I had the good fortune of being invited to speak at the PowHER leadership conference at Arizona State University on October 22nd. What a pleasure to be among over 300 bright, enthusiastic undergraduate women all interested in learning how to access their personal power and walk with confidence towards their futures.
I gave a talk entitled “Own Your Voice”. I spoke with the attendees about the importance of using your kind, powerful voice to speak your own truth. I started by asking if any of them had been taught as a little girls that they should take care of others’ needs before their own; that to take care of their own needs was to be selfish. Nearly every hand in that room went up. My heart sank, but I knew that’s how it would be. That’s the message many of us have been getting taught for centuries and across cultures. It’s not OK. Taking care of others and taking care of ourselves are not mutually exclusive. Taking care of others to the detriment of ourselves is dangerous. It can cost us our health and our well-being.
When we learn to set boundaries, we learn to identify our own needs as separate from the needs of others. In so doing, we can better function in the world. When our boundaries are blurred, the opposite occurs. We lose who we are and we become ineffective.
When I asked the conference attendees why they tended not to set boundaries even at times they knew they should, the common answer was “I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings” and “I don’t want to let others down.” Ironically, when we do not set boundaries and do things we don’t want to do, these exact consequences are more likely to occur. Our relationships suffer. However, when we set limits with compassion and kindness – letting others know how we honestly feel, what we are willing to do and what we are not willing to do – we end up setting realistic expectations so that we don’t hurt others and don’t let them down. “I would love to help you with that, but I am not able to right now.” “I love you too much to argue.” And with that respectful, clear communication our relationships flourish.
Boundaries give us power. They help us stand squarely on our own two feet. They help stop us from giving our power away. They help stop us from blaming others. They help stop us from trying to make others responsible for how we feel. They help stop us from over-giving to others and doing things we do not want to do. Boundaries help us take responsibility for ourselves. They help us define who we are and be the people we want to be. Who do you want to be? When’s the last time you asked yourself that question? How often do you let others define who you are and impact how you feel?
My challenge to you is to answer these questions honestly. Decide who you want to be. Remind yourself that you responsible for how you feel by taking responsibility for your response to the situations you find yourself in. Remind yourself how powerful you are. When we tell ourselves we are powerful, we find the power within us, and we become powerful. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about power over others, I am talking about power over ourselves. When we step into our own personal power we become able to walk in our path and share our unique gifts with the world. Not much feels better and has a bigger impact than when we walk in our own truth. Maybe give it a try and see what I mean?
Those young women at the conference were all on their way to finding their own unique paths. As I looked around the room, my heart smiled brightly as I thought to myself, “This is the future.” No matter where we are on our life’s path, let us all have a hand in creating the future we want to see by using our kind, powerful voices to speak out. That’s how we will right the wrongs. That’s how we will walk into a brighter future for all of us. Will you join me?
Be happy and well,
Sari Roth-Roemer, Ph.D.