Mastering Boundaries And Detaching From Work
Welcome back to The Smarter Accountant Podcast. This is the podcast that not only teaches you how to be a smarter accountant, but also how to have a sustainable career if you are an employee and a sustainable business if you are an entrepreneur.
I am Dawn Goldberg, author of “The Smarter Accountant” and a CPA in public accounting for over 30 years. I have the privilege of teaching smart accountants how to work smarter and I have to say that mastering boundaries is one of the most requested topics that clients want to work on.
So, let me start by asking you – have you ever found yourself working late into the night, sacrificing weekends for your job, or feeling the weight of burnout?
Are you struggling to strike a balance between your professional ambitions and your personal well-being?
Do you feel like work constantly spills over into your personal life through emails, notifications, and never-ending to-do lists?
In this episode, I’m going to take a deep dive into a topic that’s essential for anyone striving for accounting career success while maintaining a harmonious personal life: setting boundaries and mastering the art of detaching from work.
In the fast-paced accounting world we live in, where work often spills over into our personal time through emails, notifications, and never-ending to-do lists, finding that delicate balance between professional ambition and personal well-being can feel like an elusive goal.
In this episode, I’m going to discuss boundaries in a way you may have never heard before and I’m going to share the story of Gina and her quest to redefine the boundaries of her career while honoring her personal aspirations.
So, if you’ve ever found yourself juggling work commitments late into the night, sacrificing weekends for the job, or feeling the weight of burnout, this episode is tailor-made for you.
Believe me, I get that boundaries can sometimes seem elusive and confusing. They can be hard to define and even harder to incorporate into our lives.
We’ve all been there, wrestling with questions like, “What exactly is a boundary? When is the right time to set one? And how can I assert myself without feeling like I’m building a fortress around my world?”
In this episode, I’m going to explore the truths behind boundary-setting, the pitfalls of work martyrdom, and most importantly, provide you with actionable insights to empower you on your path to becoming a Smarter Accountant – one who thrives both professionally and personally. Let’s dive in!
Gina’s struggle with boundaries and detachment
In my book, “The Smarter Accountant,” I shared the story of Gina. Gina was a third-generation accountant who carried a legacy of hard work and dedication.
Growing up with the tales of her grandfather’s and father’s achievements in the world of finance, Gina was instilled with a strong work ethic and a drive for success. Honors in college eventually led her to a well-paying job as a tax manager at a local mid-sized firm.
The issue was that Gina faced a number of challenges balancing her family’s revered work ethic with her own aspirations for a fulfilling personal life.
As Gina mentored younger interns and entry-level accountants, she realized the importance of guiding the next generation while acknowledging the toll her work-centric approach was taking on her own well-being. Late nights at the office, constant availability to colleagues and clients, and the pressure to always go the extra mile had become her norm.
With marriage and thoughts of starting a family on the horizon, she began to understand that the boundaries she sets now would profoundly impact her future. She wanted professional success but not at the expense of a fulfilling life outside of work.
She knew that if she didn’t change things now, she would pay the price later. Unfortunately, she was afraid of how others would react once she set a boundary and how that would affect her career.
Obviously, Gina’s dilemma isn’t unique. The truth is that, no matter what stage you are in your career, the struggle to define and establish boundaries can be both challenging and liberating.
Unfortunately, Gina’s story is not unique to accountants; it’s a universal dilemma faced by countless professionals in various fields. It’s a dilemma that brings us to a critical realization: we need to begin to focus on the significance of setting boundaries and the art of detaching from work.
The truth about setting boundaries and work martyrdom
If you can relate to Gina’s story, you’re not alone. Many of the accountants I speak to and coach are dealing with the issue of setting boundaries and detaching from work.
While the struggle with work/life balance is not unique to the accounting profession, it has been an ongoing issue that isn’t getting better. Obviously, there are many factors that have led to things like the “Great Resignation” for accountants, but it’s also important to understand how a lack of boundaries and the ability to detach from work have contributed to the issue.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is what I refer to as “work martyrdom”. This can show up in various ways, such as taking work home so that you can get a jump-start on everyone else, not taking all your paid time off because you’re afraid it will look bad, or not being able to delegate because you’re worried that no one else can do the work as well as you.
Work martyrdom is also sneaky because it’s often perceived to be normal, necessary, or, even worse, rewarded.
As I shared in a previous episode on the overworked accountant, the issue with work martyrdom is that it hurts you and your career more than you realize. The perceived need to work harder than everyone else actually creates less productivity.
I want you to hear this—the person who stays the latest, works the most hours, or has no time boundaries, doesn’t necessarily get more work done than everyone else. More hours spent working does not equate to more work done or higher-quality work done.
To get even more real with you, you could have the most billable hours and that still doesn’t mean you’ll be the best or that you will necessarily be considered valuable. What typically accompanies work martyrdom is frustration, resentment, and burnout, none of which will help you achieve the success you want.
The issue is that we can often get swept up in the tidal wave of other accounting overachievers and perfectionists, believing that more and more sacrifice is necessary while gasping for air as the wave takes us under, leading to full-blown burnout. The issue is that what’s left when the tidal wave of work martyrdom subsides is often health issues, damaged relationships, overwhelm, unhappiness, and resentment.
When work martyrdom seeps into your life, it can become like a poisonous gas that is undetectable until after it’s done its damage. Just like we have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes because humans cannot smell deadly carbon monoxide, you should know the signs of work martyrdom and be able to detect it before it’s too late.
It’s important to understand that, if you struggle with self-confidence, self-doubt, and imposter syndrome, the chances are that you’re also probably being a work martyr to try to overcome that insecurity. Feeling inadequate and insecure then leads you to take on more, believing that working harder will somehow alleviate those feelings of insecurity.
Setting time boundaries
When it comes to setting boundaries, it’s also important to understand that it’s not only about setting boundaries with people—you also need to learn to set boundaries with yourself and with your time. One of the biggest issues that I see for accountants is setting time boundaries.
When you can learn how to set time boundaries and commit to them, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel about your day. When you set time boundaries, you improve your relationship with time, you honor your values, you get clear about your priorities, and you create a balanced life.
By learning how to set and commit to your time boundaries, you make it much easier to have a balanced day, week, or year, and you lessen the fatigue that comes with making too many decisions about how you spend your time. And one of the best benefits is that you also improve your relationship with yourself because, when you honor your commitments to yourself, you strengthen your self-confidence.
If you feel like you can’t detach from work, that your time is not your own, or you’re constantly wishing there were more hours in the day, time boundaries might be just the thing you need. Not only will you have much better control over your time, you’ll also be able to get more done in less time, making it possible to add even more hours to your day.
Thankfully, by becoming a Smarter Accountant, you can learn how to set better boundaries with everything—with people, with yourself, and with your time—as well as learning how to detach from work. The best part is that, when you understand why you do the things you do, you’ll also understand how to change that.
Our brain’s role in setting boundaries and detaching from work
Now it’s time to talk about the fascinating realm of neuroscience to understand the intricate interplay between our brain and the challenges we face in setting boundaries and detaching from work.
Our brain, the control center of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, plays a significant role in how we approach the concept of boundaries. It’s wired to respond to external stimuli and is influenced by our experiences, beliefs, and societal norms.
Consider Gina’s journey – growing up in a family with a strong work ethic, she internalized the idea that success is linked to constant dedication and long hours. These beliefs became ingrained in her brain’s neural pathways, influencing her perception of what it means to excel in her career.
As Gina faced the challenge of setting boundaries and detaching from work, her brain’s responses were shaped by these established patterns. The fear of how others would react, the worry about potentially compromising her career – these emotions stemmed from the brain’s attempt to protect what it has learned and reinforced over time.
It’s also important to understand that our brain’s natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort can lead us to resist change. The idea of setting boundaries and detaching from work can trigger feelings of discomfort, as it challenges the brain’s familiar patterns and comfort zones.
However, there’s a powerful aspect of our brain that we can harness – neuroplasticity. This remarkable quality allows our brain to rewire itself in response to new experiences and intentional practices.
By understanding the brain’s role in our challenges and successes, we gain the tools to navigate the process of setting boundaries more effectively. We can consciously reshape our neural pathways, gradually shifting our beliefs and responses to align with a healthier work-life integration.
The truth is that a Smarter Accountant recognizes that the brain is both a powerful ally and a potential obstacle. By combining awareness, intentional thought work, and the principles of the tool I teach, called The Model, we can reframe our relationship with boundaries and transform the way we detach from work.
Overcoming boundary challenges
When it comes to overcoming boundary challenges, the first thing we need to talk about is the fear of judgment. We’ve all been there, right? Worrying that if we set a boundary, we’ll be seen as the “difficult” one or somehow jeopardize our professional image.
But here’s the thing: boundaries aren’t about building walls; they’re about creating a framework that supports your well-being and productivity. Setting boundaries can make you a better accountant, if you let them.
Believe me, I get that setting boundaries can sometimes feel like stepping into uncharted territory, and discomfort can sneak up on us faster than an unexpected tax audit. However, embracing discomfort is often the first step toward growth and empowerment.
Think about it this way – you’re either going to temporarily experience discomfort now or you’re going to experience long-term discomfort if you don’t learn to set better boundaries. The choice is really up to you. .
What might be helpful is explaining what I teach about what a boundary is NOT and what it IS.
A boundary is NOT:
- Just saying no
- Expecting the other person to change their behavior
- Threatening someone with consequences so that they will change
- Standing up for yourself out of anger or frustration
- Intended to manipulate anyone’s behavior
- An idle threat that you do not intend to follow through with
A boundary IS:
- A powerful form of self-care
- Something you do for you, not to them
- Something you create for yourself to honor yourself
- Something you will do; not something they need to do
- Said from a place of calm
- Set with the intention that you are ready, willing and able to follow through with what you said you would do
- You only set a boundary when there is a boundary violation
- Requires you to not care what other people think of you
Boundaries aren’t about policing someone else’s actions; they’re about deciding what works for you and being clear. The truth is that boundaries can be your allies, not your adversaries.
For example, a number of years ago I decided that my father’s emails to a large group of people, including me, weren’t appropriate or what I wanted to read. I asked him to remove me from the list when he sent those kinds of emails and if he didn’t, I would just block all his emails.
I didn’t tell him he couldn’t send them; I just said I didn’t like them and what I would do if he continued to send them. Because he didn’t need to do anything if he didn’t want to and it was about what I would do if he crossed my boundary, it made it easier to set the boundary.
The best part about setting better boundaries is that once understood and implemented, they can become your secret weapon for creating a work and home environment that’s conducive to your success and well-being.
If boundaries are an issue for you, you’re not alone. Most of us have issues with setting boundaries for good reasons—we’ve never been taught how and we’re worried about what other people will think if we do, or, worse, what the repercussions will be.
The issue is that we can feel uncomfortable setting boundaries because we believe that we then need to control others once a boundary is set. Many of my coaching clients in the 6-week Smarter Accountant Program are reluctant to set boundaries because they feel that, in setting a boundary, they then need to try to monitor and change another person’s behavior, exhausting themselves in the process.
They feel uncomfortable drawing a line in the sand and are confused, or emotionally drained, by the idea that they then have to police that line and stop others from crossing over it, or they fear other people’s reactions to them setting a boundary as well as the idea of having to confront someone. When this happens, it just seems much easier to not set a boundary and then deal with the consequences.
The problem is that this perception of setting a boundary and then needing to control other people’s behavior is understandably exhausting and futile, but also unnecessary. If you haven’t already realized, you cannot control other people—they have their wants, needs, and preferences that are often not in alignment with yours.
The good news is that the way that I teach the subject of setting boundaries is that it’s not about what others need to do or not do, it’s about what you will do if, or when, a boundary is crossed. It’s not about needing to control anyone or anything other than you.
Another thing I want to point out is that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve dealt with something and not set a boundary. When you decide you want to set a boundary, that’s all that matters. The decision to set boundaries should not be hindered by the past.
For example, you might have known your friend for decades, but if something is bothering you in the friendship, it’s never too late to set a boundary. Your feelings matter. Or even if you’ve been working overtime for years without complaint, remember that your well-being should always come first. When you decide to set limits on your work hours, it’s a healthy choice, regardless of your past habits.
Whatever your issue is with setting boundaries and detaching from work, again, the tool I teach my clients called The Model, will be the key because your actions are always within your control based on the feeling that’s fueling those actions. The Smarter Accountant uses The Model to become aware of why they’re not setting boundaries and detaching from work, and then uses The Model to take the actions necessary for them to have the results they want.
As a Smarter Accountant, you’ll be able to set better boundaries, know what to do when a boundary is crossed, and also be able to manage your brain afterward. Other people can make requests of you and try to cross your boundaries, but you’ll know how to create the confidence you need to support yourself and your decisions.
The Smarter Accountant way: Setting better boundaries
I think one of the most uncomfortable things about setting a boundary with someone other than yourself is preparing to have the conversation to verbalize the boundary. While it isn’t always necessary or feasible to have a conversation with someone when you’re setting a boundary, it’s still helpful to know how to handle a possible conversation so that you don’t feel so awkward.
The first thing to do before verbalizing your boundary is to understand that a boundary is what you will set and presumably abide by, not what the other person needs to do or stop doing. This is such an important distinction because it will allow you to keep the focus on yourself when getting clear about your boundary, but then also when you have a conversation to share what your boundary is.
Basically, a boundary is not about what the other person needs to stop doing—it’s about what your preference is and what you’ll do if the boundary is crossed. Thankfully, it’s not your job to control or change other people’s behavior, but the beauty in setting a better boundary is knowing that the boundary is for you, not to them.
For example, you’re not telling your friend she can’t be late for your lunch dates anymore when you set a boundary with her. You’re just letting her know that her lateness doesn’t work for you and what you will do the next time she’s late—she doesn’t need to change, you just have a plan if it happens again.
You’re not telling your boss that he shouldn’t send emails to you over the weekend when you set a boundary with him. You’re just letting him know that you have chosen the weekends to be email-free time with your family and that you won’t be answering emails until Monday morning—he can keep sending emails but you have a plan if it happens again.
The beauty in this approach is that your friend gets to continue being late as much as she wants without you needing to change her behavior or getting angry with her, and your boss gets to send emails whenever he wants. Other people have the power to do whatever they want, but so do you.
Again, the boundary is about what you will do if your boundary is crossed, not what the other person has to do.
When setting a boundary with yourself, you have to understand why you’re setting a boundary and then expect that you’ll probably try to cross your boundary as well. For example, just because you set a time boundary that you’re going to leave the office by 5 p.m. doesn’t mean your lower, Toddler brain won’t say, “Just one more minute. I need to finish this.”
A Smarter Accountant knows the power of setting better boundaries and they’re prepared as to what to do if they, or someone else, tries to cross the boundary. It’s not about being difficult; it’s about having a compelling reason and liking your reason—that’s what leads to setting boundaries and detaching from work.
If you have difficulty with setting boundaries and detaching from work, let’s talk. Schedule a quick, free coaching session with me and I’ll help you understand what to do.
The truth is that work-life integration doesn’t just magically happen. You have to be willing to set boundaries, feel confident, and have difficult conversations. I can help you do all that.
Just go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.