Life is a Roller-Coaster

Ever notice how things seem to run up and down the spectrum of good days, bad days, happy, sad? Some days have those cycles multiple times in a 24-hour period. That is my life anyway. Seems to be the situation for so many people I know. This has been one of those weeks for me. Serious ups and downs, crises and reasons to celebrate.

Love the reasons to celebrate. When you realize you met a lifelong friend for the first time. You know, the person you seem to be able to tell anything to right off the bat and you feel like you’ve known them forever even though you had never seen them before. I have two terrific ladies like that who I met just a few weeks ago. Add in another terrific friend who’s been there a lot longer and still ready to listen to troubles and lend a shoulder to cry on when needed and happy to sit & celebrate with a glass of tea when things are going great. Add to that, lots of positive feedback from potential clients and employers and things seem to be looking up.

But then there’s the stressful bits. Getting a 72-hour pay or leave notice from a landlord even after you’d talked with him earlier in the week. Having a long-term client not return calls and they haven’t paid 3 of their past invoices. Even though I’ve got other contracts ready to start, it’s hard to pay the bills with promises.

I’ve got another potential avenue of income that I’ve been working on for some time. It’s a retail site dedicated to mid-century style & finds. It’s to the point where I need to add to it, but can’t afford it with everything else going on. I found a cool site that allows you to create your own graphic tees and pullovers, while raising money for projects. So I set up a campaign with them.

If you get a chance, check it out, buy one or a few. Share with your friends! I’d love to be able to make this my living! Flamingos & Martinis tees & hoodies

Thanks!

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Helping My Son Transition

I never thought I was an unusual parent until I spoke with a school counselor after one of my kids came out to me. She was in tears. I couldn’t figure out why. Then she finally got it out. She told me she wished every parent responded the way I did. My son had gone to school and shared with his counselor our conversation. The day he came out to me, he asked me if I would rather he be born a son or a daughter. I honestly told him the only thing I ever wanted was a happy, healthy child and for that child to grow into a happy, healthy adult. That’s when he told me he was transgendered.

He was born genetically female. But from a very early age, I knew he was really a boy. I let him come to his own awareness and acceptance of his gender identity and sexuality. It is truly who you are. It is not environmental. It is not a choice. If you believe in a higher power, God, if you will, you should know that a supreme being would never make a mistake.

My son is now 21 years old and has been on hormone therapy for a couple of years. He is now ready to make the big step of transitioning fully with top surgery – removing the secondary characteristics that make him appear female. It is a huge step toward him feeling comfortable in his own skin. I would fund this myself if I could, but with the economy the way it is, I cannot. He has been saving and has a good portion of the money set aside, but needs help with the balance so he can get this sooner rather later.

Imagine how important it would be to you, if you had gender identifiers that were not who you are – boobs if you are a man or a penis if you are a woman. Wouldn’t you also want to have surgery to correct the biological error?

If you can, please help out. Every little bit helps. Getting the word out to your friends, family, and followers is a tremendous help!   

(If you follow the link above, it will take you to the site to help out.)

Thanks so much!

Response to the DSCC’s Plea for Money

Today I received a spam request for donation from the DSCC. It’s a routine thing from both parties to send out requests for donations from people they think are sympathetic to their causes. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about all I can take from both of the traditional parties in US politics. This was my response (you can see the original request below):


 

If I weren’t so disgusted by all of the BS political wranglings from both sides, I’d be more inclined to donate money to the “cause”. But as it seems that only corporate and lobbyist money makes any difference at all in Washington DC or even local, county and state politics of late, I will be keeping my hard-earned cash.

I can’t begin to express my dismay and revulsion at both major parties with the blame game, the posturing, the finger pointing, and all around bad behavior. It has always happened in politics, but seems to have reached epic proportions in the past few years. The spin doctoring from every avenue of politics to shift the stories, obscure the truth, and confuse the public is completely out of control.
Were there any chance either major political party actually gave a damn about Americans, our real issues and concerns, improving the country, or improving our standing with the rest of the world, I might be interested in being involved.
But when I know that my vote doesn’t matter a fig compared to the money from large corporations and lobbyists, I am completely assured that my donation to one party or another really doesn’t matter.
Please remove me from all future mailings until the time when politicians remember that the government should be, as Abraham Lincoln stated, be “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Rather than of corporations and lobbyists, by corporations and lobbyists, and for corporations and lobbyists, as it has become.
Best Regards,
Jeannine Ritter

 


From: info@dscc.org
To: jmritter@live.com
Date: Sat, 31 May 2014 10:51:08 -0400
Subject: I need you

 

DSCC


Friend — I’ll just come out and say it:

Republicans are now outspending us in twelve Senate battlegrounds. If they win six of them, the Senate would be theirs for my final two years in office.

A Republican Senate would vote to repeal Obamacare. They’d pass a budget to help the people at the top who finance their campaigns, not people like you.

But today, the power is still in our hands. If we’re going to stop the Republicans from taking the Senate and imposing their agenda on our country, I need you with me right now. This is the most urgent moment we’ve ever faced together.

Will you step up and help Senate Democrats answer every single attack before the end-of-month deadline in just 15 hours? Your gift will be triple-matched.

If you’ve saved your payment information with ActBlue Express, your contribution will automatically be processed when you click the links below:

EXPRESS DONATE: $3

EXPRESS DONATE: $8

EXPRESS DONATE: $17

EXPRESS DONATE: $25

EXPRESS DONATE: $35

Or donate another amount.

It boils down to this:

Right now, nearly $8 million in Republican attacks have gone totally unanswered.

If we choose not to respond to their attacks right now, we could lose the Senate and everything we stand for will be obstructed.

But if you and I join together, we’ll have the power to stand up to the special interests. I truly believe we can stop the Republicans from taking the Senate. That’s because I believe in you.

Will you pitch in before midnight to stop Republicans from taking over the Senate? Every gift will be triple matched.

Thank you,
Barack Obama

 

Observations on Perspective

Have you ever noticed how your perspective can change depending on where you are, who you are with, people who are around you, noise. Any number of environmental factors can change your perception of how things really are. This was hit home for me after the last few weeks.

I have separated myself from people who see the glass as half empty all of the time. Also removed myself from a situation where I had to interact with a grown woman who acted like a “mean girl,” bullying everyone in her path. In doing both of these things I also found I had eliminated a group of people who, while middle aged are far from “old”, but act and think as though retirement was imminent and death right on it’s heels. This is quite the opposite of how I feel about the middle years, especially mine.

It was expected, but surprising how much of a difference this has made in my outlook, my perception of how other people are, the prospects for the future, and how much I enjoy the area of the world I find myself residing currently.

Just a few weeks away from the negativity and I am happier. I’m finding other people friendlier; though I’m sure that is an offshoot of my attitude and demeanor. Even the city I’m living in seems much better, though nothing has changed about it.

It truly is difficult to nearly impossible to feel positive when you are surrounded by negativity. I wish I could say it is easy to move on from negative situations or people or that it is easy to find people who align better with your outlook on life. It honestly is not.

It’s nerve-wracking to give notice to a workplace that is toxic to your well being because you need the paycheck. It’s even harder to remove yourself from friendships, work relationships, or family situations that don’t support you spiritually or emotionally.

But trust me when I say, it is absolutely worth it.

YOU are worth it! YOU deserve to be happy! YOU deserve to enjoy life and find fun and wonder in everything around you!

Even if you need to start small, by finding hours in your day where you can escape the negativity, do it.

It may be that you need to schedule 2 weeks of vacation to get past the impact of the environment and people you find yourself surrounded by. Two weeks, because the first is for emotional rest and recovery. The second is for rebuilding your happiness and sense of calm. So if you can, by all means, do it.

The best is if you can permanently remove yourself from negativity. Give 2 weeks notice and move on.

Relationships are more difficult, depending on how you are related to the people or person from whom you need to remove yourself. I took a rather abrupt path and let the people I needed to remove from my life know I was taking a different direction with my life and would not have time to continue nurturing our relationships. It was hard, but most of them understood. Some didn’t, but that was exactly why I couldn’t allow them to impact my life any longer.

Be good to yourself. Find a way to surround yourself with positive and nurturing relationships and situations. Life is too short to deal with jerks on a regular basis.

The Importance of Small Businesses

There continues to be lots of talk about the economy. It seems to have stalled in a lot of ways. Job growth continues to be stable or sliding backwards. Payroll numbers are stagnant. A huge number of people are still unemployed or under-employed. By under-employed, I mean working at jobs that pay less than what the person made prior to 2008 and/or working at jobs that require fewer skills and/or less education than the worker has. It’s a terrible situation and one very few of us feel we can help change.

But there is something you can do to help the economy and it starts just outside your front door. Somewhere in the past 30 years or so we moved from having vibrant local economies to creating a giant global economy headed up by the huge retailers and businesses we all know and frequent. Instead of going to your locally owned grocer, we all head out to the supermarkets owned by huge corporations – Safeway, Albertsons, Kroger, Walmart. Rather than shop at the local florist, we call TeleFlorist or 1-800-FLOWERS. How many people can name their local pet shop, but know exactly how to get to the PetSmart?

Not to disparage the big stores and businesses, but when you shop there, what economy are you really supporting? It’s likely not your local economy, unless you happen to live in Bensonville and you’re shopping at Walmart or in Pleasanton and you’re buying all of your groceries at Safeway. Even still, large companies buy from the lowest priced source, which is likely not the farm or manufacturer nearby. They’re shipping in produce from places where the cost to grow is cheapest. They buy products from places that can pay their workers pennies and make them work dreadful hours so the cost per item stays incredibly low.

Small, locally owned shops can also fall into those patterns of purchasing, but many are supporting local manufacturers, farms, artists and craftsmen. You don’t have to live somewhere traditionally ‘artsy’ to have great talent and wonderful products available.

When you shop at locally owned places, buy from local artists, have local craftsmen create or fix things for you, you are directly supporting your local economy. The money you spend with them goes to support your neighbors, friends, fellow church members, your family, parents of friends, etc.

There are many other benefits besides. Shopping at your locally owned stores, buying from local artists, artisans, and craftsmen, also builds a community. I often hear people lament about how the sense of community being non-existent today. When you go to locally owned small businesses, you meet and get to know your neighbors if you shop there regularly. I always think of the difference between going to the small coffee shop up the street versus Starbucks. Sometimes you get the same barista at Starbucks, but most of the time there are many employees who shift around their schedules fairly often. At the local shop, you generally are talking directly with the owner when you walk in the door. Even if they have added employees, there are not many, so you get to talk with the same person every time. Getting to know the people who actually live and work in your neighborhood, although it may be as acquaintances for awhile, helps build the communities so many of us miss from childhood.

Customer service is another point I hear so many complaints about and have myself, when dealing with large stores. Employees at large corporate owned stores tend to not feel very invested in the company. They are paid very little and have next to no input into how the store looks, feels or how it is run. This tends to create employees that don’t feel a sense of connection to the company other than a paycheck. Not all employees at big companies are this way and some companies try to empower their people, but by and large, the sense of being part of the success of the store is not there. That impacts how employees treat customers. If they don’t feel connected or only feel like they are putting in time to get a check, there is no incentive to treat customers well.

On the other hand, a small business owner knows that every single customer can make or break their business. Customer is still king for small businesses. I think of customer service experiences I have around my neighborhood. The local pet shop is where I go for just about everything our pets need. The people who work there have been there for at least the three years since I moved here. They know me when I walk in and remember what I bought the last time I was there without having to look up my customer account on the computer. It’s terrific. My local mechanic is very much the same way. He knows me, knows the car and remembers what brand of oil I like to have. He even gives a call when I’m coming up on regular maintenance. I’ve got two coffee shops I go to frequently, one near my office and one near my house. The people who own them remember what I like to have and get it ready when I walk in the door. It’s like going to a friend’s house rather than to a store or business.

While I totally understand needing to go to some of the large discount outlets because of personal finances, you might be pleasantly surprised by the bargains you can find right down the street at a small shop. In the last year, I decided to have an entire month where I only shopped local and avoided the large box stores. I was surprised when I found I actually saved money on a lot of the things I would usually go to the discount behemoths to buy. When I sat down at the end of that month and calculated out everything including gas and mileage on my car, I came out ahead shopping at the mom & pop places near me rather than going out to Walmart, Target, etc. The best part, I got to meet some really cool people who actually live near me and had the chance to support them while getting things I need.

When you’re out shopping for gifts this holiday season, remember your local, small businesses. You’re likely to find that great, one of a kind gift and spur your local economy at the same time. You might even make a new friend by supporting your neighbor who owns the store down the street.

 

What Matters

I just got an email from a good friend and colleague. Reading it, it hit me what really matters to me is knowing I have helped in some way. It was a quick update of what had been going on for the past couple of years. Funny how time slips by without noticing how much has passed. But the part that caught me was the thanks for helping with advice when he was going through a bit of a tough spot with work. I didn’t realize being there and talking with him for those few months helped. It was certainly nice to know and I’m really glad he sent me the note.

So what does matter? To me, what makes anything worth doing, is knowing that I’ve helped someone else. That could be as simple as making someone else’s life a little easier. It is always without doing harm along the way. People matter. Things, while they may have sentimental importance, do not. Things can always be replaced. People cannot.

How does that translate into what you do day to day?

For me, keeping helping people at the forefront of my intentions, makes every decision easier. Two questions I always ask myself are:  How will it help? Are there any negative impacts to it?

In the end, it is people and what you do to help the people in your life that make a difference.

How pleasant would life be if everyone behaved as though what really mattered were people and not things or imagined constructs of power and control?

Be good to each other. We’re all in this together.

Dog is Good – 5 Life Lessons

A bumper sticker I picked up at our local pet store says that. It got me thinking. Dog is Good. There are so many things I have learned from dogs.

One thing I’ve found with dogs is no matter how domesticated, they are still pack animals. When they live in your home, you are their pack. It’s fun to watch dogs as they determine the pecking order of the pack. Dogs need a strong leader and will challenge you constantly to make sure you’re still the boss. The other thing with packs is every member is interdependent on every other member. Aren’t we all really? I can hardly think of a single person who is truly independent of anyone else – whether it is for moral support, items needed to live or do the things you want or need to do every day, farmers to provide food. We all need the rest of our pack.

There a lot of lessons dogs can teach us by observing their behavior. Most reinforced what I learned through the years as a leader and manager.

  1. Leadership has to be constant, consistent and customized. Wavering doesn’t work.
  2. Rewards must be immediate to be appreciated and to reinforce behaviors you want repeated.
  3. Correction must also be immediate to be understood.
  4. Size means nothing. Attitude is everything.
  5. Love is unconditional.
  6. Respect, trust and loyalty are earned and must be renewed regularly.

Leadership has to be constant, consistent and customized to personalities. Definitely a great life lesson. You need to be on your game with a strong willed dog, just like you do with strong willed people. This doesn’t mean you should be on guard all the time. Nor does it mean you need to be stern all of the time.

What it does mean is that you need to know where you are going and how you are getting there. You need to provide clear direction and manage your guidance to the personalities involved. Some people need a road map and consistent checkpoints to happily achieve company goals. Other people will bristle at being told each step to get where they are going; they just need the goal and deadline.

Whichever personality time you’re working with, consistency is the key. Waffling on where you want to go, what you want to achieve and when you want to get there undermines your credibility as a leader.

Rewards must be immediate to be appreciated and to reinforce behaviors you want repeated. You probably know this already. Rewarding for good behavior needs to happen as soon as you know it happened. This is great for a couple of reasons: One, it lets people know you are paying attention. Two, people realize there is benefit to doing the right thing, whether it’s verbal recognition or something more tangible, like a gift certificate.

Delaying rewarding positive behaviors and outcomes can sometimes lead to forgetting to reward or diluting the impact by comparing it to a longer time frame. For example, having an immediate reward like a gift certificate to a great restaurant for winning a key account versus waiting for a 6-moth or 12-month bonus that then is diluted by sales results on all accounts a representative manages. Which would result in more of the sales behavior you want to see in your company?

Correction must also be immediate to be understood. Corrective action must also be immediate. If someone in your group or organization is behaving badly, allowing it to continue without intervention can create problems and if you’re considering a work environment, legal and human resources headaches as well as negatively impacting everyone who has to work with the individual.

One client I worked with had a classic example of this. An person was brought on as a full time employee, despite knowledge of prior behavior that would alienate other people. After becoming a full time employee, the person’s behavior became progressively worse. No direct correction was taken to align the person with the corporate policy. Fast forward four years, my client now has an issue they cannot easily correct.

If it had been handled swiftly and immediately at the each instance of behavior that didn’t fit the corporate standard, either the behavior would have been altered to acceptable standards or the person would have found another opportunity in an environment better suited to her personality and behavior patterns.

Size means nothing. Attitude is everything. If you have ever watched a big dog with a little dog, you know this is true. The little dog is nearly always in charge. If you’ve ever met my mother you would have no doubt. She was a tiny, fiery Irish woman who got everything to go her way. It never mattered who or what was involved – including burly bikers at the Sturgis Rally back in the 1970s. I remember being in the back seat of the car when we pulled into Sturgis one August. Mom rolled down her window, pointed at a group of Harleys and shouted over at the men standing nearby, “Boys, you need to move these so I can park here.” They looked at each other and promptly did exactly what she asked them to do. No questions, no sass. She always approached situations with a friendly attitude that carried the message, “Of course you’ll do it my way, there is no other choice.”

The idea that size doesn’t matter, but attitude does carries over into life, leadership, management and business. There is not a single company that started out huge. But attitude and good business decisions got them there. The same is true for huge companies that still work with the agility of a start-up. Think of Google – their innovation and change is hardly the behavior of a behemoth blue chip company that their employee count or stock valuation would lead you to believe should be the case.

Love is unconditional. This is absolutely true with dogs and should be in our dealings with each other. Holding out qualifiers for someone to “earn” your love is not really love, that is control that you are rewarding with attention.

Real love doesn’t have qualifiers or parameters. That is how we should feel toward the people who are important in our lives. Give up control and just love them for being who they are. Everything will be much easier.

Heck, this is how we should approach everyone we know. But, like dogs, always trust your instincts. If someone raises your hackles, keep a wary eye on them, growl if necessary.

Respect, trust and loyalty are earned and must be renewed regularly. Respect, trust and loyalty must be earned. It also needs nurturing and care to stay and grow. Most people don’t realize how true this is when they get a dog as a puppy, but the relationship is built one bowl of kibble and one kind word at a time. It’s more obvious if you’ve ever adopted an adult dog, and especially if it was a dog that was rescued from an abusive situation.

The same is more so with people. Many people I meet believe that respect should be automatic based on title, position and/or perceived power. That’s not true. People will respect the title or position, but not the person until they prove themselves worthy of respect. Trust and loyalty are more so.

For me and many people I know, a basic level of common courtesy replaces respect, trust and loyalty until they are earned by the recipient. How do you go about earning respect, trust and loyalty? In my experience by showing the people you work with, live with and interact with that you care about them, their goals and their aspirations. When you prove you are looking out for them, they will respond in kind.

Like in the previous section, trust your instincts, if someone raises your hackles or proves they cannot be respected, trusted and are not loyal, keep a wary eye and growl when necessary. And I don’t mean literally growl. You might end up with a visit from the nice men in white coats taking you to be evaluated at the closest mental health facility. Let the person know what you are seeing and feeling from them. If they respond negatively, you know to avoid that person. Dealing with negative people isn’t good for you. It’s better to just move on and find people who are good to you and thus good for you.

Be good to each other. We’re all in this together.

Creating a Great Experience

Customer service is a term that is used frequently, but many times without really considering what it could be. Some people seem to understand intrinsically. Some companies do a great job with it. In my mind, customer service boils down to creating a great experience for every customer or client.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see both sides of the coin. I traveled down to a tiny town in the central valley of California. My hotel reservations weren’t right when I got there – only reserved for one night instead of the whole weekend and for a much too small room. Although the hotel was completely booked, the desk clerk did everything he possibly could to make it right for me. He even passed on the information to the next shift to ensure everything was taken care of. The staff was absolutely wonderful. I really can’t say enough about them. If you ever need a place to stay that far outshines the star rating given to them by the travel industry, go to Holiday Inn Express.

On the flip side, a business I went to while I was there was quite different. It was almost as though I was a complete imposition on the staff, an entire group of people with the personality of Basil Fawlty, of Fawlty Towers, the beleaguered character portrayed by John Cleese in the 1970s BBC television series. He made no bones about how interrupted he felt by his guests and customers. How Fawlty’s guests felt when dealing with him is exactly how I felt with this business, like I wasn’t wanted and was definitely bothering them.

Fawlty serving guests

How do you create a great experience for your customers or clients? Personally, I find the easiest way is to follow the Golden Rule – treat others as you want to be treated.

Really a straightforward approach, but sometimes difficult to do. It can be hard to check your attitude at the door when you’re having a bad day. Think about how you like to be talked to, what things you like to have done for you when you are working with someone. Try to create that same experience for everyone you help or do work for. I can’t think of too many people who like to have someone be condescending or curt with them. Or anyone who likes it when the person they are talking with won’t look at them or seems to be consumed by their smart phone, Blackberry, tablet or laptop. Really I can’t think of a soul who doesn’t feel somewhat slighted when they are in a conversation and the other person answers their phone or is texting someone else continuously. Some people still consider it just good manners, but so many people seem to have missed the memo.

The other thing to keep in mind when treating other people the way you would want to be treated is to think about a similar situation you have been in on the opposite side and how you would have liked it to have gone. Say you were returning an item that didn’t work out for whatever reason. Was the clerk abrupt and rude about the return or were they helpful and non-argumentative? For returning items, I can’t think of a better example of terrific customer service than Costco. The few times I have needed to take something back there, it has been a seamless experience. Walk up to the customer service desk and explain that I want to return an item. The employee will ask a few questions to determine whether the item needs to be returned to the manufacturer or not and if I want to exchange it or have a refund. Easy as that.

If you own a company or store, you might also consider the blueprint of the best customer service examples around are the companies that are known for treating their employees very well. Two that come to the top of my mind are Costco and Starbucks. While managers at individual stores may not follow corporate policy exactly as it is written, by and large, the companies try to do the right thing by their people. If you treat your employees well – fair pay, benefits and courtesy – they will treat your customers well. It is virtually impossible to create a great customer experience if your employees’ experience is not great.

Many argue that paying a fair wage and having great benefits will kill the company’s bottom line. You hear it in the news every day. Companies like Papa Johns, McDonalds, UPS, Boeing, Walmart and many others cutting hours and benefits to supposedly improve their bottom lines.

Costco especially has proved that to be a fallacy. Their people are paid some of the best wages in the retail business and their benefits are second to none, yet their revenues and profits continue to grow even in the recession. Aside from their buyers’ savvy in negotiating great deals that allows Costco to bring great prices to their customers, their “Secret Sauce” is the way they treat their employees. By treating their employees well, turnover is reduced, which in turn reduces the cost of recruiting, hiring and training new people. Treating their employees well also increases customer satisfaction because the employees know the company, know the stores, know the merchandise and can therefore recommend items without hesitation, and are happy with the company, which they then impart to the customer by how they treat the customer and their attitude while at work.

So really, the bottom line on creating a great experience for your customers and clients is all about how you treat people. How you treat your employees spills over to the customer. If you treat everyone you meet the same way you would want to be treated (unless of course you are a masochist and then as long as that is your clientele, you’re still on solid footing), you will create great customer experiences.

Be good to each other. We’re all in this together.

Setting Boundaries

Talk with virtually any counselor, therapist or life coach and they will all tell you one of the most important things to be able to stay mentally sharp and balanced is to set boundaries. Sounds fair enough. What does that mean for every day living and doing business?

I think most of us grow up with the idea that you have to give 110% to get anywhere in life. Though I was never quite sure where that extra 10% was supposed to come from. One hundred percent is all that you have. So, we give more than 8 hours of work for 8 hours of pay. We stay late and come in early. Nose to the grindstone. Look to the executives in most companies and they are at the office 10 hours or more per day and then are on call the balance of the 24 hours from midnight to midnight every day of the week.

Most people don’t even take real vacations. Their Blackberry or iPhone goes with them and is connected to office email consistently. A laptop is usually just a reach away or safely waiting for them at their hotel when they return in the evening so they can log on and not miss a single event at the office. Even when colleagues state right at the beginning of a communication that it can wait until the recipient is back in the office, the person on ‘vacation’ calls or emails in to make sure they have taken care of whatever came up.

How many people does this describe that you know? For me, virtually everyone. Even a terrific general contractor I know well has a hard time disconnecting when he goes on vacation. A few years ago he was traveling the South Pacific. Every evening he would find a way to call back and make sure everything was okay that nothing needed his attention while he was out where cell phone towers don’t cover. All of his projects were completed before he left and a super team and manager were there to cover any requests that came up, yet he couldn’t help but stay in constant contact.

My first lesson in setting boundaries was when I was a young military officer. I hadn’t taken any leave for nearly a year because I felt committed and responsible to my men. My first sergeant was a wonderful and wise man. Thankfully, he didn’t let rank get in the way of giving me good advice. After talking with me about why I hadn’t scheduled leave while we had some down time and me explaining how I couldn’t leave the guys in a lurch, he left the room. A few minutes later he came back with a bowl of water and told me to put my hand in. If I could pull it back out and leave a dent, I was indispensable. Otherwise, they could get on without me for a week. It was a funny way of pointing out that they had done everything they needed to do without me before I was assigned and would continue after my term was over. He then sat me down and explained that no one was any good to the unit if they didn’t take care of themselves first.

After the military, we were expecting our first child. I remember the doctor and nurse explaining the same thing. Take care of yourself first or you soon have no personal reserves left to take care of anyone else. At the very least, you end up very depleted and not as sharp or focused as you can be and end up making mistakes.

Like the pre-flight talk when traveling on a plane. “If you are traveling with small children, secure your own mask first. Then help the child.” In the event there were an emergency that required oxygen masks, if you wait to get someone else’s mask on and they are struggling with you, chances are you will run out of oxygen before you can help either one of you. And people do struggle when faced with dire circumstances, even when you are trying to help them. Just ask anyone who has worked as a lifeguard and attempted a water rescue.

So what does any of that have to do with setting boundaries? Everything. It may not be life threatening to set boundaries that are mentally healthy for you. But it will help you stay sharp, alert and on your game.

Setting boundaries can be as straightforward as knowing what schedule works best for you. Are you more productive in the morning or afternoon or is your best work is done at night? Then create a work environment that conforms to your personal productivity schedule.

Setting boundaries can also be knowing which projects to accept and which to reject – including knowing when someone who is a stakeholder on the project is a difficult person you would rather not work with and avoiding taking those projects. Sometimes this can be challenging, especially if you work for someone else or a large company. A tactful way to avoid projects that aren’t best suited to your skills or who have people who are difficult to work with, is to recommend someone better skilled or with a better rapport with the person you find difficult. I have tended to phrase it that the project will have a much better outcome if so-and-so was assigned, since that is their area of expertise or they are so much better at that particular thing than I am. I have found managers and clients alike respect you immensely for pointing them in the direction of better results.

Setting boundaries is also knowing when to end a conversation or even a relationship. Through the years, people have told me alternately that I am strong and harsh, depending on their perspective in the situation. In conversations, I do not to take any slights or condescension. As soon as that starts, I end the conversation. Depending on the situation, it can be as simple as, “I am late for another meeting,” to as abrupt as picking up my things and walking away.

For me, relationships are no different. I lay out parameters of acceptable behaviour and treatment at the beginning. There are always levels of unacceptable behaviour. Some antics require gentle reminders that I had said it was not okay at the beginning of the relationship and I hold to a three strikes and you’re out policy. Other things I consider egregious behaviour and will not tolerate at all. An example is in personal relationships. I have a very strict rule that no one puts my children at risk, ever. Any violation of that rule and the relationship is ended immediately; if it is bad enough, the authorities are called. No exceptions.

When the end of the workday, a weekend, holiday or a vacation comes along, leave your work at work. Shut off your cell phone. Turn off your computer or tablet. Close your appointment book. Structure your workday to include hard and fast times for lunch and breaks and take them – without your mobile phone or laptop. Leave your desk and if possible, leave the building. Take your time back. This is important to have time to recharge, to center, to regroup. Think of how many times you come up with the solution to a problem you’ve been working on when you walk away from it. This is why boundaries are important. Give your mind the time and space it needs to work properly.

Laying out the rules or boundaries ahead of time and sticking to them eliminates a lot of stress and drama. You run the risk of being considered rude, hardhearted or insensitive by people who don’t want to respect your boundaries. But if they don’t respect you enough to respect your boundaries, are they people you want to have in your life? I would highly recommend not.

While it is hard at first, you will be happier, more productive and more relaxed by learning to set and enforce boundaries in all areas of your life.