Growth Happens Inch by Inch

I’ve realized that here, in this space we’ve created at Bloomology, we tend to 'go big.'

As we each walk the never-ending tightrope of balancing our naturally-big hearts with those big forces we recognize within ourselves (think forces like wisdom, quiet strength, and intuition) – we use this space at Bloomology to unpack and explore big questions.

We deep-dive into big, weighty topics like the paradox of setting boundaries to feel freer, the things that make sense and still aren’t right for us, and the line that separates compromising from compromising ourselves.

Questions like these are what help us grow. They might stir up some uncomfortable feelings or tough questions within ourselves, but we’re here because we know the answers lie in the tension.

We know that sitting with these questions is how we start to find our center and tap into joy – but that doesn’t make it less emotionally exhausting.


I know these topics – and specifically, the posts you find here on those topics – can be a lot to process. Personally, I like to let big ideas mentally percolate for a while before I act on them, and so getting too much information at once tends to throw me into total paralysis. I get it.

Which is exactly why I want to try something new here - because I think the real tragedy is when we become so paralyzed by a goal or an idea that feels big and overwhelming that we forget to move forward at all.

So we’re going to experiment with a new series: Growing Inch by Inch. Because sometimes to go big – big growth, big shifts, big changes – we have to start small. Really small.

I believe even when a task feels huge or a process feels overwhelming, it’s those tiny steps forward that will get us where we want to go. It’s all about committing to focused forward motion, and sometimes what we really need is a little nudge.

So moving forward, I’ll be breaking up our usual bigger, meatier posts with more lightweight check-ins. My goal is twofold: not only do I want to give you some time and space to percolate on the big ideas we explore here, but I also want to be able to pop in and give you a gentle nudge forward when those ideas start to feel heavy.

Sometimes that might come in the form of bite-sized actions you can take to gain clarity, or slowly start building momentum. Other times, it might simply be a reminder to take a breath, to get out of your head and back down to earth where you can find some quiet clarity.

But it will always come back to the idea of finding our feet on the ground, getting quiet, and taking small, intentional steps forward. Because I believe forward progress is progress – whether it comes inch-by-inch or in big, powerful bursts. It’s the commitment to action that counts.

And on that note – let’s check in!

Last week we took a hard look at what it means to be weighing your options at a crossroads, when one of those options is a known quantity.

We raised the simple question: when it comes to defining the pros and cons of each option, is being a known quantity an automatic ‘pro’?

If you haven’t read the full post, I suggest you start there. That’s where we really dig into the role of fear and self-trust when it comes to decision making, plus how we can benefit from letting go of the pressure to make perfect, pain-proof choices. But if those ideas still feel a little big and unwieldy, I have something else for you to try.

Today, I want to give you one simple exercise that might help you look a little more objectively at your options when you’re at a fork in the road.

Grab a sheet of paper and draw a line down the center. (Yes, I really believe putting a physical pen on physical paper can help us engage in the decision making process in a more physical way – but if you’re more comfortable typing this out in a Google doc with two columns, do you!)

From there:

  • Write “Pros” at top of the lefthand column, and “Cons” at the top of the righthand column. 
    Rather than making a straight pro/con list for both options (which, let’s be honest, you’ve done by now - at least in your mind...) we’re just going to focus on the possible path forward that asks you to take a risk or make a (presumably scary) change.
  • Go ahead and list out the 'pro's and the 'con's of this particular option.

  • Look at the pros on the left. Now close your eyes and imagine being in a place where those things are suddenly your reality. Ask yourself: is that where your heart really, truly wants to be? Does that picture in your mind represent the life you want for yourself?

    • If your answer is ‘no’, stop here - you might have your answer!

    • If your answer is ‘yes’, try this next step...

  • Now look at the cons on the right, and ask yourself: which of these could I truly not handle, if it meant getting the things on the left? Is it simply a fear of these challenges that's holding me back?

Only you can know what’s written on your paper, and which answers are sounding off bells in your inner place of intuition. But seeing these things written out and asking yourself some tougher, more pointed questions might be the nudge you need to choose a direction and start moving forward down that road.

And if no clear answer rose to the top this time, don’t sweat it! Sometimes it just takes a little time for our intuition to sort out the details and chime in with a little hint. Be gentle with yourself, and maybe even try the exercise again in a few days when things feel less dizzying.

And the truth is, even if you start down the ‘wrong’ path, you will be ok. You will learn, and course-correct, and ultimately get where you need to be - even if that road is a little curvy for a while.

Standing at a Crossroads: Is 'Known' Better?

I’ve always been the type of person who’s generally resistant to change.

Or – to frame it a bit more positively, because I’m trying to do that more lately – for as long as I can remember, I’ve found deep, resounding comfort in stability.

I place a lot of value in having that full-picture understanding of where I am and what to expect, and having the space to settle into that reality and really get cozy in it. And with very few exceptions, I don’t need need things to be ‘shiny and new’ to keep me engaged or interested. (There’s a reason my Recently Watched tab on Netflix features the same four shows at any given time.)

When given the choice, I will almost always lean toward ‘staying the course’ over ‘mixing things up’ as long as there’s not an obvious, pressing need to change direction. If it’s not broken, why fix it - am I right?

It’s important to make that distinction though, “when given the choice.” Because as we know, there are two kinds of change: there’s the kind of change that blindsides us – the kind we didn’t ask for, and that we don’t have much power to do anything about. (Think medical diagnoses, nauseating results of presidential elections, or changes in leadership at your company.)

And then there’s the kind of change that plants us firmly at a crossroads and asks, “are you in, or are you out?” – the kind that presents us with a choice. That’s where I have a long track record of avoiding a shake-up, and leaning into what’s familiar.

But what happens when the familiar choice is somehow broken, or not working?

We’ve all been in that place where something feels a little broken. A job, a relationship, a living situation, a habit. So then why, when we’re standing at that crossroads, does the idea of making a change feel SO daunting?

In some sense, the kind of change that puts us in the driver’s seat can be the toughest kind – because it means having to look that crossroads in the face, and decide which kind of discomfort we prefer: the discomfort of making a big change, or the discomfort of staying where we are when something is clearly not working.

Just as an example, imagine this within the context of a job. Specifically, the kind of job that pays the bills and serves its purpose, but where you know in that inner-place-of-knowing that you’re just not very happy. It’s probably not glaringly awful – and sure, you could rattle off some of its redeeming qualities – but the truth is, you still go home at the end of most days feeling exhausted, or defeated, or simply like this job is taking away more than it’s giving you.

And then, the obvious question starts to creep into your mind: is it time to find a new job?

That question, at first, ignites the flicker of hope that maybe there’s something better out there to be had. We start imagining shinier alternatives, and best case scenarios, and what it would feel like to unload some of the stress we’ve been carrying around. We may even start to turn these ideas into a pro/con list to help sort things out. (No? Just me?)

On paper, the Pros of change hold so much hope and promise. But as we start making that inevitable Cons list, I’ve found that mine tend to focus disproportionately on one thing: the risk of the unknown.  

I get it - because we, as deeply-conscious decision makers, do this. At a significant crossroads when the unknowns and risks of change start to come into focus and feel more real, we start talking ourselves into backpedaling, reversing, or U-turning right back to where we started. Because where we started is a known quantity, and something about that feels safe. “Sure I'm not totally happy here ... but who's to say jumping ship wouldn't land me somewhere way worse?

But here’s my question: if most of what we know about the known quantity is that it isn’t really working, do we really get to count that as a ‘pro’?

Is being ‘known’ or ‘familiar’ automatically a good thing?  

Personally, I think we fall into this trap as a form of self-soothing. When we start mentally flailing at even the possibility of our world turning upside down in ways that we can’t predict, or plan for, or carefully manage one piece at a time, we start looking for something to hold onto. Something for balance, or stability – and without the ability to predict the future, sometimes the present is all we have. (Even when the present is kind of a shitshow.)

But there’s that flip side, too: the importance of acknowledging that choosing to stay put is just as much an active decision as choosing to make a drastic change – and that becomes relevant when where-we-are-now is causing us unnecessary pain.

Sure, it’s a pain we’ve become familiar with and learned how to manage, which can feel oddly comforting compared to a cold, harsh winter of unpredictable newness. But the point remains, there is clearly a price to staying put – and it’s the reason we start dreaming of better alternatives in the first place.

So: how can we make the best choice for ourselves when we’re standing at a crossroads, without putting too much stock in a known quantity simply because it’s known?

I stumbled on an important mindset shift recently – one that helps me keep the fear of newness from creeping in and taking over when I’m standing at a fork in the road.

Here’s the simple truth: that many of the things I think of as risks that accompany change – things like newness, unforeseeable challenges, and starting over – are the kinds of things I’m totally equipped to handle. In other words, I don’t need to worry about sheltering my future-self from these big, looming obstacles – she’s got this. She’s resourceful, and capable, and savvy. She’ll be fine. And that knocks a lot of the wind out of the ominousness of starting down a new path.

Sometimes, remembering to give my future-self some credit and some trust is all the reassurance I need.

Deciding to place trust our future selves in the face of the unknown is tough (that’s the nature of trust, after all) but it’s also wildly empowering. It gives us the opportunity to make a clear-headed decision that’s not clouded by fear, or the pressure to make a ‘fail-proof’ decision. Because not only is it impossible to consult a manual or crystal ball as we’re making decisions that will impact our future selves, but let’s be honest: there is no such thing as a risk-proof path.

No decision we make can protect us from risk, or pain, or struggle – even the decision to stay the course. So when we prioritize total stability above all else and let ourselves believe that avoiding change is a surefire way to avoid pain or discomfort, we’re fooling ourselves.

But investing unshakable self-trust in our present- and future-selves is what frees us up to really look objectively at our options, and weigh them without the kind of anxiety or fear that clouds our judgment.

And so, my challenge to you is to let go of the pressure to make perfect, pain-proof choices.

Instead, take a moment to breathe, and remind yourself of all those times you’ve done hard things – that long list of times you not only made it out ok, but became a better, stronger, more awake version of yourself because of those experiences. You’ve done hard things, and you’ll be called on to do them again. And while it’s tempting to want to protect our future selves from that kind of pain or discomfort when we can foresee it, we also have to consider the cost of walking away from opportunity.

So knowing that discomfort is inevitable, try sitting with the question: what are the things you really, truly want for yourself? And be willing to choose your path forward with the answers to that question in mind, knowing that your future-self has what she needs to endure the journey.

She can handle it. She’ll be ok. Give her the gifts of your trust, the opportunity to grow, and the chance to pursue the things her intuition knows she wants for herself.

Compromising, Without Compromising Ourselves

We’ve heard it, we’ve learned it, we’ve lived it: compromise is one of those necessary building blocks at the core of every healthy relationship.

Whether we’re talking about resolving a literal conflict, or something slightly gentler like joint decision-making, compromise is the thing that makes room for a true sense of balance and shared voice to take root in a partnership. That ability to mutually bend-but-not-break in a way that lovingly bolsters and supports another person is a skill that leads to flourishing, balanced relationships that reflect the priorities, values, and desires of both parties.

While differing needs and priorities in a relationship create the potential for a power struggle, compromise is what allows partners to stand together at the helm with shared sense of ownership of the trail they’re blazing together.

Luckily, us natural softies are hardwired for empathy, compassion, and helping – all of which are key pieces of the compromise equation. But as we all know, navigating the waters of compromise while maintaining a sense of equilibrium and avoiding resentment isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.

Compromise vs Compromising Ourselves.png

Sometimes, we can start to wonder whether a scenario that calls for compromise is asking too much of us. Have you ever been faced with a dilemma where you’re being asked to compromise – to change, or give something up, or maybe even take something on – in a way that feels somehow in conflict with your core beliefs, needs, or sense of self?

When it comes to compromising in our relationships, the lines can get blurry, and it can be tough to make out the line that separates the necessary, healthy, ‘normal’ kinds of concessions we can expect to make in relationships from a more compromising, unbalanced type.

So where is the line between ‘healthy compromise’ and ‘compromising ourselves’ – and how do we know which kind we’re facing?

There’s a word I’ve come to love recently, both for its poetic meaning and its many applications: consonance. The dictionary defines it as, “agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions.” In other words, finding harmony between what we believe, and what we do. Connecting the dots between how we think and feel, and how we act.

The other thing I love about this word? It is literally the opposite of dissonance. I was first introduced to the word ‘dissonance’ – and specifically, the idea of cognitive dissonance – via an amazing therapist a few years ago. Cognitive dissonance, I learned, is that uncomfortable twinge we feel when we experience inconsistencies (or even contradictions) in our thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially related to our behavioral decisions.

Ever told yourself you were on board with someone else’s ideas or plan, because you didn’t want to ‘cause trouble’ or ‘rock the boat’ – even if it directly contradicted your needs or values in some way? Ever tried to change your own mind or beliefs, to try and justify a decision you might not be totally comfortable with? Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort you likely felt in those scenarios that told you, whether you were ready to hear it or not, that something was out of alignment.

Consonance, to me, means living in a state where the outside matches the inside. Where the things we do and say and share with the outside world match the things we think, and believe, and feel in our core. For me, that’s what harmony feels like.

So what does it mean, then, when compromising in a relationship means asking ourselves to ignore whatever internal alarms are going off, so that we can meet the needs of our partner? What happens when being flexible for the sake of someone we love starts to feel less like healthy give-and-take, and more like stepping into a character someone else is asking us to play?

The truth is, the type of compromise that starts to evoke panic, storms of self-doubt, or even a crisis of conscience is worth questioning. Because while it can feel heroic or meaningful to make big sacrifices for someone we love, it’s also worth considering whether making those sacrifices will cause us to miss an opportunity.

Sometimes, the task of saying ‘no’ when too much is being asked of us carries a hidden opportunity: to deepen our roots, to grow as a person, to build self-trust.

In those moments when we flee from conflict and bury the inconvenient truths about the things we want and need in order to serve someone else, we miss the chance to make a meaningful connection between our decisions, and our strongly-held beliefs. We miss the opportunity to make our outward-facing decisions match our internally held needs, desires, and sense of self.

And the truth is, those are the types of decisions – the ones that align so deeply with our internally-held beliefs and values, even when they scare us a little (or a lot) – that have the potential to build unshakable self-trust. Trust that we can do hard things; trust that we have opinions that matter; trust that our voice is worth being heard.

So in those moments where we’re being asked to compromise in a significant way, we need to ask ourselves (possibly over and over again): With this decision, am I moving closer or further away from the truest version of myself?

Odds are, your gut will chime in right away with an answer, even if it might not be the one you wanted or expected to hear. However, if that question feels too big, try running it through a different filter. Look at the prospective compromise from a few different angles, and be wary of any that ask you to:

  • Ignore your intuition, in order to preserve harmony in the relationship

  • Rely on the hope that eventually, you’ll feel ok with this choice (even if it’s not sitting well right now)

  • Allow someone else’s priorities to be an architect of your life

  • Talk yourself out of the things your gut is doing its best to tell you

So in that spirit, I’d challenge you to seize the opportunity to pause next time a close relationship calls for compromise, and to consider deeply which choice your core is calling on you to make.

Sure, what follows may be a challenging or uncomfortable conversation with yourself and/or someone you love – but what an empowering opportunity to leverage the beautiful, powerful blend of the strength in your convictions and the softness in your compassionate wisdom to speak honestly and unapologetically about a thing that carries real weight for you. And when you do, notice how it feels to give real weight and voice to your needs, desires, or beliefs.

Did it ground you? Scare you? Did your voice shake? Did you feel pride? Notice it, all of it. And I’d even encourage you to write it down, to help you process the experience and remember how it felt, particularly the next time you find yourself in a similarly challenging situation.

Situations that call from compromise will continue to show up across our relationships – sometimes we’ll need to bend, and other times we’ll need to dig deep to find our roots and hold our ground. But in any case, it’s important to remember that something somewhere inside us knows when we’re being asked to give too much. Our job is to pay attention, to honor that voice, and to remember that love alone is not reason enough to make every concession that asked of us.

Because truly, the relationships that honor and acknowledge the wholeness of who you are as a person without trying to change or diminish you will naturally fill your emotional tank in a lot of ways – and when our tanks are full, the task of making reasonable compromises doesn’t feel like panic, or an identity crisis, or soul-level exhaustion. It feels healthy, balanced, and most importantly, not like a threat to your identity.

While we should expect to make compromises as part of cultivating flourishing relationships, remember: healthy compromise won’t ask you to ignore or change the fundamental pieces of who you are.

Swing Like a Pendulum to Find Healthy Balance

I’ve been dwelling a lot recently on the connection between holding firm to our personal boundaries, and the negative energy that can sometimes come with it.

We talk a lot here about the importance of defining, articulating, and holding firm to our boundaries. We’ve dug into what it looks like to find our outer limits, when to say no, and even the importance of embracing inflexibility when it means protecting our own well-being.

And through one lens, these things might look and feel liberating and empowering. (That’s the goal!) But through another, that same list of ideas can feel rigid, negative, or even standoffish and defensive. Say ‘no’ more often. Defend your boundaries. Be aware of when you’re not feeling respected or nourished, and be prepared to fight to fix it.


Recently, I was driving downtown to a meeting, and my mind started wandering. As I sat stagnant in the DC gridlock, I slowly became aware of some quiet, salty feelings that were bubbling up somewhere within me. I sat there making a mental tally of all my contributions to one particular relationship, and I could see them all with laser-sharp focus. It was by no means my proudest moment, but I sat there smugly, quietly rattling off a list to myself of the ways in which I was pulling my weight. All the ways I was ‘unfairly’ doing more than my fair share, or going above and beyond, or putting in (what I was sure was) more effort.  

The fact is – and I think we can all identify with this – it’s easy to focus on all the things we are contributing to a relationship, to the point that it can start to feel one-sided, and breed resentment.

It was a gross place to be, and as soon as I recognized what I was doing, I started coming down on myself for it.  Why am I being so negative? When did I get this way? And if setting boundaries in our relationships and standing our ground is healthy, why does this feel terrible?

Swing Like a Pendulum to Find healthy Balance |

The more I chewed on it, the clearer it became why I felt so uncomfortable: dwelling on the negative, and finding reasons to pit myself against the people I love is precisely the opposite of how I want to feel in my relationships. As naturally soft and empathetic people, we share an impulse to give, to help, to share, and to connect. This moment in traffic, on the other hand, felt like the grumbly, disconnected opposite of the harmony and connectedness I aim for in my relationships.

But! I don’t want to completely abandon my newfound willingness to speak up and give voice to my concerns, either. And I don’t want to fall back into a habit of silently swallowing the urge to speak up when my needs aren’t being met, when I really am giving more than my fair share, or when I’m stretched too thin. I’m not willing to go back to a place where ‘taking one for the team’ was my way of life, purely because discord or uncomfortable conversations felt like a worse alternative.

I sat there, fully recognizing the importance of being both generous and firm in my relationships - but why did it feel like those two things were in direct conflict with each other?

That’s when it occurred to me: finding a healthy sweet-spot between two extremes is a process – one that involves swinging like a pendulum, a little too far in one direction and then the other, until we start to find balance.

We might first start in a place where we’re giving too much.

We are naturally big-hearted, intrinsically compassionate people, born with the big, beautiful understanding of what it means to step into someone else’s point of view, and how to elevate someone else’s perspective above our own. We know what it means to be generous, thoughtful, and willing to bend in the name of helping someone else. It’s in our DNA, and we often do it so naturally that we fail to notice an imbalance of the emotional labor where it exists. Meanwhile, we may notice we feel emotionally stretched and exhausted – we just aren’t always sure why.

Then we have our awakening.

We recognize that tendency in ourselves to give too much, to stretch ourselves too thin, and how it eats away at our center and our sense of self. And so, we start to overcompensate in the other direction. We learn what it means to be fiercely protective of our time, our energy, our right to not-have-to just to please someone else. We develop a keen eye for balance. Tit for tat, give and take, saving some for ourselves. Slowly, everything becomes a question of, "am I pulling more than my weight again? Am I being taken advantage of? Should I be standing up for myself here?"

But that's not where we want to land, either.

We don’t want to feel like a doormat: but if we constantly tell ourselves we’re being wronged, we risk becoming so focused on fighting back that we forget how to give, and love, and connect. Moving between these extremes is all part of the process.

It’s natural to swing toward a more defensive, or otherwise negative mindset as we start to awaken to the things we need and what it means to use our voice and our strength. I’d challenge you to give yourself permission to swing through that phase, without beating yourself up, and with a promise to yourself that you won’t get stuck there. Because while it can be tempting to dig into the ways we feel we’re being ‘wronged’, clinging to negativity and making it the focal point of our lives is bound to get in the way of building the kinds of rich, loving, connected relationships that we are so equipped and wired to have.

Recognize what’s unfair; feel the defiance; notice what upsets you, and honor it; then release the anger, and see what happens if you let yourself swing back the other way.

Because the truth is, you will level out eventually – and this is where the part about hanging onto your softness while discovering your strength comes back into play. It's all about finding that place in the center of our being where a balance is possible, and we have to be gentle with ourselves as we figure out how to be equally committed to firm boundaries and fierce compassion.

And it's natural to dip in and out of that clarity as we find our way, and to experience fleeting glimmers of that wholeness as we move from one headspace to the other. But trust that the swings in either direction will gradually become less extreme, until eventually, they level out and ease us into a place of our natural equilibrium.

Sometimes it takes moving through (and rejecting!) the extremes, before we can find our sweet spot. Release the urge to beat yourself up as you find your way, and try surrendering to the ride instead.

How Boundaries Create Freedom and Ease

Last month, I had an entire weekend completely and totally to myself. My guy was out of town, I had no plans, and zero obligations all weekend.

Every now and again I relish having a weekend like that, for the chance to go full-introvert and reboot. I love the feeling of having unlimited time to tackle whatever I feel called to. I always imagine myself striking that perfect balance of Indulgent and Productive: crossing a thousand things off my to-do list, making myself amazing meals in my sparkling clean kitchen, squeezing in a manicure in between rearranging my furniture and finishing that novel on my nightstand. I’ll be a beacon of productivity! I tell myself.

But total freedom never quite feels – or works out – the way I imagine it will.

That same weekend, I woke up on Saturday and enjoyed my usual morning routine: made a latte and some oatmeal, settled into my corner of the couch, and caught up on some reading. I had hours ahead of me, and so many options for how to spend them! There was no rush to get started, nothing to hurry me, nothing to limit me or corral me in any one direction. Just endless possibilities.

And that’s right about when the paralysis started to set in.

I’m reminded again and again that while total freedom and limitless possibilities sound alluring, they start to feel uneasy or even paralyzing when it comes time to act.

How Boundaries Create Freedom and Ease |

In reality, having a whole weekend - or a full day, or even just an evening - to spend however I choose, with no anchors or direction, often means that time gets squandered. Because realistically, having no specific motivation to get off the couch and nowhere in particular to aim our energy keeps us stuck in the grind of having to decide when and how to start moving. The weight of endless possibilities can start to get heavy, and keep us firmly anchored in inaction or indecision. Science says an object at rest tends to stay at rest, right?

On the other hand, knowing I have a morning haircut at 10am or plans with a friend at 5pm suddenly gives me anchors in my schedule, or bookends to my day - and those outer limits suddenly create some motivation to use my time between them with some intention and focus. Suddenly there’s a defined space to work within.

Here’s another example of that same feeling: imagine being handed a blank pad of paper and a pen, and being told to “just write about anything, anything at all.” No limits, no rules, just blank paper and endless potential. I can’t speak for you, but I feel like a deer in headlights just imagining that scenario. I can feel myself shrinking with anxiety and hesitation in all that limitless space. But instead, imagine being given the prompt to “write about a time you felt particularly proud, or surprised by your own strength.” Suddenly there’s a container to work within, an invitation to get comfortable and to spread out and explore the space.

Having some distant outer boundaries to bump up against helps me feel like I have a safe space to explore and work within. That container leads me to a headspace where I feel clear, relaxed, and free.

And this same idea shows up in so many area of our lives. In our daily decision-making, in our productivity or the way we use our time, in the pursuit of what we think of as our ‘big goals,’ in our creative work: having limitless freedom and options can be utterly paralyzing. The vastness of that unending space can feel big and overwhelming, and depending on the context, maybe even unsafe.

But simply adding some structure, outer limits, or boundaries can start to give shape and meaning to our direction, and hint at our next steps.

So how does that translate in our relationships?

I came across a note recently that I had scribbled down in a notebook after a therapy session a few years back. We’d been on the subject of boundaries, and my therapist started telling me about a book she was reading, The Paris Wife. The book is a fictional account told from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s (real) first wife, that highlights Hadley’s perspective as the two move through the ups and downs of their marriage.

She mentioned a particular passage from the book that stood out to her:

“Ernest once told me that the word ‘paradise’ was a Persian word that meant ‘walled garden’. I knew then that he understood how necessary the promises we made to each other were to our happiness. You couldn't have real freedom unless you knew where the walls were and tended to them. We could lean on the walls because they existed; they existed because we leaned on them.”

In case you’re curious (I was!), the internet confirms that the word ‘paradise’ does, in fact, have Old Iranian origins that referred at one time to the expansive walled gardens of the first Persian empire. Isn’t that fantastic? I love that etymological hint that paradise thrives within some confines, or that outer walls can be necessary to keep all that goodness and beauty contained.

Knowing where the boundaries are in our relationships breeds trust and security, which free us up to settle in and spread out, to stay playful, and to be brave within the safety of those walls.

But knowing how to define, articulate, and construct boundaries in relationships of all kinds can be a tricky process. We can think of boundaries as pre-set outer limits that keeps us from veering in a direction that feels somehow unsafe, unfocused, or unaligned with where we want to be. But what does that look like in a relationship?

In my experiences, identifying boundaries or outer limits can serve a couple of key purposes.

First, there’s the idea of setting boundaries externally, out loud, together, that end up serving as ground rules for the relationship. Whether these conversations are more proactive or reactive, defining those mutually agreed-upon outer walls can go a long way in providing the ease, clarity, and security that a relationship needs to flourish within them. Examples of this might include:

  • Setting ground rules for heated conversations. When things get tense, which behaviors, types of language, etc. are off limits or unacceptable? What standards can your hold yourselves and each other to? Having those limits can give you a safe container in which to have a productive conversation when things get hard.

  • Defining what ‘quality time together’ looks like, and doesn’t look like. Are there certain times you set aside for quality, uninterrupted time together? Does that mean a screen-free environment? Are there limits to the amount of time you spend on negative/work-related/other specific kinds of talk?  Having some shared expectations for time spent together can help all parties involved feel like they got what they needed from that time.

  • Defining what constitutes a betrayal, in terms of intimacy. Whether that’s in terms of privacy and sharing with others outside the relationships, or in terms of physical boundaries in your romantic relationship, setting and understanding some shared definitions of what crossing a line looks like can prevent real pain later.

But beyond these specific types of ground rules, I’ve found that a slightly different type of boundary in a relationship can serve a second, amazingly-powerful purpose. In the moments when I’ve felt totally overwhelmed by the task of juggling someone else’s priorities along with my own all while trying to preserve the harmony, focusing on naming my own mental and emotional boundaries, or outermost limits, has helped me understand my own wants and needs with more clarity.

Once we can identify and point to that outermost place where things start to feel unmistakably not-right, or not in line with how we want to feel, we suddenly have a container in which to confidently work, play, and experiment. Knowing where our absolutely “no”s are can start to give the whole thing some shape, and bring things into focus – things like what’s ok with us, and what isn’t; where we can bend while still hanging onto our grace and integrity, and where we can’t; where we feel secure and nourished, and where we don’t. And sometimes, we won’t know where those limits are until we run right up against them.

Here are just a few examples of situations I’ve encountered in my own relationships where defining some kind of boundary or outer limit in my own mind helped ground me, or at least helped me find some mental clarity around what’s right for me:

  • When I’ve felt uneasy about conforming to what another person wants or expects from me;

  • When I’ve had to choose a direction in which to move forward, and the weight of possibilities felt totally overwhelming;

  • When I’ve felt unsure about whether I’m comfortable with a big change in the relationship - be it a change in living situation, the way we interact, or some other type of noticeable shift;

  • When I’ve struggled to pinpoint what exactly I want for myself or what I want to be moving toward - in a partnership, a career, a home, or even my own inner-life.

Through examples like these, my experiences have taught me this: if you feel too overwhelmed to be able to confidently pinpoint which is the ‘right’ direction or what to say ‘yes’ to, start with what you know you definitely don’t feel good about, or what you know you want to say ‘no’ to. The ‘no’s can start to give you some OUTER-outer boundaries, and from there you can start to explore the space between them to find your ‘yes’s.

My challenge to you: in an area of your life where you feel overwhelmed by options or the vastness of possibility without anything to anchor you, see if you can name your definite, absolute “no”s, and work inward from there.

What are the things that your intuition knows are out of alignment, or not ok? When does that gut-level “this doesn’t feel right” anxiety start to kick in? Start there. Maybe that’s where the outer limit is, or maybe it’s even a step or two closer inward from that place. Feel that relief, that ease.

From there, be willing to experiment, and give yourself permission to shift the boundaries as you need to. But trust that you’ve found your limit when your inner compass starts giving you those cues – and then be willing to communicate those things unapologetically to the people you love (even when it’s super hard to do so). That doesn’t mean there’s no room for grace or empathy in those conversations; but remember that there’s no need to apologize, to back down, or to soften your personal boundaries to satisfy anyone else.

Finding and establishing those outer walls that we can lean on grants us the freedom to experiment, to play, and to act courageously – all with ease and trust that there are structures in place to keep us safe and nourished.

Showing Compassion Doesn't Require Rescuing Anyone

I can’t be the only one who, in a tense conversation, has desperately wished the other person’s thoughts would just appear above their head in a little cartoony bubble.

For being such an important part of building thriving, healthy relationships, communication sure is a muddy skill to master. First, there’s the challenge of articulating our piece – finding the right words, sharing them in the right tone, and putting both through the right filters to make sure we’re approaching the situation with focus and sensitivity.

Then on top of that, because productive communication can’t just flow in one direction, we also have to master the art of being on the receiving end of the dialogue – how to really listen, how to relate to and make sense of new information, and how to frame our responses.

Mastering both sides of the equation almost calls for a sixth sense that lets us tune into how another person is feeling, or what they’d respond best to. We might classify it as empathy, or emotional intelligence, but frankly, I think expertly navigating sensitive conversations or emotionally heightened situations calls for a combination of the two, along with a little bit of magic. A certain je ne sais quoi that helps us feel especially plugged into the situation, and the people we’re communicating with.

As compassionate people, that last part about tuning into to other people’s needs and states of mind tends to come more naturally to us than most, partially because we choose to prioritize it. We pay particular attention to that little instinctual hiccup that says, “nope, can’t say that, unless I want this whole thing to escalate. Better reframe it.” before the words escape our mouths. We can find the words when others may struggle to. We can sense when the other person is clearly not getting what they need, and we feel that urge to dig deep and offer something that will fix it.

But let’s be honest – even that little extra boost of emotional tuned-in-ness is no substitute for superpowers, or a crystal ball.

The fact is, while we may have a few extra emotional tools at our disposal that help us emotionally plug-in more easily, we’re not mind readers or emotional magicians. And frankly, that’s not our responsibility.

I point this out because I think it’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking that because we naturally do something well, it’s our job to do it thoroughly and often – and that’s just not true. No matter how strongly we value our gifts of emotional intelligence, or how compelled we feel to swoop in and emotionally rescue someone we love when unhappiness or tension bubble up and we believe we know what they need, the fact remains: being someone else’s emotional hero is not our burden.

And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we can recognize that the urge to rescue someone we love in that way is at least partially self-serving. Personally, I know how much I hate conflict, or when the harmony in my relationships is disrupted – so finding a way to restore the other person’s happiness serves us both. It sounds like a win-win, right?


Consider how it might feel to know that someone close to you - a good friend, or even a partner - was putting themselves through the ringer to make sure you were emotionally taken care of, maybe even at the expense of their own happiness. You’d never ask or expect that of them, right? And wouldn’t it feel sort of terrible?

Just like no one else is responsible for untangling our wants and needs, or muting their own inner compass to find a resolution that serves us, it’s not reasonable to take on the responsibility of doing that for someone else. No matter how much we care about them. And realistically, that’s not a winning situation for anyone.

So what do we do when we feel that inner tug-of-war between desperately wanting to be a Helper or a Fixer when things start spiraling, and needing to draw a line in the sand?

The first thing to remember is, we can show compassion without having to rescue anyone. We can recognize someone’s unmet needs and express empathy around them, without having to meet them ourselves. And that can be super tough to remember when tension is rising and all we want for the love of all that is holy is to find resolution. But the second we start prioritizing someone else’s resolution as the ultimate goal at any cost, we start setting ourselves up to make compromises that don’t align with our values, our priorities, or who we are.

There are plenty of gestures we can offer to show support and humanity when someone else is suffering – supportive words, heartfelt hugs, small gestures of generosity, honest-to-god empathy – that carry real value without magically fixing anything. And sometimes, offering one or two of them is the most we can do before the best decision is to simply step away to emotionally reboot, and find our center again.

When we feel ourselves losing our sense of emotional groundedness and starting to focus solely on ‘their’ feelings and ‘their’ happiness, that’s a perfect cue to walk away, tend to ourselves, and find some clarity.

For a while, I was seeing a really amazing therapist – we’ll call her Suzanne. Week after week, I was showing up to my appointments with Suzanne, and spending all my time talking about my partner-at-the-time. What he wanted, what he needed, what he wasn’t getting, how he was reacting, and how hard I was working to (often unsuccessfully) be the solution. I remember feeling exhausted from all the inner work it took to understand what this other person needed to be happy, and to try on all the ways I could change my own beliefs and behavior to better align with those things.

At some point during all this, she offered me a lovely piece of wisdom that really hit home, and continues to stick with me years later:

“His stormcloud is your cue to offer love or support, and then go do something for yourself.”

I love that. It was hard to hear it first, honestly, but it’s a great reminder of how important it is not to totally lose ourselves in someone else’s struggle (even when we love them). Sometimes the hardest part is removing ourselves before we get completely pulled under by someone else’s emotional ten-foot wave, while there’s still a chance to restore our own energy and emotional roots back to a healthy place.

And in those moments when walking away is the best choice we can make, it’s helpful to have something to do next, or something specific to focus on. It helps to have a toolkit you can immediately turn to in those moments, to help jumpstart your process of self-care or re-centering when your emotions are trying to pull you back toward rescuing someone else.  Knowing what to shift our attention to can help us feel less weird and lost.

I’ve created a free Emotional Reboot Starter Kit for you to use when you know you need to walk away and take care of yourself, but aren’t sure what to do next.

Because often, rather than staying engaged in trying to rescue someone we love from their own distress, the best thing we can do is walk away, turn inward, and focus on tending to ourselves.

No matter how we choose to extract ourselves, the important thing is to remember that exiting a situation to preserve our own wellness is not selfish. If we don’t have a point at which we’re willing to walk away or say no to engaging further in someone else’s distress, we risk losing sight of ourselves, or getting pulled further and further away from the outcomes we want - whether that’s a feeling of inner peace, fulfillment, balance, or simply having our own needs met.

Sometimes walking away in the short term is the best way to preserve our wellness, our perspective, and our ability to stay generous in the long-term.

We can (and should!) stay proud of our gifts of empathy that let us tune into what others are wanting and needing. But recognizing what someone wants or needs to be happy doesn't make us responsible for providing it.

It Can Make Sense, and Still Not Be Right for You

One of the greatest strengths of being a deep feeler is the ability to keenly understand other people’s experiences and points of view.

As natural feelers, we can imagine what it’s like to experience what someone else is going through, which enriches our ability to connect with them in a meaningful way.  We can see ourselves in a stranger’s story, and take on the weight of their feelings in a way that’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t naturally do the same. We can start to dismantle the wall that separates us from them.

In our more intimate relationships, our natural empathy adds a mega-tool to our toolbox, giving us the power to find common ground and create a warm, cozy bubble of understanding for our loved ones who feel alone or misunderstood. Our ability to temporarily suspend our own assumptions and step into another’s state of being at the drop of a hat, to see the world from a different point of view without the need to defend the place we’re coming from, means we often become confidantes, trusted advisors, and emotional guardians.

In a world that feels full of hard-and-fast opinions, empathy is what softens our edges.

It Can Make Sense, and Still Not Be Right for You |

Empathy allows us to expand beyond the limitations of what we naturally believe, observe, and feel, adding a whole lot of grey to our beliefs and experiences – sometimes so much so, that it can feel more than a little disorienting.

Have you ever gotten so caught up in the task of understanding and validating a loved one’s want or need or idea, that it starts to cloud your sense of where you stand? I know I have.

There have definitely been relationships and occasions where I’ve tried so earnestly to consider (and ultimately understand, or even adopt) viewpoints so different from my own, that I’ve walked away feeling emotionally askew. It’s almost like the effort it took to find clarity in something that felt so foreign ended up pulling me a little off my center, or distorting the way I see things.

Sometimes that’s a beautiful gift, like when it lets us open ourselves up to new possibilities. Other times it’s unsettling, like when we find ourselves fiercely defending something just because we’ve managed to make sense of it, even if it doesn’t feel quite right.

When profound empathy starts to overtake our sense of sureness in ourselves, we can start to lose our footing.

For me, this has felt truest in those moments when I’ve felt less-than-fully-rooted in who I am and what I know for sure about my fundamental wants, needs, and beliefs. Without those roots, what starts as an earnest attempt to try on another perspective for size can quickly devolve into second-guessing and bargaining with ourselves, until we’ve talked ourselves into a cloud of confusion and lost our sense of stability on where we stand.

Empathy demands that we feel alongside another person, not that we minimize our own core beliefs or replace them with someone else’s. In other words, we don’t have to make ourselves smaller to validate someone else.

Empathy that’s rooted in a clear understanding of ourselves is nourishing. Without those roots, it can become unhealthy.

And that right there is exactly why it’s so critical to stay in touch with our intuition, and notice how it whispers or nudges us when we’re confronted with something that sounds reasonable on the surface, but feels incongruent with who we are. Our intuition knows the difference, it’s just up to us to pay attention to the signs. And to be clear, there’s no shame in drawing that line! It’s perfectly reasonable to see validity in a thing, and still decide it’s not for you. In fact, fine tuning our ability to do so expands our capacity for real emotional generosity without the risk of compromising ourselves.

Amy Poehler really nailed this idea with a simple mantra from her book, Yes, Please: “Good for her! Not for me.” Isn't that great? Such a strong and simple reminder that we can appreciate others’ choices, without pressuring ourselves to adopt them when they don't feel right.

So, how do you know what works for you and what doesn’t? When all else fails, do a gut check. A quick tune-in to your intuition can help you decide how well the thing you’re confront with meshes with the things you believe in, and stand for. and want for yourself. And if there’s disconnect? Remember: “Good for her! Not for me.”

We don’t have to change who we are or how we live, just to prove that someone else’s perspective is valid. We can’t be afraid to reject choices and ideas that don’t work for us, even if we see merit in them.

Moving Forward When Nothing Feels Certain

I vividly remember my dad introducing me to the Myers-Briggs type theory when I was an awkward preteen, and how it felt to suddenly see myself so clearly.

I remember pouring over the details of my personality type’s profile, and feeling totally awestruck by the accuracy of it all. This description I was reading of myself in a book I’d never heard of was articulating details about myself that I’d always known, but never been able to pinpoint. How could a stranger possibly know me so well?

I also remember feeling distinctly comforted by the idea that there were others out there like me. We were a specific ‘type’ of person, which meant I wasn’t alone! I suddenly had all these little explanations for my feelings and behaviors that I shared with others who were like me, and together they spelled out this complete, resonant picture of who I was.

I started wearing my 4-letter personality type like a little badge of honor, and felt pride as I started to understand more of why I was the way I was. If I ever felt lost or unsure, those words would ground me and remind me what kind of person I was.

But the thing about defining who we are, especially in someone else’s words, is that it can be just as limiting as it is comforting.

Moving Forward When Nothing Feels Certain |

We are incredibly complex creatures. We’re dynamic. Unpredictable. Products of our experiences, and full of contradictions – all of which can make it feel impossible to make sense of who we are, how we feel, and what we need. It’s a lot to untangle. So it’s no mystery why it feels so satisfying to take a quick quiz or assessment to simplify it all, and get a result we can wrap our heads around. A type. A category. There’s something about it that feels clarifying, grounding, and reassuring.

But while those simplified synopses of our highly-complex wants, needs, and tendencies can offer insights into who we are, they can also confine us to a rigid definition of ourselves that leaves no room for exceptions or discovery. They can become blinders that get in the way of seeing ourselves as individuals, rather than archetypes. And when it comes time to make decisions, they can fool us into thinking our options are limited because ‘the way we are’ is predetermined, with no room to change our mind.

The truth is, Who You Are is a moving target. We will never stop evolving, and in ways that are impossible to predict.

There’s a fine line between making a commitment to know ourselves and understand our complexities, and locking ourselves into a definition of who we are without leaving any room for growth or evolution. Because no matter how much introspection and deep-digging we do in the name of self-knowledge, that picture of who we are is never static. And just like we can’t count on staying the same, there’s no way to know if, when, or in what ways we’re going to evolve down the road.

For me, knowing that I will continue to evolve and change in unpredictable ways is toughest and most frustrating when it comes to decision-making.

I’ve never been one to take decisions lightly. In fact, I’m pretty much a textbook overthinker, queen of the pro/con list and all too likely to lose sleep weighing my options when the stakes feel high.

  • Should I accept promising the new job that’s a total unknown, or stay where I am where I know I’m at least tolerably happy?
  • Moving to a new city scares me right now - but will I wish I’d done it 5 years from now?
  • This relationship isn’t working for me now - do I bank on it getting better eventually, or do I walk away now in pursuit of something more?  

Believe me when I say I know what a struggle this can be (!!) particularly as someone who desperately wants a clear picture with all the important details that I can use to make thoughtful, fully-informed decisions. When big questions are looming, I crave clarity, and it’s so tempting to refer back to those definitions of ourselves like an instruction manual for how to proceed.

But unlike our TVs and coffeemakers that come with manuals that detail all those small ways the product has changed from one version to the next, we are left in times of crisis with no manual. No crystal ball. No reliable sense of how our future self may or may not shift.

Instead, we have to anchor our decisions in an unrelenting sense of self-trust and a commitment to ongoing self-learning.

When it comes to making decisions with our future self in mind, there are no manuals or crystal balls. The best we can do is use the information we have in this moment about who we are now, and trust our future self to adapt as things change.

One of the best gifts we can give ourselves is a commitment to staying observant and receptive to all the ways we’ll inevitably change as time goes on. By committing to staying relentlessly open-minded about our own future evolution, we can start to let go of the anxiety and tension that bubble up when we try to predict the future (because we all know trying to predict the future is a losing battle anyway, right?) and instead refocus that energy on building a foundation of trust.

Trust that we have the tools and the grit to absorb and adapt to new information as we get it, and make good decisions from there. Trust that a few detours and wrong turns along the way won’t be enough to throw us hopelessly  off course. Trust that we have it in us to be ok, even if we can’t know how the story ends.

It’s unreasonable to put pressure on ourselves to make the ‘right’ choices now for a future self we can’t understand yet. But investing in unshakable self-trust can help ease that anxiety, and equip us to handle the surprises to come.

So, what does it mean to build self-trust, and where should you start?

I created a simple worksheet for you to download, that's designed to give you a jumpstart when it comes to uncovering the things that make you strong. Download and print off the worksheet, find a pen and a few minutes of quiet time, and start tapping into those things that make you uniquely powerful. The stronger you feel, the easier it becomes to trust yourself!