my life. The consciousness of these boundaries increased my self-awareness and simplified my decision-making. This is my responsibility…. this is not. This is what I want… this is what I don’t want. This is ok….this is not okay. It’s a straightforward exercise with the high potential to change your life for the better.

Setting boundaries means getting clear on what behaviors are okay and what’s not okay. Integrity is key to this commitment because it’s how we set those boundaries and ultimately hold ourselves and others accountable for respecting them.

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. by Brene’ Brown (page 123)

The Product Analogy

In the software product world, an API (Application Programmable Interface) is an example of the boundary concept. APIs perform specific functions by passing data formatted in a specific way in return for an answer or action. The API is fully responsible for how it performs its functions and you can’t go inside it. That is the API’s responsibility – its boundary. It has a predefined list of functions that serve as contracts (what is OK!) and returns errors when it’s used improperly (what is not OK!). You can view the API functions as boundaries that are fully published in technical documentation. An API can perform these specific operations – this is what is acceptable. This clarity set expectations with engineers on what is possible and not possible by the API.


1 – Learn the Language of Boundaries.

A boundary defines what is me and what is not me.

As life happens, remind yourself that we are responsible to others and for ourselves.

Boundaries clarify what we own and are within our control – our feelings, beliefs, behaviors, choices, values, limits, talents, resources, thoughts, desires, and love.

Use boundaries to keep the good in and the bad out.

Get comfortable saying “no” – back it up with clear consequences.

Don’t say “yes” when inside it’s a “no” – that’s lying.

Write or type a list of boundary statements in the format “IS OK ….” and “IS NOT OK….” (or I will do this, and I will not do that).

2 – Set Boundaries with Yourself.

Embrace the freedom that you are responsible for yourself – not others.

Live below your means to create runway.

Track where and how you spend your time to re-align it with your priorities.

Always say less than necessary.

Stand behind the boundaries you have committed to.

Name the problems in your life and trace their roots to discover your contribution to these challenges.

Commit to self-discipline and the support of trusting relationships to change what is within your control.

Forgive others to release the burden from your heart and soul.

3 – Set Boundaries at Work.

Be clear on what time windows you are available for work.

Turn off email and messaging notifications when you need to focus on deep work.

Start meetings on time, always have a clear agenda, and summarize the next actions before closing.

Document a clear job description of your responsibilities with measurable, tangible outcomes.

Don’t take on responsibilities that are not yours unless there is a conversation on expectations (why, duration, etc.).

Communicate your work boundaries with colleagues to set expectations and control your work style.

Do not share personal issues at work – it’s not only inappropriate but it may be used against you.

Adopt habits that prevent the spillover of work issues and stress into your personal life.

4 – Set Boundaries with Your Partner.

When two become one, retain and protect your individual identity – each person in the relationship has his or her life.

Build intimacy by taking responsibility for your feelings and communicating with love – avoid passive-aggressive behavior.

Understand that you are responsible for your desires, needs, and wants – don’t put these on your partner.

Protect the inner sanctum of your relationship to keep out people, ideas, and values that threaten the bond.

5 – Set Boundaries with Your Family.

Give your kids responsibility – clarify what they are responsible for and what they aren’t.

Allow kids to experience the painful consequences of their own irresponsibility and mistakes – it’s more painful for them to learn when they are grown up.

Respect the private topics and preferences of your immediate family by setting boundaries with your family of origin.

6 – Document and Share Your Boundaries with Others.

Remember that people are not mind readers – don’t assume they know your boundaries.

Write down or type a list of boundary statements – this translates nebulous thoughts into concrete rules that can be enforced.

Keep your boundaries document evergreen by refining it to align with your current needs.

7 – Practice Your Boundaries with Courage and Integrity.

Be proactive and act with assertiveness to live by your boundaries and the treasures within your control.

Start small to grow confidence in enforcing boundaries.

Expect there will be pushback, pain, and guilt – lean into the discomfort, and it too shall pass.

Distance yourself from people and organizations that do not respect and honor your boundaries.

Don’t say “yes” when inside it’s a “no” – this is lying and will make you resentful.

Resist the guilty messages that others use to seduce you into carrying their burdens.

Distance yourself physically or emotionally from those who continue to hurt you – this leads to change or the end of the relationship.

Seek out help from friends and support groups to overcome challenging situations by integrating boundaries into daily life.

Experiment With This

  • Read the Boundaries book and reflect on what problems and issues could have been avoided had you internalized and operationalized your boundaries. Use these insights to document your boundaries and start making the necessary changes.
  • Is the lack of boundaries in your work life in conflict with your values and integrity? If so, what boundaries are needed in your workplace and who will you discuss these with?
  • If you are feeling resentful, what boundary condition was violated? What action will you take to free yourself?
  • Read through your boundaries document weekly to remind yourself of your responsibilities and how you choose to live. It can be something small and subtle that we choose to build delivering on commitments to ourselves. For example, I set a boundary that “it’s not okay to leave dishes in the sink overnight”. It’s so easy to leave a dish or glass in the sink but this boundary drives my behavior. Delivering on small boundaries builds the muscle to deliver on significant boundaries.


Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud blog and newsletter

Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control by Ryan Holiday (Put Up Boundaries, pages 203-208)

Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday (Say No, page 185)

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene’ Brown (pages 123-128, 199-200)

Living BIG, Part 1 of 2 with Brené Brown & Ashley Brown Ruiz (Unlocking podcast)

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brene’ Brown (pages on Resentment, Boundaries)

Connect: Building Exceptional Relationships with Family, Friends, and Colleagues by David Bradford Ph.D., Carole Robin Ph.D. (Chapter 14 – Boundaries and Expectations)

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson (Chapter 8 – The Importance of Saying No)

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene (Law 4 – Always Say Less Than Necessary)

Psychotherapist Terri Cole on Saying No and Setting Healthy Boundaries – Daily Stoic podcast