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Setting Boundaries and Self-Care for Entrepreneurs: Lessons from a Taco Night

I was cleaning the dishes at 10pm after hosting my weekly community taco night. As I scrubbed away, something was gnawing at me: the early indications of resentment.

“Why isn’t anyone helping me with the dishes?” “I spent so much money on the meat this week!” “I just want to go to bed.”

Ordinarily, there would be a competing set of voices: “You love having the community over!” “Stop being stingy.” “You’ll feel better in the morning, quit whining.”

But this time, I realized that my initial voices were important to listen to. I wasn’t going to let it take me down the river of frustration to the rapids of resentment into the waterfall of self-loathing. It’s common for us to take these voices too literally and flow down the emotional river without any action. It dawned on me: I’m overextending myself. I decided to dock in the safe harbor of truth.

Lesson 1: The Best Boundaries Come From Self-Acceptance

I remember about seven years into building my catering startup, I was spending a lot of time representing our brand at conferences, on stages, and with the press. I was coming alive with it, and my COO took notice.

He sat me down at our next 1:1 and asked, “Tracy, do you even care about catering?”

What came out shocked both of us: “Honestly, no.”

Oh god. There I went with my honest communication again. I clarified that the operations of providing our service weren’t my passion—that’s why I hired him! What I truly loved about my role in the business was becoming a champion for our love culture and our mission of authentic connection.

How often do we spend years trying to tell ourselves that we “should” care about something due to our role or society’s expectations of us? I had this old story that as the CEO of a heavily operational company, I should be passionate about logistics. But that story just wasn’t true. And in that falsehood, I wasn’t giving the space to my true gifts to the company of advocating for the brand.

The seed of adopting others’ views of us originates with a lack of self-acceptance. We overvalue the way that things have been done or the stories of how they ought to be done that point to proven stories of success. These can be planted from our families of origin, media, or straight comparison with what others tell us.

Ultimately, this means that we make decisions from fear. Fear that we won’t get the outcomes we want. Fear that others will judge us. To find your own truth requires the courage to be wrong but to walk to the beat of your own drum. What overrides fear? Courage.

Lesson 2: Move Towards the Path of Flow

I worked with a founder who built a successful consumer brand. Despite a rocky journey, she was proud of her outcome because it was a form of self-expression. Initially, that felt radical to me. I’m so used to building for others than for myself. But she used her self-expression as her guide (and boundary holder) to what she was and wasn’t willing to do.

Few of us are raised to do work guided by feeling good. This is distinct from building companies that have impact. While that invites a somewhat warm, fuzzy feeling of service, that doesn’t mean that your daily activities and strategy align with what feels good or aligned to you.

The best boundaries are set based on knowing your preferences and desires. The most porous boundaries are violated when built based on other people’s preferences and desires. When I was deciding on a cadence for my weekly taco night, I built it based on what others wanted and then I followed along. It wasn’t until I got a chance to feel into it that I realized I hadn’t built it for me.

Building it for me means reducing frequency, delegating coordination, and making space for me to enjoy myself instead of constantly cooking. This all became simple once I listened to my inner preferences. This approach is essential in setting boundaries and self-care for entrepreneurs.

Lesson 3: Observe Your Complaints

The best method for me to pay attention to my preferences is to listen to my gripes. I worked with a founder who had been bringing gripes about a key executive to me for months. They were small complaints that never seemed to warrant an entire coaching session.

Until recently, my intuition told me their dynamic had deeper issues. I paused him to slow the complaints down. We had to read between the lines and pause to feel what was coming up. On the surface, it seemed like the conflict was minor. But we rooted down deeper and found that it was about trust. The executive had missed several deadlines and the founder had been compensating by doing their work for them. When really, he could have been finding the failure in the system and addressing it openly with the executive.

When we move too quickly, we only cruise by the tip of the iceberg. It’s important to navigate slowly to survey what lies below the surface. Otherwise, we end up with a gaping hole in our hull that we could have prevented.

Applying Self-Care to Your Own Life

I now take my own gripes with a certain level of seriousness. I listen as though there’s something below worth investigating, and some part of my path above that needs course correction. If I can listen and offer what I hear some self-acceptance and compassion, I suddenly eradicate the self-judgment that I’m not a “better,” more positive person. Who wants to apply toxic positivity to their emotions?

This doesn’t mean you believe literally what negative thoughts tell you. But you read them as smoke signals for a bigger inferno below that demands your attention. Flames you might not be seeing. And then you can quite simply put out the fire. No need to bury your head in the sand when you smell smoke. Simply attend to the flames while they are small.

I encourage you this week to examine a recurring complaint in your life. What could this be a signal for? Is there a preference or desire beneath it? Is there a boundary that you want to set or is being violated? While you might end up making a small change, the trailing impact on your self-respect and truth could prove to be enormous.

Remember, setting boundaries and self-care for entrepreneurs is not just about managing your workload. It’s about honoring your true feelings, aligning your actions with your desires, and navigating your journey with authenticity and courage.

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