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Podcast is LIVE & How to create balance and boundaries with an analogy

Updated: Mar 18

The Leaders' Playground podcast with yours truly is LIVE! Find it on Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon, at or wherever you get your podcasts (still working on Google and iHeartRadio).

AND you get a new blog post too.

STORY: Irene's castle: an analogy to create balance and boundaries. I built a castle to house my business and hold firm to my boundaries so that I have space for family, friends, and the things I love. Here's what I did and how to build a castle of your own.

READ MORE: A walking meditation. Take a walk to begin creating your castle.

BOOK STUFF: Book Club. Join me 4PM PST Thursday, March 28, 2024 to discuss Mastery by Robert Greene.

PODCAST STUFF: Leaders' Playground LAUNCHES. Thank you to Tessa Borquez, Robin Canfield, and Tyler V. Lockamy for all the support that made a podcast possible. Couldn't have done it without you! And to David Vox and Christina Howard for the inspiration. Teamwork makes the dreamwork!

GOING FURTHER: Collective Wisdom Leadership Circle. Once a year I hold space for a curated team of no more than eight extraordinary leaders. Learn more and sign here HERE.


STORY: Irene's Castle: an analogy to create balance and boundaries

I have an imaginary castle that I use to contain my business and set boundaries around the projects I take on. I built it in 2020 and have continued to refurbish, renovate, and evolve ever since.


Flashback to June 30th 2020. That was the last day I could call myself the principal superintendent of a charter school. As you might imagine, it had been a hellacious few months shepherding a school through COVID. I was a recovering over-achieving, perfectionistic, workaholic desperately seeking happiness and work-life balance. Yet there I was, launching my new coaching/consulting website AND getting ready to embark on a round-the-world Gap Year with my family. 

All my old habits came back. I said yes to far too many things. I was juggling way too many balls. I got completely overwhelmed by it all. I was in survival mode – raging cortisol, high sympathetic nervous system activation, amygdala on high alert. I built my castle in order to create some structure and chill my brain out.

It was time to completely redesign the work-life balance that I’d struggled so hard to create in the first place. According to the Australian psychologist Robert Cummins, 173 different life domains have been studied scientifically: health, family, income, leisure, friendships, career, romance, safety, education, self-worth, community, spirituality, and on and on it goes. No single domain can fulfill a person’s every need, well-being and life satisfaction requires the ability to identify the domains most important to you, and navigate flexibly between them. 

On Working Memory and Cognitive Load

Our brains can only hold so many things in mind at once. We keep what’s currently “in mind” in what’s called our working memory, those neural structures and networks we use to plan and carry out behavior. RIght now, my son is learning how to drive. I look over at him trying to merge into traffic on the freeway and can tell that his working memory is at maximum capacity. The first time he tries to get on the highway, it’s no easy task to accelerate, stay in your lane, look over your shoulder to check for oncoming traffic, match the speed of the cars, and flip the turn signal, all at the same time. 

The capacity of your working memory is limited. You can only hold so much in your head at any one time. It’s called cognitive load. George Miller of Harvard University’s Psychology Department famously wrote a paper in 1956 entitled: “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information” He wasn’t actually suggesting that our cognitive load limit was 7. It was a nice rhetorical device to pull his research together with others in the field for a talk he was giving. And it made a catchy title for a now famous paper. But the take home message is that your working memory has capacity limits. There’s only so much you can ask it to hold at any one time. 

Well, back in 2020, though I’d been mentoring students and adults for decades, I was new to coaching. Plus I was trying to figure out how to live, work, and school my kids overseas in the middle of a pandemic. Everything was brand new, just like learning to merge onto the freeway for the first time. I was overwhelmed, meaning my cognitive load was at max capacity, perhaps beyond capacity. 

Well one thing I do know from my psychology background is how to help your working memory and lighten the load. One tried and true trick is to use imagery to hold a concept in mind. It’s hard to remember a list of 7 items like a grocery list of milk, eggs, bread, chicken, taco sauce, cilantro, tomatoes. It’s much easier to remember those same 10 items unified into a single picture as a plate with a mexican style chicken omelet on toast beside a glass of milk. OR you can imagine those 10 items funnily positioned along a familiar path; as I’m walking to the mailbox, I might imagine a carton of milk in the entry way, eggs on the doormat, bread on the front steps, chicken in the flowerpots, taco sauce on the front walk, cilantro on top of the mailbox, and tomatoes inside sitting on top of the mail). 

A Castle Tour

So in an effort to reduce the overwhelm of all the things my business engages in and create some much needed boundaries around them, and with the encouragement of my leadership coach at the time, I built myself an imaginary castle. I decided on a castle because my daughter was totally into Harry Potter at the time and that image fed my love of play and adventure and fantasy.

Within my Castle. I built 8 towers, each customized for my 1:1 clients. Slowly but surely my towers filled up and have stayed full. I’ve recently been able to reduce the number of towers to 6, making room for pro bono clients, usually women or minorities, from nonprofits and government agencies. Right now, I can only say yes to one more client because all of my other tower rooms are full. 

I built a Great Hall to house my leadership circle and women’s leadership retreat. I can’t say yes to any other group or team events because I need to save this room for the people I’m recruiting to those two tables.

I initially built a laboratory to experiment with new programs, but eventually, redesigned the lab into a library. Currently, I’m in my library every morning, writing my book and doing research for it. I can’t take on a shiny new project, no matter how awesome it may be, because that would require me to build a new addition and I just don’t have time for that if I’m spending every morning in my library.

And I built a courtyard where I share my teaching publicly with the world on my blog, my monthly column, magazine articles, public speaking and my brand new podcast set to launch later this week!!! I can’t say yes to another speaking event because my courtyard is too busy as it is. 

Altogether, having my Castle forces me to focus on my own zone of genius and on what’s most important. It puts limits on my overachievement, perfectionism, and workaholic tendencies. In order to say yes to anything else, I’d need to kick something out of the current Castle or renovate an existing room for a new purpose. And perhaps most importantly of all, it encourages me to nourish and nurture all my life domains, not just one of them. Many research studies have shown that those who move between several life domains and enjoy their time in each are happiest, have higher self esteem, great resilience in the face of stress, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.

Build Your Own

I've shared this strategy with many clients over the years and encourage them to design their own imaginary playgrounds in which to set boundaries around their many projects. One client has a cattle ranch with a main house for her family and friends, barn for her day job, outbuilding for her side hustle, and a walking trail for her daily self-care routine. Another has a Spanish monastery with different rooms for the different projects in her work, and bells that chime to signal the cycles in her workday moving her from one project to the next. Just last week, a friend shared her forest playground complete with a lookout tower for social media, a cozy cave for writing, a campfire for teaching, and a wolf companion named Boundary. Other folks I’ve worked with have designed ships and gardens and Caribbean island resorts. 

If you were to design an imaginary place to identify and put boundaries around the things most important to you, what might you create?

Read More: A Walking Meditation

If you’re overwhelmed, the last thing you need is more resources to overwhelm you. So stop. Go for a walk. On your outbound walk, collect items (rocks, sticks, leaves, trash) to represent all the things claiming your time and energy right now. At the turnaround point, set down all but most important of them (though you might want a trash can for the actual trash). On the homebound walk, collect just one more item that you aren’t doing now, but if you did, might make all the difference in the world (e.g. alone time, creative time, reading books for pleasure, social connection). What you have in your hands when you get home is what to build your analogy around.

Book Stuff: Book Club

Thanks to those who were able to join me in February for a great conversation on the egomania of youth, what it means to be an adult, and how to take care of the body we’re given through all of life’s changes.

The new book for March/April 2024 is… Mastery by Robert Greene!Q: What's the key to mastery? A: It's about passion, not genius. If you’re short on time, there’s also a “Concise” version that clocks in at 224 pages (vs 318). And don’t feel bad if you haven’t started the book yet…I’m still waiting for my copy from the library (#1 on hold list now)!

Looking forward to seeing you on Thursday, March 28th, 4 pm Pacific time! Email to be added to the notification list that contains the zoom link.

Podcast Stuff: THREE episodes for your listening pleasure

We're LIVE on Spotify, Apple, YouTube, and all your other favorite channels. Pretty please...if you like what you hear, click that follow button and share with a friend who would love their work to feel more like play. More stories, science, and strategies will be coming your way twice a month(ish)

Going Further: Collective Wisdom Leadership Circle

Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely. Humans are a social species. We work together. Play together. And when we have big dreams or big challenges, the best way forward is together.

Psychologists have long known that groups are better at solving problems than individuals. They've studied this in workplaces ranging from the military to healthcare to business to education. When people work synergistically, the outcomes and solutions are objectively better than when people work solo. The more diverse the team, the better. Not only that, people are happier when they are part of a safe, trusting team. And it’s not just happiness, a culture of synergy and trust results in 74% less stress and 40% less burnout. Better yet, there’s 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity, and 76% more engagement. Together we are better.

If you have a big challenge or wish for 2024 that you'd like to tackle with your own personal think tank at your back (and me as your leadership coach!), please consider joining the leadership circle I'm convening.

Eight extraordinary leaders.

One synergistic team.

Your biggest challenge or wish.


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