Entrepreneurship presents a unique financial opportunity for women. After all, when there’s no glass ceiling, what’s holding you back from limitless earning potential? While that seems to be a rhetorical question, it’s not. The truth is: there’s a lot standing in the way of most women entrepreneurs reaching—or exceeding—equitable profit levels as their male counterparts. While many of those obstacles are external, there’s one glaring hurdle that often results in a self induced glass ceiling.
Boundaries are really what’s in the way of women’s earning potential.
Now, this isn’t going to be some victim blaming proselytization—first, I want to acknowledge that this boundaries issue is a result of the standards and precedents set by our society. As women, we’re socialized to care about everyone else’s feelings, nurture everyone else, and take care of the problems of everyone and their momma. While we’re out there taking care of the world, we’ve learned that we can’t also be aggressive or ambitious. Being ambitious, working hard, and earning a high-income while also being a “good woman” are considered mutually exclusive—and that kind of behavior is likely to get you trashed out there on the streets. We're called nasty things, and we're seen as bad partners/moms/women, i.e.: “Oh, she's making so much money. She must never spend time with her children.”
How many of us have heard that? Or even have said that? Yes, even the best of us have said those things, whether aloud or—worse—about ourselves in our own heads. This is a pervasive part of our society, and it’s really hard to shut off.
So, you’re out there being secretly ambitious and trying to do it all. Along with creating your empires, you…
- Field calls from your friends to handle their emotions.
- Pack lunches and fold laundry.
- Compromise your time to spend it with your partner.
- Cook dinner and wash dishes.
- Empty the dishwasher and take out the trash.
- Help your sister move.
- Handle school drop-off and pick-up.
- Make the bed and fill up the Brita.
- Do your mom’s taxes.
- Mail out Christmas cards
- Host a baby shower for your bestie.
- Clean the house and organize everyone’s shit…
All because being ambitious is seen as a dirty word, so you overcompensate by handling everything instead of asking for help. Listen. Forget about all that. Women need to reject the idea that we need to do everything. Completely reject it. Just say no, okay?
What if being a good [mother/partner/friend/daughter/boss/employee/CEO/ superwoman] isn’t about putting in ALL the work and ALL the hard labor? What if it’s really about presence and figuring out what it is you want to model for all of these people looking to you for care, nurturing, and help? We incorrectly equate the exchange of time, money, energy, and presence here.
Laundry? We do it, especially as breadwinning mothers, because there is this feeling that we have to atone for our financial sins by doing the most in the housewifery department. Making the bed? Same thing.
What happens if…
- The bed goes unmade?
- The towels unfolded?
- Someone else makes dinner?
- The laundry sent out?
If you had a visceral “that’s impossible” reaction to those questions, there may be some unexplored perfectionism at play here. Is it that we have to do it because no one else will, or is it that we have to do it because no one else will do it as well as we will? Listen, when it comes to setting boundaries and asking for help, we have to surrender to the situation. Is it possible to say, “Well, I'm going to go take some time for me. You got the kids. You got the house? Cool.” Can you hire some help without leaving a 17-point checklist for them to follow? Just let them do it.
Let’s just accept that they're not going to do it as well as you, and that's totally fine. Let it go. Because otherwise, if you try to be perfect and try to enforce your to-do list everywhere you go—and never let anyone else do anything for you—then you're playing a losing game.
Win the boundaries game by letting go of these societal expectations and perfectionism.
Personally, boundaries are my favorite form of self-care. And let’s be clear: boundaries aren’t ultimatums, they’re negotiations. Law school taught me how to negotiate, and I negotiate daily with my husband, my children, my clients, my nanny, my team—everyone.
You can establish boundaries with everyone simply through the art of negotiation.
Here are three helpful boundaries to enforce, right now:
- Let your partner know, “I will not do the laundry, be the only one responsible for dinner, and be the one cleaning the house and also go to work, just like you do. I need help, and I won’t do it all anymore, so let's find another way.”
- Have a conversation with your team if you're getting too much work piled on only you. Delegate tasks and hire (and fire) where needed.
- Ask for 30% more for your offerings, services, and products—and get on the phone with any clients with unpaid invoices (and then establish standard operating procedures—and possibly late fees—for unpaid invoices moving forward).
As women entrepreneurs, we've got to put boundaries in place, and we have to learn how to have these uncomfortable conversations. If we don't, we will 100% get the lion's share of the work and not be properly compensated. This is just not an option. Time is energy, and energy is money.
You must protect your energy with more effort than you put into giving it up.
When you let people infringe on your time, you're letting them infringe on your earning power as well. It's the same thing.