On Capacity & Honoring Boundaries with Bunny McKensie Mack

Actionable insight about honoring boundaries, emotional consent, and the importance of lived experience.

Referenced in this Episode:

Bunny McKensie Mack (pronouns: they/them/their) is an anti-oppression consultant, coach, facilitator and the founder of Boundary Work™ and Radical Copy. For over 5 years, Bunny has consulted with some of the largest for-profit and non-profit organizations in the country to develop cultures of accountability that dismantle racism and gender inequity at the individual, interpersonal, and institutional level. Their work has been featured in NowThis News, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, The Guardian, Artsy, Afropunk, The New York Times, Pop Sugar, It Gets Better, ArtNews, Wear Your Voice, Bubblegum Club, and El País.

Connect with Bunny via THEIR WEBSITE / INSTAGRAM / FACEBOOK / MEDIUM / TWITTER


Episode Transcript:

Liz Wiltsie: Welcome to LEAD the podcast. I’m so excited to welcome this week’s guest, Bunny Mckenzie Mack, who uses pronouns they, them, theirs pronouns, is an anti-oppression consultant, coach, facilitator, and the founder of the trademarked Boundary Work and Radical Copy

For over five years, Bunny has consulted with some of the largest for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the country to develop cultures of accountability, that dismantle racism and gender inequity at the individual, interpersonal, and institutional levels. 

Their work has been featured in NowThis News, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, The Guardian, Artsy, Afropunk, The New York Times, PopSugar, It Gets Better, ARTnews, Wear Your Voice, Bubblegum Club, and El Pais. And I am so excited to welcome Bunny here. Thank you so much for being with us.

Bunny Mack: Thank you so much for having me, Liz.

LW:  So, Bunny, let’s get right to it. What do you think is the number one challenge that leaders face at work?

BM:  As you want it, the number one challenge that leaders face at work, is believing that they have the permission not only to set boundaries with those with whom they work but also to hold the boundaries of other people like to honor them. And I think one of the reasons that that happens is because we live in a system that really socialized us to believe that going to work means leaving ourselves at home. And so, the idea of actually being really honest about our emotional capacity, or mental capacity, or physical capacity, is one of those things that we believe that we have to leave home in order to lead successfully.

LW:  Yeah. When you say boundaries, what is your definition of boundary?

BM:  So, a boundary is where you begin and where I end. It’s a tool that I use, that we use to protect our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity. And it really is a means of identifying our needs and articulating those in a way where we’re really letting people know that we have limits. And that those limits, and particularly those limits and those needs are what enable us to really embrace the fullness of who we are.

LW:  So, in that sort of vein, what’s your number one tip for dealing with the challenge of, you know, boundaries.

BM: One of my number one tip is boundary mapping. It’s where you actually sit down, take a blank sheet of paper, draw potentially into four sorts of quadrants, like four boxes. And then in each of those boxes, you have a very specific category of people that you are looking to set boundaries with or even just people you encounter on a regular basis. 

So that could be, right, that could be colleagues in one category. That could be clients in another category. That could be family, right? If we’re talking about boundary work is about sort of embracing a fullness of who we are not segmenting compartmentalizing ourselves that just isn’t sustainable and just ends up really pushing us closer to burn out more quickly. 

And then potentially another sort of category can be friends or it can even be like, right, like other things that you like to do like travel or like hobbies that you have. And I find that sort of the boundary mapping methods to be super helpful, because once you are putting those folks in different categories, and you’re actually writing out, right? When I work this way, or when this person approaches me to do work in this way, it makes me feel, for example, fulfilled, it makes me feel successful. It makes me feel like my needs are being honored. 

And sort of reverse engineering from that feeling into what the actual boundary is. And I find that to be incredibly helpful, because I think that for a lot of folks, especially a lot of my clients, that you sit them down and you say, “Okay, what are your boundaries with your colleagues?” 

A lot of times they’re like, “Oh, you know, I don’t know.” Because when we’re in it, and we’re in the midst of it, I think it’s hard to sort of distinguish between the things that we need, things that they need, right, and the thing is sort of like our organization, and all the folks that make up that space and that community want and need. 

So really sitting down and being able to work that out, I found to be incredibly helpful for my clients and also incredibly helpful for me.

LW:  Yeah. Have you had this experience as well, where I keep thinking about, you know, I started working when I was probably 14, and…?

BM:  Oh, me too. Me too. 

LW:  You know, I never sat down and thought about this stuff. I didn’t know that capacity was limited, right? That you’re like human versus, like it’s okay to have limited capacity, and it’s normal, and it’s human. 

And that feels like a piece in sitting down and saying, “Hey, this is what my boundaries are.” Even the notion that you’re allowed to have boundaries at all.

BM: Yeah, for sure. And I think, you know, two things. One is that you know, I also started working when I was 14, towards where I’ve been here. So, I’m like, “Where’s my money?” But I, you know, for me, I really am a firm believer that whenever a person started working, from whatever age, from the beginning of that career, professionally, and from the beginning of like sort of building up interpersonal relationships and engaging a relational dynamics that we have all sort of known from the beginning what boundaries are. 

But potentially we’re not, you know, exposed to that vocabulary. I didn’t think that that was a right that we had. But I know, if I can recall things when I first started working or recall things from my earliest relationships and friendships, where something just didn’t feel right to me. And maybe I would sit with that thing, and be thinking about it, and be asking myself, you know, “What was it about this?” 

Or I meet someone, meet a new supervisor, or a new manager, and I’m asking myself, there’s something about that interaction that felt off to me. And then particularly, especially when I was, you know, younger, I’d be like, “Okay, well, you know, it just happens. Let me just move on, live life,” you know, and more than likely it will happen again. But I was never naming it as, names potentially this doesn’t feel right to me because this person was crossing the line. 

But I’m not exactly sure what the line is. So that’s the first thing, is sort of like, I think empowering ourselves to know that there’s always, that we’ve always had boundaries. But maybe sometimes due to sort of our circumstance or the fact that we may be, you know, meet most of our socialized methods to think we’re worthy of, that we didn’t know at the time that we were recognizing or really even reflecting on the fact that a boundary of ours has been crossed.

LW:   Yeah. And I know you do, as I said earlier there, you do anti-oppression consulting. So, as we get into different power dynamics, and privilege dynamics, how does, sort of, your coaching around boundary work shifts? I don’t know that shift is the right word. But how does it move in relationship to, you know, that different folks have different needs?

BM:  Yeah. My work is focused really on being as transformational as possible. But we’re talking about a holistic transformation. And when I sort of first started delving into more of my own research around boundaries and boundary work, I encountered a lot of work that focused a lot of the individual. And sometimes I think in a way that felt like it was written through a lens of sort of shaming the person who has not set the boundary, as opposed to focusing on the fact that there’s another person on the other end, or another community, or another organization, that was actually crossing those boundaries. 

And potentially not even checking in with the person to ask, “Hey, do I have your, you know, consent, your emotional consent to, at work, as we work for 12 hours a day, for me to ask you personal questions about your personal life?” Or, “Hey, do I have your consent, even though I know that you already just worked on these two major projects, and you completed them successfully, to add three more in your plate even I know that you’re about to go on vacation tomorrow.” 

And you’re right, so it’s like, sort of for me, and thinking through that work and asking myself, “What’s missing?” For me what was missing was the systemic part, where I think a lot of times we want to focus so much on the individual, especially within business coaching spaces, where we want, where we sort to talk to people like they’re Savior. And we’re like you are the special one. 

You’re the one who’s going to save this organization, you’re the one who’s going to build this business on your own, right, that’s going to have the tremendous impact within your community. And I think it’s great to empower people, it’s great to encourage people. And also, we’re all members of community, various communities that intersect based on our identity, based in the way that we’re raised, based on our circumstances and our interest and our hobbies. 

And so, for me, there’s not really a way to talk about boundaries in a way that really is sustainable, in a way that really addresses all of the needs of a person, if we don’t address the fact that a lot of times, we’re not setting boundaries with people because of the system in which we exist, like we exist, and we have to sort of navigate within. That puts a lot of pressure on us, to be perfect, put a lot of pressure on us to value material goods, material wealth, over humanity, over our own humanity and many other people. 

And that really also put a lot of pressure on us to show up and have all the answers even when we potentially have not done the research or have not had at least experience. And I feel like especially we think about major organization, making or crossing major boundaries, like culturally, or you know, stereotypically, racially, in terms of gender. I think that’s one of the reasons is because there’s, there’s sort of like this leaning into having all the answers. 

And to sort of like if you don’t have the answers you just get, which I think especially when it comes to the communications and marketing space, where there are a lot of folks who will very easily, or organization with a lot of money will make a huge mistake, right? A huge error in their marketing and their communications that’s racist, or that is patriarchal, and that’s transphobic, because I think, they’re putting it on themselves and just have all the answers without actually using their funding in their resources to hire folks who have those answers, who have those experiences, right, who can speak to the ways in which those communities want to be represented. 

So, for me those main things, like you know, it’s not, it is about us, very much though. And also there are a lot of times where we haven’t set boundaries because we’ve been socialized not to, or maybe we’ve been threatened by a supervisor, by a manager or by an institution in a way that makes us you know, sort of wounded us and made us feel like we don’t have the right.

LW:  Yeah. So, what is something that’s impacted you in the way that you think?

BM: Oh, my God. A great question, Liz. Oh, I mean, there’s a lot of things, I’m trying to think.

LW:  Yeah. You get to pick just one.

BM: I’m trying to think. Oh, my God. I think knowing what it’s like as a black, queer, Trans, non-binary person, or knowing what that’s like to have folks consistently trying to cross your boundary. And I think at one time, when I was sort of growing up and experiencing that, I did turn that inward, which I think a lot of us do. 

And I, you know, for a long time perceive myself with the issue. It was when people trying to cross my boundaries, people that are not authentic to honor my space, you know, my physical, mental, emotional space, spiritual space, and it must have something to do with me. And then when I, you know, grew older and had all these experiences with, when I, not just with myself, when I was witnessing other folks boundaries be cross, or people do things where I thought, “Wow, you didn’t even ask consent to do this thing,” or, “You didn’t ask consent to give this person the, to give this person is saying.” 

Or you didn’t ask consent before you’re just sort of like expecting, marginalized folks, for example, to give you all this information about their community and their history without any sort of like right payments or without any sort of value being exchanged. And that’s to me, maybe realize, oh, wait actually this is a specific issue. And so even with my own, in my own work, a lot of what I’m teaching about has to do with the lessons, and many lessons, that I’ve learned, especially within 10 years in nonprofit administration, right. 

And over five years now, and consulting and facilitation work, where I realized, “Wow, okay, I can actually apply this in a way that helps to make people’s lives better.” And help them to navigate into identify what it is that they need, in order to embrace the fullness of who they are.

LW:  That’s a fantastic answer. What should I, what should I have asked you that I didn’t?

BM: What should you have asked me that you didn’t? That is a good question. I guess, maybe, and is this something that I’m going to have to answer after this? Or is this like a…

LW:   No. I mean, you can. If you want to go for it. If you want to just sort of say, “This is what you should have asked and I’m leaving it,” then, feel free.

BM: Okay. I think I would, maybe, the question that I think could have, the one thing you should have, because I think you’ve done a great job already, with the questions that you got. I think one of the questions you could have asked was, what are some of the core steps or core characteristics of boundary work? 

LW:  Yes. Do you want to answer it, do you not want to answer it? 

BM:  No, no, we’ll that as a cliffhanger. 

LW:  Okay, fantastic. Well, and then the sort of last question is, what is something that you are grappling with, either in your work or something that is just sort of out there for you that you don’t know where you stand on it yet?

BM: I think there’s one thing I know where I stand on, and also, I think it’s about constantly sort of navigating and developing a deeper awareness of it is, when we think about boundary work specifically, it’s not just about right. It’s not just about an individual sort of setting boundaries with others or setting boundaries with communities, with the organization. 

But it’s also about the work that we do to honor the boundaries of other people. And so, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about emotional consent, and how, sort of like, we have an expectation for people to do emotional labor for us, especially if we are compromised. If we are like compromised emotionally, and we’re going through a difficult time. And so that’s something that I’m consistently sort of thinking through, what does it mean to honor the boundaries of others? 

And also, what does it mean to be, to sort of build awareness, or to build a sort of level of perception or even, right, because we know that neuro divergence exists, so maybe not always, can a person look at a person and have an awareness of how they’re feeling? 

But even in those situations, what does it means to sort of ask questions, so that we have a better understanding of where a person is, as opposed to sort of assuming that we know because they’re smiling a lot in the office. They’re smiling a lot, right, in public community places.

LW:  Yes. So, I want to remind folks there will be, there are show notes here. You will have all the links to Bunny’s work. And you do, you coach on boundary work, in particular, and also radical copy. And all of that will be available. 

BM: Yay.

LW:  Thank you so much for being here. 

BM: Thank you so much for having me, Liz.

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