The art of setting boundaries with Valerie Lefever, Project Manager

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  • 06 min. reading
  • Digital Marketing

One aspect of happiness at work and happiness in general is mental and emotional health. Because feeling good is as much a question of what we do as it is about what we consciously choose to not do.

We discussed the complicated art of prioritising one’s self over the happiness of others with  Valerie Lefever, a skilled project manager who knows a thing or two about boundaries.


Rookie mistakes make the best career advices

Early in her career, Valerie dove head first into a challenging, and at times frankly toxic work environment. Back then, she was a junior account manager in an agency, and because of dysfunctional managing styles, she suffered from a form of burnout within the first year. The experience completely halted her physically and emotionally. When time came to explain what happened, she opened up about her troubles, however, nothing was done on the company level to resolve the issue she faced. 

Valerie’s story is one that we’ve heard before. The reality is that many young workers will face the wrath of ill-advised managers and toxic dynamics in their early years. According to Valerie, it boils down to wanting to prove yourself which is a slippery slope towards losing yourself in your work and getting burnt out after a couple of months. “You want to make the most out of it, to prove yourself […] I took it too far.” 

With little to no training as to how to overcome those situations and be more assertive, young starters can easily feel alone and end up in a negative loop, which is why it is so important to teach them to prioritise their mental health and wellbring. For Valerie, it is all about setting boundaries, having confidence and learning to slow down.


Learning to slow down

Sometimes the hustle bustle of everyday life will feel overwhelming, like a hamster wheel. Valerie agrees : “I like to slow down, do spontaneous things”. Slowing down can be a learning curve, especially as time passes faster as we get older. With every weekend booked, weeks planned in advance, and work piling up, learning to take the time to be more spontaneous can feel like a daunting task on an ever growing to-do list. According to Valerie, the secret is that me-time needs to be approached with intention. 

One way she does that is by travelling often and meeting up with like minded people such as her Erasmus friends, who she met in Sweden 11 years ago. And it is no easy feat, with members of the group coming from all around Europe. Their secret to make it work year after year is intentionality and commitment: “we always try to meet in different places so that it is not always the same ones doing the longest trip”. Away from her carefully planned Belgian life, she takes time to reconnect with a group of like minded friends like it was yesterday. “We have a good vibe amongst us with the same open mindset. You’re tired afterwards but you feel so good and fully recharged”.

You may think it is easy for Valerie : she has a tight knit group of friends that all make efforts to keep up with each other. But as we discussed her recent trip, we touched upon the topic of friendship in broader terms, and we talked about the difficult reality of friendship breakups. As a thirty-something, Valerie reckons that great friendships, and relationships in general, take real work.

“One day, you will notice that most of your friends are settling down (buying houses, getting married, having babies),” she says. When you reach your thirties, and also being single, you will experience these changes differently and chances are that you will lose sight of a handful of friends. Not because of the above reasons, it’s just the reality of life: people change and evolve, their interests suddenly lie elsewhere and before you know it, you can easily lose sight of each other.

In that situation, there is no shame in prioritising friendships that are more fulfilling and reshaping or letting go of ones that no longer serve you. In the meantime, it is also a good idea to learn how to foster and nurture the friendships that do matter to you. It takes a bit of work to be intentional and setting your boundaries so don’t hesitate to ask for a bit of help from a professional. And as for your newly parent friends, don’t cast them away! Having a kid is a life changing experience, just give them some space and reconnect later, when they have had time to sleep…


Setting boundaries

When it comes to her worklife, Valerie knows how to be intentional about the boundaries she sets to keep her peace: don’t answer phone calls or e-mails outside office hours, don’t let personal and work related matters intertwine (you’ll never catch her get romantically involved with a colleague: “I’ve seen it before” she says, “it’s just messy”), don’t get drunk in front of a client (even at a karaoke team building “it’s sometimes funnier when you’re tipsy… but don’t take it too far”) and lastly, stay clear of internal politics “I am very easy going, so people feel like they can talk to me easily and that’s how I sometimes get involved in politics against my will.” It’s not so much of a problem anymore though for her: “I’m external now so it’s easier to stay away”.

As we discussed her work ethos, Valerie reflected on her current situation. She tells us how earlier work experiences taught her that she should be her own manager, which she is today : “I am happy where I am, I know what’s best for me”.  We asked her about things she would say to the Valerie from 10 years ago, and her answer was so good we saved it for last : “Don’t take things personally, do what you can do, be confident about your work, prove yourself (but don’t go too hard) and most importantly : communicate”. Those are definitely words to live by.

With the office creeping up in our house with the rise of remote working, responsibilities staking up as we grow older and friendships evolving, life in your thirties is tough, and it can be hard to prioritise emotional wellbeing. That’s why setting boundaries and learning to slow down are effective ways to ensure you don’t lose sight of yourself in the long run. 

Those are powerful tools that will help you make the decisions that are best for you when life gets too loud and confusing. Yes, keeping your peace will require a bit of work. It might feel uncomfortable at times, and you may need help from a professional. If you ask Valerie though, it is definitely worth it.


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