The argument I had with my washing machine about boundaries

Rachel: 0, Washing Machine: 1.

Before I say anything else it’s only fair to make it clear that I was absolutely in the wrong. The washing machine was right. 

The washing machine is relatively new to its workplace. It arrived while its regular line manager (me) was on holiday a couple of weeks ago. It’s a much better communicator than its predecessor, with lots of new and intriguing beeping noises, all of which make perfect sense if you bother to read its manual (I didn’t). This morning was probably only our fourth-or-so meeting.

I loaded the washing machine, went off to work in another room and came back an hour later to no beeping, not the slightest whoosh, and a dark display screen. The washing machine had switched itself off. 

Stupid thing. 

I switched the washing machine on again, and pressed the buttons for the load I wanted. Again, it switched itself off. 

What’s wrong with you?

I reached to switch it on a third time. 

Then, I thought about a conversation I’ve had with my assistants about our coaching terms and conditions.

The reason I employed virtual assistants in the first place was the amount of my energy, time and the resulting stress that was draining me of the presence I could otherwise be putting into coaching. 

This was particularly around (all together now, freelancers), chasing unpaid invoices. One of the terms and conditions I have implemented now for tuition and coaching is the time in which an issued invoice is payable. After that time, the client will need to rebook. Most clients get it. A lot are freelancers themselves. But, in the very bad old days, I would feel physiologically stressed, upset and angry not because of the behaviour that resulted in the need for chasing but the lack of acknowledgement of the effect it had on my time. Don’t they realise… began a lot of my thoughts. 

But it never is – and never was – about what anyone else does or doesn’t realise. “They are”, as Helen Fielding’s Olivia Jules and the Overactive Imagination said to herself, “not thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves, just like you are.” 

And your reality is not defined by what someone else does or doesn’t see. Especially if it involves their own behaviour.

A wall is a wall. It’s not a wall because you reassure me it’s a wall, or I convince you it’s a wall. Nothing you say will make it any less of a wall. If someone wants to argue it shouldn’t be a wall, or isn’t a wall, they’re welcome to do that. It’s still going to be a wall.

Many years ago, a potential client phoned me asking me if I would come to an area that was too far for me to get to. I was wandering around Waterstones Piccadilly at the time. They asked repeatedly when I could come to a location I had already told them I couldn’t, but I had time available in the moment, and repeated myself sufficient times to wander up all five floors of Waterstones Piccadilly (and down again to the basement stationery department) while still repeating the pre-existing boundary: my work hours and locations were not compatible with their request. I looked at the books, made grateful noises while they explained they’d rather have me than any of my deputies who were available in their area. I kept thanking them for the compliments, and kept repeating the options that did exist, in different words, until they were ready to hear me. When they were ready, they would hang up and make their decision either to choose an existing option or to look elsewhere. 

“Sorry,” I said to my new washing machine. It was, after all, only trying to communicate to me that I had overfilled it and it couldn’t safely take on the extra workload. Who better to understand that than a freelancer?

I opened my washing machine’s door, took out a few items, and tried again. The washing machine is washing as I write this. And I’m going back to write, then coach, and be present in both because – like my washing machine – I can only offer the best version of myself when I honour my boundaries.

Boundaries exercise:

  1. If I waved my magic wand, what would I want the other person to understand?
  2. If they don’t understand it, is it still true?
  3. What is the truth, whether they understand it or not?
  4. What if they don’t need to understand it? What would that look like?

Grab a writing workout at the Writers’ Gym this week:

Your Writing Career: 9 July, 1-2.30pm

Formatting for Publication: 10 July, 1-2.30pm

Retreat Day at the Writers’ Gym: Saturday 13 July