The phone rings, I don't recognize the caller but I answer anyhow.  It's a parent looking for math help for their child.  They tell me their story and my heart aches for them, but I find myself at odds because I have no spots open.  I cave and agree to tutoring during my son's football practice if they'll meet me at the school.  I tell  myself, “It's stressful, but I am being helpful right?”

My phone dings and I check my email while spending time with  my boys down by the river.  It's a message from a tutor needing help with the Profitable Tutor Framework.  I immediately start typing back to get this tutor back on track.  I tell myself, “They need help now, the kids are busy.  It will just take a minute.”

A friend calls me to schedule a longer visit with me.  In my gut I know I can't possibly squeeze in one more thing, but I tell myself, “She must really want to be here. She must be feeling lonely.  It will push me to my limits, but I am being helpful right?”

I could list countless times that I caved and added extra things to my life that I have pushed into the “being helpful” column of my life.  I get a lot of satisfaction out of serving and being helpful.  My guess is you do as well! The more I talk to tutors I see that we are all attracted to tutoring for similar reasons.  Tutoring allows us to be helpful in a very personal way, it fills us up at the same time.  Teaching in such a personal way is highly satisfying.  This also leads me to believe that in your life outside of tutoring, you also like helping others.  Can you relate?

Boundaries Broken

The summer of 2014, I thought I had learned my lesson with boundaries once and for all.  After a summer of conferences, vacations, visitors, and a packed tutor schedule; I found myself completely depleted and my body retaliated.  I have auto-immune diseases that stress can cause to flare up and wreak havoc in my life.  I slowed down some and recovered.  Then went right back to taking on too much again.  I was the yes woman!

For years I have been listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio.  He often recommends the book, Boundaries to families in distress.  I always brushed it off and thought it didn't apply to me.  The following spring, I had stretched myself beyond my limits and my body shut down on me again.  Obviously, I am anything but firm with myself.  One day while visiting my sister, we were exchanging busy/mayhem stories.  I mentioned this book to her and we decided to go get the book immediately.

Before opening the pages of the book, I secretly was hoping it would be full of scripts telling me how to tell others no.  It actually was quite the opposite!  Through the lens of Christianity, the book discusses our root of why we make these decisions that we have labeled as being so helpful, or Christ like.  As I read, I began to see myself in a lot of the examples they shared.  In my efforts to avoid conflict, I end up taking on problems and responsibilities that I was never intended to take on like squeezing in more students to my schedule, putting others “emergencies” ahead of my family, and filling a void in a friend's life.

In fact, Dr. Cloud pointed out what we really need to hone into, “We were created to take responsibility for certain tasks.  Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job, and what isn't.  Workers who continually take on duties that aren't theirs will eventually burn out.  It takes wisdom to know what we should be doing and what we shouldn't.  We can't do everything.”

This points back to that big decision I made at the end of this summer, “There is a time and a season for everything, under the heaven.”  This book has helped me combat that internal dialog of, “I am being helpful, right?”  I try not to make decisions rapidly, but step back and really think about my life and current season.  Boundaries explores topics like:

  • What do boundaries look like?
  • How to set boundaries with your spouse, children, family, friends, others, and yourself
  • Resistance to boundaries
  • How to know if you are living within your boundaries

Dr. Cloud points out that once you realize that you lack boundaries and begin doing the difficult work to put them firmly in place, you'll spend a few months being angry about them.  You'll also feel like everyone else is angry at you, and they may be!  Because you were boundary-less and now have said no to people around you, they may be lashing back in an effort to coerce you into saying yes.  I've found this to be so true!

Boundaries and Business

Finding life and work balance is hard when you are running your own tutor business.  I would venture to say letting tutoring take over your life is born out of fear.  Fear you'll lose all of your students (I lost 80% of mine this year), fear of hurting others, fear of students not getting the help they need…the list could go on and on.  There is much wisdom in the conversation of business about learning this magical two letter word, no.  When we can say no, we are saying yes to something else of greater worth.  Maybe your no allows you to say yes to better health.  Saying no might enable you to find time to move your tutor business online.  Perhaps saying no will give you the time you need to take a much needed vacation.

I am hyper aware of boundaries around me now.  I'm seeing more and more entrepreneurs talking about boundaries.  I think we'll see a continuation in this trend as our lives and work become increasingly more mobile.  It is just too easy to fall into the mind trap that we can multi-task 10 or more things!  My friend Lauren Gagiolli of Higher Test Scores Prep recently shared an image on Facebook that totally spoke to the truths I am discovering on this entrepreneur journey.


Numbers 1-4 come naturally to most of us, but number 5 is where it gets tricky.  Setting boundaries can get out of whack when you let 1-3 rule the roost of your business.  While I am not perfect at setting boundaries, It's something I strive for everyday.  Thankfully, master teacher and business owner Christy Wright understands my desire for a scripted response for telling people no.  She wrote one of the most handy lists for letting people down gently in her printable 25 Ways to Say No.  My personal favorite responses:

“I would love to help out, but I don’t have room for even one more project right now. Maybe next time.”

“That sounds fantastic. Unfortunately, it falls on family night (or “me night”), and I keep that night open for rest at home. I know you’ll have a blast!”

Saying no and setting boundaries is hard.  I really don't like to disappoint people, but I have to in order to say yes to my family and health.  I am finding it is getting easier each time I do it.

What about you?  Do you struggle with taking on too many responsibilities?  

Leave me a comment and you'll be entered to win a copy of Boundaries by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend.  

Book Giveaway ends Sept. 23, 2015 11:59 pm EST

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