Aké Satia is the Chief Vision Officer at Aké Satia, a Human Capital firm in the DC area focused on strengthening organizations by bolstering the intersection of people strategy and business strategy.



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The Thriving Essentials Series: Episode 4

Last week, we explored the familiar subject of animosity and uncovered an uncontestable reality: animosity and thriving cannot coexist. However, reasons to harbor animosity abound as we hurt others, and others hurt us. Therefore, laying ourselves bare to receive all that comes our way is ill-advised. – This raises the question: How can we effectively guard our hearts and minds so that we may thrive? Migrate to an uninhabited island and live as a hermit? Cut everyone off from our lives and lead a life of isolation? Or live amongst others but erect an insurmountable wall to keep them away? Arguably, any of these may keep us from experiencing harm caused by others, but do they enable one to thrive?

Let us explore!

Fill the vacuum!

As humans, we seem obsessed with testing our ability to survive alone! A quick tour of TV shows reveals this: Alone, Naked and Afraid Solo, and Man vs. Wild, to name a few. Solo living and attempts to survive alone might be intriguing on the screen and inviting after a disagreement with loved ones. But despite our irrepressible tendency to hurt each other, we cannot thrive in isolation. Therefore, the worthwhile question is: How do we protect ourselves and cultivate strong relationships when we let go of animosity?

As the astute saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. – This implies that when we create a hole, we better determine how to fill it. For an answer to filling the hole left by releasing animosity, let us consider the familiar concept of boundaries.

Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!

Nowadays, having boundaries is a popular topic of discussion! We discuss it at home, work, and our designated third place. But listening to one talk about enforcing their boundaries could seem indistinguishable from watching a movie scene about Roman legionnaires mounting stakes to fend off a formidable opponent. Unfortunately, this perspective does more to isolate one than protect oneself. And this brings to mind a conversation with a client.

During a coaching session, a client posed a simple yet profound question. She asked: What is a boundary, and how do I enforce mine? The American Psychological Association defines a boundary as a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.

A guarded bridge or an impenetrable wall?

Interestingly, the definition above of a boundary sounds more like a guarded bridge than an impenetrable wall. But how often do we think about our boundaries as a means to keep others out, not to guard what we let in? During my discussion with the client, boundaries took center stage because she experienced a disturbing situation at work and didn’t know if she handled it appropriately and responded authentically and honestly. To gain clarity, I asked her what her boundaries were. She rambled for a couple of minutes. Then she responded Aké, I don’t know what my boundaries are today. I think I had them in the past, but I no longer know what they are.
I greatly appreciated her response because it was honest. If asked, I have a hunch many of us might struggle to state our boundaries – much less know how to enforce them effectively!

A Life Lesson in Boundaries

My first memorable experience with the concept of boundaries dates back to my middle childhood when my parents and I lived in a country called Bénin. Bénin is a small French-speaking country in West Africa and comparable in size to the state of Pennsylvania. Also, Bénin is said to be one of the least developed countries in Africa. But what it lacked in development was compensated for in cultural wealth: unique art, an array of exotic foods, and a rich history.
During my relatively short stay in Bénin, I learned about life, particularly the value of boundaries. Because Bénin is relatively small in geographic size, one can quickly access neighboring countries by car. And we often took day trips to Nigeria and Togo, from which we drove to Ghana for a short stay. Transnational trips meant crossing geographical boundaries. Therefore, travelers were required to request and get authorization to cross the border.

Given the complexity and my young age, my parents handled all travel documents. For this reason, the process of traveling across geographical boundaries or borders appeared seamless – to me. Whenever we arrived at a geographical boundary, we crossed swiftly. But I often noticed many people sitting on the ground or waiting in their cars in humid 90-degree weather – looking exhausted and worried. Curious, I asked my dad why this was the case. In response, he gave me an Immigration 101 tutorial and explained how geographical boundaries worked.

The need for self-protection

Still, I wondered: If my friend in Togo wanted to visit me in Bénin, why would anyone refuse? Also, why don’t countries let in all who request to enter? And when people are not allowed to cross the border, why do they sit on the ground in the blistering heat instead of going home? After a few discussions with my dad, I began to appreciate the value of geographical boundaries: For countries to properly govern themselves, protect their citizens and resources, and maintain order, they must protect their borders. It is their right. And it includes granting or denying entry and stay to foreigners.

However, a country needs to protect its boundaries respectfully and responsibly, including letting others know early in the process what is required to cross the boundary. Also, the requirements need not be unreasonable. This is more critical than ever! Because, as the world becomes more interdependent, nations benefit from respectful boundary setting: transparency and communicating clear expectations. Without communicating clear expectations, a boundary becomes an impenetrable wall with the sole purpose of keeping others out and leads to isolation.
The same applies to individuals and interpersonal relationships, and here is a thought worth pondering: What are your boundaries, and how do they affect your relationships?

I look forward to exploring this further next time.

For you and to you,

Image credits: Pexels | Erik Mclean



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