Setting Boundaries with Self-Love: Women in the Workplace

The picture accompanying this blog is of my feet in new kicks propped up on my office desk.  Of course, with a crystal and a banana mug.  What else would a teacher need? Sure, it seems relaxed. However, my experience with work hasn't always been all high tops, citrine, and banana mugs.

Prior to UNCW, I had been an adjunct at a community college where I had no office. My "office" ranged from my car for grading papers to the hallway for meeting students.  Needless to say, when I moved into my new windowless hobbit hole in Morton Hall, I was pumped.

When a colleague stopped by on my first day in my new space, I thought he was going to give me a warm welcome.  Instead, he scolded, “You talk very loudly, Becky.  And we are here to get work done, so please keep it down.”

Now, this is most certainly not the first time I've been accused of being loud. I am very loud. My volume isn't intentional.  It's just part of who I am.  My voice carries, and my laugh is big.  If you ask me, it is one of my greatest qualities. Not only does it make me really fun, it is my greatest asset as an English teacher. 

I've heard that I'm loud often enough that my exhaustion of the comment made me really want to say, “Fuck you, (insert any WASP old man name here).”  But yoga has taught me to practice speaking more kindly.  So I gently (and loudly) reminded him that, yes, I am loud, but there’s not much I can do about it.  In more or less words, getting the fuck over it will be his best and only option--though I said it with more loving-kindness.

Comments like his conjure a mixture of emotions: anger, frustration, embarrassment, even empowerment (I like being a loud woman). Mostly what it does though is remind me how complicated work is for women.

I’m not saying men don’t have complications and conflict at work.  Most certainly, they do.  Obviously, I’ve never lived the male experience, so I can only speak from my own female perspective. 

In my experiences and observations, work complications for women differ in that they stem from a place where self-love is replaced with criticism and impossible standards.

Getting shit done is hard enough.  But for women there is often no “right way” to be:

Don’t be too bossy, but don’t be a pushover.  Don’t be frumpy, but don’t look be too pretty.  Don’t dress in unflattering business clothes, but don’t show your figure too much.  Don’t be too loud, but speak up so I can hear you.  Don’t be fat, but don’t be in too good shape.  Don’t be lazy, but don’t be too successful.  Lean in, but not too far.

And this is just work.  For the sake of space, we won’t even begin to cover the standards that exist in other public and private spaces.

It is hard to practice self-love if the rest of the world is constantly telling women that they are never good enough.  More than once, I have felt like this in my career.  If I am am stern with students, they get angry that I’m not maternal enough.  If I’m too forgiving, they take advantage of it. 

It is the same with fellow professionals.  If I wear business attire and makeup, I get the “looking a little serious today” comment.  And if I wear casual clothes, I hear the loaded, “Oh, it must be a non-teaching day.” And even very recently, the same colleague who said my voice was too loud also asked me to make my footsteps quieter when I walk by his office. Sure, maybe if I meditate for a little longer I can reach enlightenment and fucking levitate around Morton Hall. 

This is in liberal academia; what women face in less socially progressive fields is certainly worse.

It is hard to feel good enough when it feels like the rest of the world is evaluating you and that you can win for losing.  I get it. But what yoga (and a shit ton of therapy) has taught me is that I am good enough. 

You are too.

What other people think of you isn’t your business.  And that’s that.  I like to remind folks with too much to say of this simple fact.  When the criticism begins, I kindly remind the person, “Hey, (insert any name here), what you think about me isn’t my business. Could you please keep it to yourself or tell someone else?”

Realistically, there isn’t much you can do about someone else’s shitty attitude.  It’s their’s to change.  But you can set the boundary and move on. More importantly, you can cultivate habits of self-love that can help you set those boundaries not out of anger, but out of respect and love for yourself.

I know this isn’t an easy thing to do.  I’ve been working on it for years.  And I still have days when I struggle.  Such is the ebb and flow of life, which is why it is so important to maintain a consistent and daily self-love routine so that the tough days get easier.

Practicing self-love rituals remind your mind and body that you are worth love, kindness, and compassion.  Self-love rituals can help soothe the sting of a complicated culture that values criticism over compassion.  Even more, they help build self-worth and confidence to set compassionate boundaries in ways that feel empowering.  When you practice loving yourself, it becomes easier to ask others to treat you in a loving way too.

Here are a few ways in which you can practice self-love every day—because you have to do this every single day for it to work.

Ps.  These self-love ideas aren't just if you are having problems at work.  They are good for anyone at any time, regardless of your work experiences. However, I recommend, if you are having trouble at work, practicing these right before you head into work for the day, and even throughout the day at the office.


Repeat a self-love mantra

Any positive affirmation will do. Pick one, and repeat it all day, everyday.  Say it so much, that you believe it.  Then, say it so much that you realize that it has been true all along.  Write it on a sticky note and put it in your calendar and on your computer and in your lunchbox and on your penholder.  Put that shiz everywhere.

If a mantra doesn't come to mind, try one of these:

Sita Ram (Check out the history of Sita Ram)  

I love and accept myself unconditionally.

I love and respect others and, in return, they love and respect me.

I radiate love for my self and others.

I am exactly where I need to be.

I am perfect and whole.

I am one with all beings.

I deserve to be here.


Develop a Self-Care Routine

Self-love isn't just about the mind. It also means treating your body well.  Eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of water. Exercise most days of the week.

Pick one self-care ritual you love and do it every single day.  For instance, I like nice face soap.  Each morning, I take three or four minutes and indulge in washing my face with luxurious soap.  I even go out of my way to get soap that is a little pricey—because I am worth a damn bar of soap.  And so are you.  I recommend Herbivore Bamboo Charcoal Soap. :)

If you aren't sure how to start a self-care routine, check out my last blog post Rise and Shine: Grounding Morning Routines for Autumn.


Do Yoga

Yoga teaches you the confidence to be bold in where you are at the present moment.  It isn’t just about standing on your head or being flexible.  

What yoga taught me is that we must honor ourselves exactly where we are.  It doesn’t matter what people are doing around you.  It doesn’t matter what you think you should be doing.  You are right here, right now.  And that is completely and divinely perfect.



Find a comfortable seat.  Close your eyes.  Be still.

These three little steps to meditation aren’t easy. The mind is busy doing what it does best—thinking. Quieting those thoughts can be challenging.  But when we can quiet them, we gain clarity.  For me, meditation has taught me how to let go of thoughts that don’t serve me.

A nice method for meditation is repeating your self-love mantra with every inhale and exhale. It can help you not only get used to the mantra, but also maintain focus.

Ps. You don’t have to sit in full lotus for an hour to meditate.  Four minutes is plenty until you are ready to increase to five or six minutes.


Let It Go and Redirect Your Energy

Remember, what other people think of you is none of your business, so don't waste energy and time worrying about it.  Put all that would-be wasted energy into parts of your live that you love and want to nurture.

Just imagine all the things you could accomplish if every second of energy put into worry, frustration, and anger were redirected into positive, useful directions.  Letting go of the bull shit gives you time, space, and energy to do the things you truly love.

In the grand scheme of existence, we are only on this Earth for a fraction of time.  Do you really want this short amount of life on Earth to be wasted on worrying about what others think of you or doubting yourself?  Reroute that energy and get shit done--whatever it is that you want to do.


Kick Ass

Do the damn thing.  Be yourself, and kick ass at it. Celebrate that qualities that make you unique.