This one’s a little personal. (I’ll try not to get too serious though!)
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about boundaries. As I’ve mentioned before, finding balance is essential in life. Extremes, generally speaking, are not good. However, for whatever reason, it took me a long time to learn this lesson when it came to putting up healthy boundaries in my life.
If you’re like me, you’re probably a bit of an idealist. You, sometimes naively, believe the best in everyone. (Or… almost everyone.) You probably also don’t expect that anyone would take advantage of your idealism, but believe that they will instead appreciate and even reward your passion and dedication. I hate to burst your bubble (really, I do!), but this just isn’t always the case. In fact, from what I’ve experienced and seen, it’s rarely the case.
The following is one example of many in my life of a particular theme playing out. It’s played out over and over again and the only reason I will share this specific example is because this is when I received the wake-up call I so desperately needed (even though I didn’t know it at the time).
A number of years ago, I came upon the opportunity to play a part in a non-profit organization that I was very, very excited about. I believed deeply in the mission of the organization and felt I had found a perfect match between their needs, my gifts and our mutual values. As I began conversations with the organization, they expressed the same excitement. The only problem was that, at the time, they had no budget for an additional position. So, I began to volunteer my time.
It was fine at first. In fact, it was great! I was learning and growing so much as well as doing so much of what I loved that I kept giving more and more of my time. Throughout my experiences, the leadership of the organization kept assuring me that, as soon as they were able to, they would bring me on-board officially and give me a job. They recognized my contributions and acknowledged them both privately and publicly. So, I gave more. And more. I gave until it was taking up the vast majority of my time and I was passing over opportunities for jobs and growth elsewhere. All the while, promises of jobs and salaries came and went from this organization. As time went by, I was giving more, but the appreciation (or even acknowledgment) for what I was giving was waning. Looking back, I can see exactly when I should have moved on. But, of course, I didn’t. I had convinced myself that my efforts would eventually be appreciated and rewarded. Putting myself in the shoes of the organization’s leadership, I thought, “If I had someone as dedicated as I am working toward my vision, I’d do whatever I could to make sure that I could keep that person around and take care of them!” I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t happening for me. And then, the harsh kindness and perspective of an acquaintance changed my path.
Don (that’s what we’ll call him) had been working at the same non-profit organization and was on his way out. He and I had always been friendly, but weren’t particularly close. One day, Don was walking by my desk and asked if he could talk to me. I said, “sure” and we went to a small conference room. After some small talk, Don said something I will never forget.
He looked at me and said, “Matt… I don’t know you very well. But, I see you and I see the gifts you bring to this place. I see how you work so hard and are so dedicated and I also see how frustrated you are that all of that hasn’t been rewarded.” He continued, “Do you remember the really hot girl in high school? The one who had a lot to offer, but ended up offering it to everyone pretty freely?” “Yeah,” I replied. He said, “None of the guys really appreciated what she had to offer because they knew she’d be available when they wanted what she had.” (At this point, Don realized he was going to have to spell it out for me.) He said, “Matt… you’ve got so much to offer, but you’ve kind of become the slut of this place!”
Well, I about fell out of my chair, I was laughing so hard! He had caught me a bit off-guard! After I stopped laughing, I realized that, aside from being possibly my favorite analogy of all time, Don was totally right! I’d given myself away so freely that what I was giving was no longer valued. I had totally and completely devalued myself and my contributions. In the end, Don correctly pointed out that I probably needed a new start somewhere else. (We’ll cover why that was true in another entry.)
This was one of the most memorable and influential moments of my life. On that day, Don’s outside perspective started me down a path that broke a really ugly and repetitive cycle in my life. He made me realize that I absolutely had to establish healthy boundaries if I wanted what I have to offer to be of value to others. My conversation with Don opened my eyes to the fact that it was time for me to move on. (Thanks, Don… You know who you are!)
In many ways, I have nobody to blame for my situation but myself. I allowed myself to be taken advantage of. I wasn’t kidnapped and forced to work against my will. I willingly chose to give myself so freely that there was no value attached to me. I have to take responsibility for that. Since then, I’ve had to find the balance of still being able to be generous toward and passionate about the things I believe in, while also maintaining my worth in my eyes and in the eyes of others. Fortunately, I have amazing people journeying with me to give me the perspective that I need when I begin to lose site of the big picture. In addition, this has caused me to be very careful not to take advantage of the generosity and passion of others. I never want anyone to feel the way I did because of me and work hard to make sure that everyone I work with knows they are valued for their contributions.
What about you? How are your boundaries? Are you being valued for who you are and what you bring to the table? If not, is it possible that, like I was, you are responsible for that? Either way, if the value that you bring is not being appreciated, it might be #Time2MoveOn.