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Setting Boundaries, Being Intentional & Complementary Partnerships featuring Alicia Wojciuch

Last time, Alicia Wojciuch and I discussed what we wish we would have known about supervising back in the day. But that was actually just half of our discussion. Today, I want to share the rest of what we talked about, specifically setting boundaries, being intentional, and creating complementary partnerships. Now even though those seem like three separate things, they really all tie together as ways to increase your wellness and productivity at work. When you add in those three things to your routine, you can start to shift the culture at your institution and in Higher Ed.

Here's our continued conversation…

Anne: And as you are saying that it made me think, you know, like when you work together you know you develop this culture. So that, of course, made me think about higher LED in general. And so, there are things that you pick up working as a group and working in this field that can be positive like you were talking about. But what are some things you think that maybe are not so positive that you know certainly we're trying to address, but that are impacting people in a way that is not good.

Alicia: Hmm. I think the first thing that comes to my mind is that most people go into Higher ED because they want to help people, or they had a really powerful experience around education or have a very strong belief that education is one of the ways to change the trajectory of the future, and people's individual lives, and their entire family is right, like, I think people come in to Higher ED for a very noble purpose.

And I think one of the hard things that comes with that is it can let us be taken advantage of by systems that are possibly created with good intent, right. We want to help all the students and do all the things and make all the things excellent. But sometimes the people that you know those systems that get created out of that. And again, because we're we believe in the thing that we're doing. People can get really taken advantage of or overworked and underpaid, but feel like, “Well, I've picked this profession to help people, so that's what I deserve.” Like not in a super negative way, but just that, “Well, it's education. I'm here to help it's not about the money it's not about what it's giving me, but instead what I am able to give.”

And it's a really hard balance, I think, for folks to walk that line between understanding I am giving my best, and I'm giving my all but that giving my all and giving my best doesn't mean I'm giving everything to work. And it's a hard thing, I think, for folks to wrap their head around that it's okay to have boundaries and say, “No, I can't do this,” or “Yes, I'm tapped out and we need to address this thing.” Because serving students and working in the institutions that are doing that the work never ends. And that can be really, really hard.

Anne: That makes yeah, absolutely. And so, do you feel like boundaries are really the thing that we need to be focusing on? Because I know that's a pretty hot topic. And I know you've said, and in other things that we've done together, that even in the parenting stuff that you're into for your tiny humans, the talk about boundaries is everywhere.

Alicia: Yeah, I think it is everywhere. I think it's again like the idea of quiet quitting.

I think it's definitely one of the most important things. Yes, in Higher ED I think it's important. It's showing up globally and definitely within the United States. And again, thinking about parenting and reframing what all of that looks like.

I do think that boundary work really encompasses so much of the challenges that people have, right. Not understanding or being able to articulate, “This is what works for me. This is what doesn't. This is the space that I inhabit. And this is the space that work inhabits.” And you know it all does go together. We don't have, “Well, this is my work life, and this is my home life, and this is my giving life, for you know those kinds of things.

But I do think again for people to be able to understand and articulate the things that give them energy, the things that weigh them down. And being able to talk about those things in a way that is not about, you know, I refuse to work hard or I refuse to work a random shift, or you know, whatever it might be. But instead having clear understanding of what you can give, when you need to tap out, and when you need to ask for a pause. Or again, when a behavior is not okay. So, again yes, very long answer to I do think that boundaries kind of encompass most of the challenges that that people are facing.

Anne: Sure. That was a long answer, but that's okay. And honestly, so far this has taken kind of a negative turn, which was not my intention. I guess you know what maybe I need to reframe how I'm interpreting this because I actually don't think it's negative. I think that it's embracing the truth of the situation. And you know, I think, that we need to realistically do that, because I have positivity. That's one of my…I think it's maybe number 6. And folks with positivity…

And you know, I think, that people, for a variety of reasons tend to, you know, because we are a group of people that we want to help people and we can reframe our own discomfort and exhaustion as, “Well, I just have to keep pushing, because then I can help people.”

And same thing with positivity. Like let's find the silver lining, even if the silver lining is like a super thin thread, and it's an overwhelming dark cloud. You know, we have to acknowledge that there are issues, and we have to stop and address them. Or we just keep going in and going and going and driving ourselves deeper into that exhaustion.

So, all that being said, you know, I think a lot of what we do with Strengths University is helping people reframe the culture that they work in – the stories, the beliefs that they have around setting boundaries. Because I think a lot of folks don't feel comfortable setting boundaries, you know, like whenever. I don't know if you've had this experience, but when I’m coaching people and suggest, “Well, have you told your supervisor that you and your team are unable to do that?”

Often the responses is, “Well, no, I can't. I can't tell them I can't do something.” And so, the question then, of course, becomes where's the line? Like if you keep getting asked to do more and more and more, with less and less. I mean, is it just when you drop dead from exhaustion that that's when you can't. Oh, you literally can't. Oh, you're dead now. Okay. So, I guess you won't be doing that.

So, how can I turn that into a question for you? What do you think that folks need to do…you know, because everybody's overwhelmed. So, what do you think folks need to do in order to start empowering themselves and getting out of the systemic quagmire that seems to be weighing so many people down.

Alicia: I feel like one of the challenges that I have experienced, and I know, folks that we have coached, and I have coached experience, is that so often there are so many things that we do that are nice and are beneficial, but we don't have any information about if they're actually making an impact. We believe that they are because either we've done them or it's a system that exists, so we feel like we have to do it. And that feels really, really hard because, you know, changing a system that you don't necessarily control can be frustrating – challenging – can keep you feeling stuck because you can't actually change it.

But I think one of the things that we need to be really intentional about doing is actually that word just about being intentional. And so, if there is a process or a system, or a thing that you are doing that, it's like, “I don't this takes so much time or energy or effort, but I don't know if it's making a difference.”

Being able to sit with that and take some time to think like, how can I share this concern with my supervisor, or with my team? Or as these things are coming in, being able to articulate it in more specific terms than “I'm exhausted. I cannot do this.” But instead working to be able to talk about these are the challenges that I see. Or can you help me understand the why behind this to work to open up those conversations.

So that's a really like big picture thing is forcing yourself when you notice that there is a system or a project or task that you have to do, that's overwhelming and exhausting. checking in with yourself about is it something that might be able to change? Even if you don't you haven't seen it change before. But you think that maybe there's a better way or a different way, or I don't think we're getting a result out of this being able to sit with that and then work on ways to have an open conversation around that.

But again, that's a very big picture. I think probably the foundational step in that that people can actually do on the daily is really pay attention. Again, be very intentional about noticing, “This is where I feel frustrated. This is one moment where I felt joy right.” I think some of the terms that are out there, like trigger. Again, that's a term that’s completely over overused. But noticing the things that make you feel negative, that make you again feel weight down, or sad, or whatever it might be. Then also giving equal importance and noticing the “glimmers” I think is one of the words or terms that is used out there.

Noticing the things, “Oh, wait! I do see this thing making a difference from my team or my students. I do think that, see this thing individually for me is making me feel happy and joyful, or in this moment fulfilled. And the more that we can get clear on that for ourselves - again, the more we can notice, “Okay, is this a bigger system thing that maybe needs to change? Or is this a task that I need to try to find help delegating or finding a strategic partner that can help me through that?”

That to me feels foundational and much more manageable, of being very intentional every day, forcing yourself to build the habit, either in the morning or at the end of the day, maybe at lunch, right? But building the habit of what were the good things today, and what were the challenging things, so that you can notice that, and figure out how to move through.

Anne: Excellent. So, you talked about strategic partnerships. Do you feel like folks lean into partnerships enough, or do you feel like everybody is just trying to do everything themselves?

Alicia: I think it really depends on the culture that your team is created. And I think we coach a lot of people that feel like they're doing it alone. And you know, even just yesterday we're having a conversation that there's somebody like, yeah, “I don't have anybody to ask.” And I think that gets to a much bigger piece of this conversation as well when we shift to the idea of employee engagement – people feeling like they have a best friend at work is incredibly important to how well people are going to be and feel at work. And then you know the CDC just announced loneliness as a huge concern for especially in the United States. And so, thinking about the question - and of course this is where my connectedness sends us all over the place. But thinking about the question do people lean into strategic partnerships, again, I think it's so case by case.

Overarchingly, I'd say probably not. I think oftentimes we get locked into, “Well, this is my role. This is what it says I'm supposed to do. This is what I signed up for.” As opposed to, “Okay, this is the thing that's challenging me. Is there somebody else that can either help me think of different ways to do it; help me understand the why behind this. Or is this truly something, “Hey? I can never master a vlookup. Can we trade some tasks? Can we trade this Excel task that you know how to do? Can you do that and I can take something else? I can take another student meeting off your plate, or you know.” How do we find these things to work together?

And again, that's I think, one of the things that's so great about Strengths is it gives you so much of that shortcut language to have a sense of okay, who do I know, or who on my team might find this task, or find this thing enjoyable? Who might I be able to go to, to give me a whole bunch of different ideas to start with or to move, move the needle on this? But I think it would be huge if we could continue to build better community in our teams, in our institutions, and I think so.

Yeah, to answer the question, in one word – no. I don't think people lean into strategic partnerships enough.

Anne: All right. Excellent. Well, thanks for finally getting to that. Lol. You know. I think that's a that's I think you want a lot of places, but I think that's good. And honestly for myself. Had you asked me before we worked together at the College of Pharmacy like, do you prefer to work independently or with a group? I always said independently. In fact, I remember in high school I played tennis, and I never wanted to play doubles because I didn't want other people depending on me slash. I did not want to be responsible for us, failing.

But after having worked with our small team. We worked so well collaboratively I preferred working in a group. And when I had almost anything to do, I would think about okay, “Who am I going to talk to make this part happen?” And I feel like that was one of the times in my life where I was the most creative; I could do the most things. And that, of course, is when we started using Strengths. But even before then, just like there was this intrinsic thought like, “Oh, I needed to brainstorm. Let me find…where's Erin? Oh, I need to figure out logistics. Where's Alicia? Oh, I just need to get things done. Where's Rebecca? Or where are my student workers, you know?” So, I think that you can get way more done and feel like you're using less energy. And you know it's just this more invigorating process when you do embrace other people's Strengths, and you start thinking about how are we doing this together instead of, “This is my list that I have to get done. And I guess maybe *fingers crossed* somebody will ask if I need any help, but otherwise it's all mine.”

So, I think that your long answer was great and hit on a lot of points…at least for me, and that's honestly why I'm doing this is just for my own…

Alicia: Isn’t that why we do anything at the end of the day?

Anne: Well, it’s kind of – yeah, that actually is. But now we're going too deep…too deep.

Even though we ended up in a seemingly deep place, Alicia is absolutely correct. Everyone operates from a place of “what’s in it for me” or WIFM. Even if you think of yourself as being a selfless, giving person, the reason you do that is because you’re getting something out of it. When you think about setting boundaries, being intentional about what you’re doing, and working more collaboratively, it’s really about asking yourself what would you GET if you did things differently. It’s about challenging yourself and your stories so you can upgrade the benefits for you and the people who depend on you.

So, if you’re saying yes to everything your supervisor asks of you and your team, what does that give you? Peace of mind that you won’t be fired? Staying in your comfort zone because you’ve been taught not to question authority? You’re getting something out of it, even if it’s also exhausting you and depleting your wellbeing. You’re getting something out of it, even if it’s driven by fear. That stress response thinks the things that you’re currently doing are helping to keep you safe. But are they? Perhaps in the short term, but what about the long term?

Now what would having honest conversations with your supervisor and setting boundaries for you and your team get you? That’s going to be different for everyone, but maybe it would challenge you to learn how to be assertive. Maybe that would allow you to better support your team. Maybe it would empower you to stand up for yourself and your wellbeing. Maybe it would give you permission to look for a job that better matches your worth.

Our brains only do things that reward us in some way. The question really is, are those things for your long-term wellbeing, or are they just getting you past a short-term hurdle? If you can start to create healthy boundaries for you and your team, be intentional about assessing where you’re spending your energy, and find complementary partners across campus and your life, you’ll be on your way to upgrading exactly what you’re getting out of the things you do every day.

And until next time, stay strong.

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