Lit leadership lessons: How dental professionals can honor boundaries

By Amisha Singh, DDS

A full day of dental patient care. Payroll waiting to be done. The local PTA meeting to which I probably should have said no. Dinner is not planned and the whole family is hungry. Sometimes in our lives, we feel as though we have no choice but to give, give, give. Everyone needs something, whether it be our team, our patients, our families, or our communities. And as dentists, we are givers. For many of us, it is why we went into this work. However, the adage of “you cannot pour from an empty cup” is truer than ever. We have been pouring on overdrive for the past year and a half plus. We poured through uncertainty and scarcity and fear. We poured for our loved ones, we poured for the patients who needed us, and we poured for the world that was suffering.

Wellness has always been an issue in the world of health professionals, and you will hear me cover it fairly frequently in this column and in my speaking and teaching. But what I want to focus on today is boundaries. Are they the antidote to all of our wellness issues? Not quite, but they help.

I speak from experience. I can remember the first time, as an adult, I learned the word boundary and what it meant. My mind was blown! So wait … I am supposed to draw a line in the sand in front of my parents, my family, my peers, and even my teachers?! I am supposed to put myself first? Without realizing it, I had been operating under the rule that I was expendable. It sounds harsh when you put it like that, but many of us may still be operating on autopilot with that as the underlying rule.

Think about all the decisions you have made in the past week. How many of them, when you had to choose between you and someone else, did you choose yourself? Your rest versus the bake sale for the classroom. Your workout versus fitting in that one last emergency dental patient. Your hydration and bio break versus the endless back-to-back schedule. I don’t know about you but, for the most part, if it is me versus something else, the something else usually wins. But what does this mean over the long term? We all know … it means fatigue, weight gain, high blood pressure, stress, and burnout. But like most poisons that do not kill us outright, we die sip by sip. But we keep continuing to sip.

So I went out seeking a formula for the antidote, the all elusive boundary. And I stumbled upon a blog by Career Contessa (one of my favorites), which held just the formula I was seeking. So I am going to highlight a few of her points and discuss how they apply to us, the givers of the dental world.

Assessing personal boundaries

Before we ever consider work, we have to think about our personal boundaries first. Mostly, because if you are anything like me, I let personal boundaries get violated by work all the time. A patient needs to vent? No problem. A team member needs me to pick up slack? I’m there! And what ends up happening is that I completely press mute on my limits, my feelings, and my needs. So think:

Which of my needs have I not met recently?

What feeling of mine do I need to honor?

Are there promises I made to myself I have broken?

Communicate Upfront

For every boundary, identify who is on the other side and let them know in clear and kind terms where that line is being drawn.

Think:

Which boundaries do I need to set in my personal and professional life? How will I communicate them up front with clarity and kindness?

Do my systems support these boundaries I have created?

Delegate!

There is good work and there is great work. What work can you give to others which will be their great work and will free you up for more of your great work? Got it? Good … now give it away!

Say No!

Think about all the things which you may have said yes to … out of loyalty, out of obligation, out of guilt, out of fear. Write them all down and then cross them off. Make calls, send emails, do what you need to remove them from your plate. They deserve to be done by someone who is passionate about them. And you deserve that time back.

Take time off.

I know, it feels impossible. It feels not do-able. But it is. I will give you the life-changing advice I once got from one of my favorite mentors (guess who … his last name rhymes with “ice”): Schedule the important stuff first. Dr. David Rice blocks his schedule for things that matter most like rest, family time, and self-care. I took a page out of his book (sometimes I falter, but I still try) and it has been life-changing!

What other advice do you have about boundaries? What has worked for you? Share below!

NEXT READ: Leadership lesson: The power of creativity

Note: “Autumnal fence off The Grove ~ South Farnborough” by Polyrus is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

BONUS ON BOUNDARIES

Anastasia Turchetta recently gave a fascinating talk on the importance of boundaries during an Ignite retreat. Watch the video below to hear her thoughts.