The scenario

Joan has been working practically non-stop for the last six months leading a special team project at her company and the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight. She has sacrificed much of her regular personal routine and self-care during this time and is ready to reward herself with a yoga retreat this weekend.

Friday morning arrives and Joan walks into the wrap-up meeting with the rest of the team. Once there what she finds is not what she expects. Her direct boss, Sue, reports a snag in the finalization of the project – one that will require five to seven hours of additional work on Saturday. “Is there a volunteer?” The room goes silent; Joan’s heart drops into her stomach as she feels Sue’s eyes on her. Suddenly, Joan’s knee jerk reaction kicks in: “Sure – I will.”

Can you relate? Has this ever happened to you?

Before you answer “No way – not me”, think twice. It may not be a mirror image of Joan’s work situation, however chances are that you have had such a knee-jerk reaction more than once which left you feeling discouraged, disappointed and less than enthusiastic about what you just agreed to do. It’s the syndrome of many high-achievers, aka, Superheroes. We think our capes are bulletproof; we are impervious to burnout.


So what gives? How can burnout be prevented?

The hole in superwoman’s (or superman’s) cape has more to do with our own poor choices in sabotaging our most important commitment – the commitment to our self-care. You may not like what you are about to read but as an executive coach for 12 years, I can practically guarantee that violations around self-care are directly linked to boundary issues – specifically, a lack thereof.

A boundary is defined as something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent. Think of a fence between your house and your neighbor’s. But what happens to our boundaries when they aren’t so visible? It becomes our responsibility to inform others of where we draw our own personal lines, or limits.

I do realize that there are many times when we all make good and healthy choices that support our values and commitments. When we volunteer to step up to the plate realizing something else will have to be put on a temporary hold. But in these situations, our disappointment is followed by a quick recovery of positive reasoning: “I consciously chose this. I feel good about agreeing.” In those times that we don’t stand up for ourselves or when the exception becomes a pattern, what can we do differently?

What you don’t want to do is further beat yourself up by labeling your character a “doormat, wuss, weak-willed, or not strong enough to stand up to others’ requests.”

My point is: You do not have to change your character to enact your boundaries. Instead, modify your behaviors to integrate your boundaries. The holes in your cape, metaphorically speaking, are mendable. Your ability to self-control by championing your own wants and needs and behaving accordingly are what boundaries seek to do. When you don’t know what you want or need in the moment, it’s real hard to draw the line with others, have boundaries and take care of yourself.

Remember, no one will ever set a boundary for you; it is up to you to empower yourself by drawing and defending your own. Realize that you are 100% responsible for your own life and self-care. Here’s how:

Part of that responsibility is to absolutely, unequivocally know your own boundaries. Working with a seasoned coach can make you aware of your “power drains.” Building self-awareness around where your energy leaks occur is paramount in establishing a self-care routine. When establishing your boundaries, here are three questions to reflect on:

  1. “What is the boundary I must set for myself to live a balanced life?”
  2. “What self-care routine am I committed to having in my life?”
  3. “What has to happen for me to set clear boundaries?”

Remember that in each moment you have a choice. Having boundaries is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. A very effective reminder in choosing to have and act on your boundaries is “The Pause.” Before knee-jerk reacting, stay silent by counting to ten for a moment, go inside and ask “Is this in my best interest?” Pause first, think and reflect, and then answer.

In my own experience, boundary-work continues to produce healthy dividends in our self-care. It has even added ease in relationships where once there was none!

In Aspire Higher, my women’s leadership development group coaching program, we focus on building boundaries in order to lead more effective and successful careers and lives. But a lack of self-care is not gender-driven. I coach many males on developing boundary-awareness, including the ability to assert for what they want when it comes to work-life balance.

By: Amy L Robinson, Performance Leadership Consulting and Executive Coaching
For more information on Amy, her executive coaching services, and the Aspire Higher program, visit

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