On who's terms?

If you make an appointment to see your dentist and have certain needs such as sedation or antibiotics or a preferred flavour of flouride, they have systems in place to accommodate you.

But what if you need something that falls outside of their systems?

Perhaps you only want to visit the dentist on Sundays or you want to pay by personal cheque. Or perhaps you don’t want to make an appointment and simply want to walk in off the street and be seen by a dentist at a moment’s notice.

Your dentist simply doesn’t work in these ways. The clinic doesn’t open on Sundays. It requires payment at the time of service by cash or card only. It doesn’t offer a walk-in service unless it’s an bona fide emergency. Despite all of this, you will probably stay loyal to this dentist. After all, they know you. They do good work. You trust them.

We teach our clients how to treat us.

When we begin, we have the capacity to take on urgent work. We are more tolerant to working on our clients’ terms. Pay how you like. By the due date would be great. Just pay me. Thanks.

As you grow and your time becomes more valuable, your capacity to respond to emergencies decreases as does your willingness to absorb late payments, missed meetings and project delays.

Yet you didn’t set up your boundaries this way to begin with so now what?

If there’s fear about the loss of the relationship from being more firm about your process, that will require some examination.

On one hand, you may fear that your client will judge you. How so? They might think you too rigid, greedy, difficult, unprofessional. Do you fear damage to your reputation?

On the other hand, what do you have to fear if the relationship remains the same? Staying frustrated that your client doesn’t respect your process. Staying frustrated at not feeling heard? Arguably, there is much more to fear about not expressing a boundary.

The other kind of learning

There’s the kind of learning that’s stimulating and motivating. It acts as a sort of reset - shaking up your routine, setting you on a new path - like attending a conference or going back to school. It’s also passive learning.

And then there’s another kind of learning. The excruciating kind. This kind of learning comes up when things get tough - like when you lose a client or lose big money on a project. The kind of learning that brings up questions like ‘am I really cut out for this?’ or ‘am I wasting my time?’.

We all get triggered in certain ways when things don’t go as planned. We blame ourselves and our process. We tell ourselves that this happens because we’re not good enough or smart enough or we don’t work hard enough.

The trick is to recognize when learning is masquerading as something else like failure, rejection or unworthiness and to dig a little deeper. To reframe the situation, clean it up and honestly reflect upon what you could have done differently. To face it and let it help you re-work your systems, build a better process, communicate your boundaries more effectively.

Every time you learn something the hard way, you are taking another giant leap forward. Learning now means you get better sooner. So you’ve just lost big money on a project. Your bank balance may tell you you’re behind. But really you’re streaks ahead.