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What a knee to a solicitor’s groin taught Sam White about boundaries

·5-min read
Sam White knows how to set boundaries. Here's what you need to know to do the same. (Images: Supplied, Getty).
Sam White knows how to set boundaries. Here's what you need to know to do the same. (Images: Supplied, Getty).

Read part one to find out how Sam White launched five successful businesses and the lessons she learnt along the way.

Sam White doesn’t have any time for BS. She never has.

As a young woman in business, when a solicitor she was working with tried to kiss her in a nightclub, she took immediate action.

One swift and “very hard” knee to the groin, and the problem was solved.

“He dropped like a sack of spuds,” White told Yahoo Finance.

It’s this approach to boundaries that she believes helped her achieve her career goals.

And as the founder of five highly successful insurance businesses, she has a lot of advice to share.

It's simple: If you don’t know how to set boundaries, you can’t get what you want

The first rule when it comes to setting boundaries is to understand just how important they are.

“[The ability to set boundaries] is absolutely critical, as it falls into: ‘can you ask for what you want?’ If you can’t ask for what you want, you’re never going to get it,” she said.

“You’re spending your life navigating around people, trying to make them happy, not really pushing yourself forward.”

This doesn’t only apply to your career; setting boundaries is also a crucial aspect of happy social lives and physical health.

Be clear on what’s acceptable to you

Everyone’s boundaries will be different. That means you need to know, and honour, where yours lie.

This is especially important for women, White believes.

“A lot of women are taught to be ‘the nice girl’ or to not necessarily raise a fuss, because that’s the way that we socialise young girls,” she said.

“If you really want to survive in a male-dominated environment, you have to know who you are and what’s comfortable for you and you have to clearly communicate to other people when that’s been infringed upon.”

Be prepared to get real

If setting boundaries seems scary, that’s natural.

According to Brené Brown, an author and expert on vulnerability, courage and empathy, boundaries are essentially a way to be generous to others while protecting yourself.

But setting them will often leave you feeling vulnerable, as articulating boundaries for others can feel like judgment to them, while also leaving your values and expectations exposed.

Noting this, White said it’s also good to remember that boundaries can also be a welcome piece of information.

She described her childhood as “challenging”, and said her mother was a dysfunctional alcoholic which meant she grew up too quickly.

“Ironically, there weren't really any boundaries in our household and as a result, I had to create my own if I wanted to feel safe,” she said.

“It was up to me to make sure that I created appropriate boundaries to be able to do so.”

It doesn’t hurt to remember that boundaries can also be well received, she added.

“As long as you keep your cool, it’s not emotional and it’s a clear, ‘I’m not okay with this and this is why I’m not okay with it,’ most people respond reasonably well to that.”

Start small: Practice with your friends and family

Setting boundaries at work and in your social life can be hard, but as with anything - it just takes practice and a bit of muscle memory.

Practice setting boundaries with friends and family first, White suggests, then when you need to set a boundary with someone you’re not as familiar with, it’s easier.

For example, this could mean a conversation with a friend who used to ask you to pick up their children from school on occasion, but it’s now become a bi-weekly expectation.

“Just have a very straightforward conversation with them,” White said.

“Always start from a position of reaffirming the affection that you have for an individual. A lot of the time when you’re imposing a boundary, your fear for them is that they feel rejected or that you don’t care about them.”

White would say: “You know how much I love you, you know I will do anything for you, but I’m really struggling with this request. I don’t mind doing it as a one-off, but I’m really struggling to be able to give it to you.”

Build the boundaries into your day

Boundaries aren’t always verbal.

Ever had someone slot a meeting into your calendar without your consent? Or approached you at your desk while you were hustling to finish a project?

These are all areas where you can stand to more clearly define your boundaries.

For White, this means literally blocking out her calendar to spend time exercising, with her family, and switching off.

If she didn’t do this, her calendar would be overridden with other people’s requests.

As careers coach Caroline Castrillon wrote for Forbes, setting boundaries can be as simple as hitting pause before saying yes.

Give yourself the time to decide if you can do it, if you should do it, and when you should do it.

And a warning: failure to do so will breed resentment and exhaustion.

“Setting boundaries is a skill and it is healthier. Holding that stuff in is toxic. It’s toxic for you and it’s toxic for the other person,” she said.

“Learn how to articulate it, and you can have very difficult conversations in a kind way.”

Read part one to find out how Sam White launched five successful businesses and the lessons she learnt along the way.

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