How Boundaries Amplify Moxie (and Empower Leadership)
The word moxie has become synonymous with vigor, verve, pep, courage, nerve, aggressiveness, skill, and know-how, and the new book Step into Your Moxie: Amplify Your Voice, Visibility, and Influence in the World by speaking and leadership coach Alexia Vernon presents a soul-stirring call to action for women to speak up for themselves and the ideas and issues that matter most to them. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.
While writing this chapter, I typed the word boundaries into a search engine. I had to pick my jaw off my knees, or at the very least my clavicle, when I saw that it produced 319 million results. Even more shocking, doing the same thing on Amazon.com produced 49,676 book recommendations. From how to set boundaries at work, when dating, in marriage, with kids and even in-laws, to how to set boundaries in therapeutic work with clients, and even how to set boundaries when songwriting, it’s clear people are really looking for support in the boundary department — in all spheres of life. Particularly women. Most of the books and resources that popped up were written for a female audience. And while boundaries might sound super self-helpy and woo, they are intimately related to our ability to speak the truth to ourselves — and then boldly and compassionately communicate to others what we know we want, need, and deserve. Boundaries redirect us away from using our lives to advance other people’s agendas and toward putting our own issues, causes, and passions smack-dab in the center of what we say and do.
One of my mentors once told me, in regard to youth facilitation, that “structure sets creativity free.” She meant that if you want people (and this applies to those of us tweezing our grays and not just to gangly, pepperoni-faced preteens) to understand what’s being asked of them, feel safe to say what’s really on their minds, take risks in their conversations with each other, and play fully in the activities you lead, you need to provide rules. Then they’ll be able to brainstorm. Be zany. Be unorthodox. For they will understand how success and failure will be measured. Otherwise, it’s like herding cats to a museum.
Boundaries empower you to wake up each day clear on where you are headed. They shape how you make decisions and what you say to yourself and others, so you can stay in your lane rather than merge into everyone else’s. Without them, you will find yourself guessing at the rules, constantly feeling like you are out of step with your true self and others, and ping-ponging between hustling for others’ approval (a.k.a. the bunny stuff) and pushing through a persistent drizzle of pissiness (dragonosis) because you feel like you are a pawn in others’ clumsy, painful, at times self-aggrandizing games. Most of us delude ourselves about our boundaries. Not sure if I’m talking about you? Then kindly answer the following: How are you feeling? How able are you, day to day, to step into your moxie? What kind of communication is coming from you — internally and externally?
A few years ago, one of the women in my speakers’ mastermind created an assessment and asked some of the women in our group for feedback before releasing it. Typical group responses included, “The work you are doing is so needed.” “I wish I knew you when...” “Oh, yeah, that used to be me. I’m glad I’m over those kinds of habits.” As you probably surmised, the focus of the assessment was on creating and upholding boundaries. And the irony is that many of the women who professed to have mastered the art of getting their needs met and not overgiving, well, they showed up to their private coaching sessions complaining about clients and colleagues who were overstepping and making unreasonable requests. They repeatedly shared that they felt frustrated, ornery, depleted, and in the case of one woman, were considering a new business because the energetic cost of client work was no longer worth the revenue.
As a recovering overgiver, I am still a work in progress when it comes to upholding and articulating my boundaries. It’s challenging for me to go more than a month without responding to email over the weekend. When I tell clients that they are looking to me for support I’m neither contracted nor trained to give, I feel like a supervisor who has just told a team member, “Your services are no longer needed here.” Often, amid the struggle between upholding my boundaries and pleasing my peeps, I hop back and forth between bunny and dragon behavior. Cheetah whaaaaat?
I can still recall a Friday afternoon, not so long ago, when I received twelve or thirteen emails from the same three clients while I was on the road with spotty internet access. One moment I kowtowed. I started emailing people back as quickly as possible from my phone, terrified of what would happen if, God forbid, I waited until Monday when I had a decent internet connection and could use a proper computer (and write with more than my thumbs) to give them feedback on their keynotes. And then moments later, I was dropping f-bombs about the same clients’ entitlement and bemoaning the fact that I don’t charge enough.
While I’d like to think that if a friend or colleague gave me an assessment on my boundaries I would say, “I still have work to do in this area,” realistically I’d probably answer, like many of my clients did, “Thank goodness I’m on the other side of that stuff.” But I’m not. Most of us are not. I don’t know an ambitious, high-performing, heart-centered woman who doesn’t experience a certain amount of exhaustion tied not only to the quantity of her work but also to how she is performing it. To how she is allowing her desire to serve through her work, her community, and her family to wreak at least a bit of havoc on her self-care. Or lack thereof.
We cannot sustain the fullest expression of our moxie and leadership skills if we do not radically transform the way we are working. If we do not create, articulate, and rearticulate (again and again) our boundaries when other people, who are likely struggling in this area as well, inadvertently push us to work in a way that chips away at our energy, our gifts, and our overall life satisfaction. When we show the people we serve (our colleagues, clients, partners, children) that we are committed to transforming our own relationship with our work, we give them permission to transform the way they are working and showing up in their lives.
The world needs women who operate from their full potential. And women like Susan B. Anthony (who wasn’t perfect but was steadfast in her dedication to opening up opportunities previously inaccessible to women) would be heartsick to know that too many women are failing to advocate for themselves.
Are shouldering too much responsibility. Are swallowing heaps of desire. Are often out of community with other women. And consequently are a setback (or a shot of java) away from total collapse. Too many of us are not only failing to champion ourselves, but we’re also failing to champion other women, as well as the issues and causes that need our engagement. We are not making it a priority to use our influence to reshape power structures, policies, and practices that are hurting women, children, and men. We are sitting on the sidelines as political, economic, social, and environmental advances lay on the cusp of erosion whenever there is an election and the new guard doesn’t represent our interests. Or, when we do engage, we are comparing, complaining, or critiquing rather than harnessing our moxie to bring people together to solve issues that impact all of us — even those who don’t see them through the same lens that we do.
My hope is that you will take a stand and ask for (nay, compassionately demand!) what you need to do your best work — and that you do it from a place of moxie. You will prioritize breath over busyness. You will proactively (and as necessary, retroactively) communicate this to the people you work, play, and live with. I hope that you will move your own creative work, dreams, and the issues that keep you up at night from the bottom of your to-do list to the top (or at least to the middle third). And that you will look to where you might be trespassing on other people’s boundaries. We’ve all got to practice what we preach, and not ask of others, particularly women, what we would never ask of a man in the same position.
Excerpted from the book Step into Your Moxie: Amplify Your Voice, Visibility, and Influence in the World. Copyright ©2018 by Alexia Vernon. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.