The best lesson I've learned at work made a world of difference in my personal life as well

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I've been freelancing for more than two decades. By most standards, I've had a successful career, with bylines in more than 100 publications, including Marie Claire, The Globe and Mail, and The Washington Post. Most years, I've cleared six figures, a feat considering the average national income for a freelance writer is $46,000. I love what I do for a living.

I'm a bit of a professional anomaly. I'm a college dropout who stumbled into a writing career. I didn't go to journalism school or have a mentor. I learned every single thing I know by making mistakes.

The biggest lesson I learned early on, though, was to be kind and empathetic but fiercely protect my boundaries. This strategy has paid dividends in my life, both personally and professionally.

A balancing act

As soon as I learned how to balance being an empathetic human being with my own sense of agency, I became far more successful in life, in general.

I'm a giver by nature (but most definitely not a people-pleaser). If I drop my walls and let you in, you're all in, and I'll go to the mat for you every time. I also try to spread kindness whenever possible, whether it's a smile, some kind words or an intentional act, like a handwritten note or impromptu bouquet of flowers.

I'm a natural born networker and I love connecting people. I believe if you're good and good at what you do, there's always enough to go around. I tirelessly try to build my friends and peers up. That kind of support is invaluable.

The not-so-great thing is I've learned is that people will take advantage of kindness. As a result, I've had to learn how to set hard and fast boundaries. I stopped saying "yes" to things I don't want to do, whether it's a work project or personal engagement. If something doesn't bring positivity into my life, I steer clear.

The benefits of boundaries

Some people interpret my boundaries as a way of keeping people out, but they make my life easier and free up the space to give more of myself to things that actually matter to me. I choose to invest my time in creating a happy and prosperous life and don't make room for people or projects that drain my energy.

You're never going to please anyone 100% of the time, and you should never apologize for putting yourself first, especially if it puts you in a better position to help others.

Establishing boundaries allows you to prioritize your well-being while creating the space to be kind and take care of others. I've found that striking this magic balance makes it so much easier to be positive and productive and live an unapologetically authentic and successful life.

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