This week I turned 39 years old. In terms of birthdays, it started off pretty well but through an unexpected turn of events it became one of those life lessons that is only discovered the hard way. For my 39th birthday I got a big, fat lesson in boundaries! 

According to my spiritual leader Brené Brown, setting boundaries is making clear what’s okay and what’s not okay, and why. Having clear boundaries set around your personal and professional life is vital to maintaining healthy, robust and fulfilling relationships. 

On Wednesday (my actual birthday!) I got a call from a new and exciting client that just wanted me to freshen up a powerpoint presentation for her. I don’t normally do this sort of work anymore but I thought, cool, sounds like fun. Couple of hours work for a quick $500. She wanted it for 11.30am the next day, which sounded like a walk in the park.



This must involve a 30-60 minute zoom meeting to discuss the brief, in detail, especially if it’s a new client. 

I was sent an email after lunch that contained everything I needed (minus one key example of what she actually wanted). I figured I would just spend 2 hours on it then get my birthday haircut at 4.30pm.


I received a powerpoint file composed of multiple powerpoint documents that had over 200+ links and felt like just as many typefaces. There was no way I was going to design in powerpoint! It took me two hours just to extract all of the images and text ready to be laid out in InDesign.

In hindsight this is when I should’ve stopped. 

I had spent the ‘few hours’ turning one file into 200+files and no design! This is when I should’ve got a second opinion. I should’ve said to Matt, hey I’m working on this job, my time is already up and I don’t have anything to show for it. Matt, would’ve rightly suggested that I just open the Powerpoint file in Keynote and rework the current design rather than starting from scratch. Basically do exactly what the client asked for.


After my haircut it was home to celebrate my birthday! Matt had ordered a special meal that would arrive on Thursday so we kept it low key and had some ice cream birthday cake, much to the kids delight! Once the kids were down I sneaked out to the TinyOffice to ‘quickly’ finish up the job I’d started.


I got so caught up in getting the work done that I forgot all of the things that I normally do. I didn’t re-read the brief, I didn’t have everything I needed to know to do the job correctly and I was rushing! I worked till midnight and sent the design through to the client.

Because I didn’t send a sample design to get signed off I spent all of my birthday evening designing a vein. The list of corrections in the morning was massive and it was my fault. I was more interested in rushing through the work that I made silly mistakes like introducing a wild colour scheme and font choice - because I hadn’t taken the time to discuss the brief properly and gather all the information I needed.


My one saving grace is that my Indesign documents are impeccable so the revised design was easy to flow through the presentation. I sent a PDF of the presentation and my client made her deadline but I had spent 8 Hours on doing a job that STILL wasn’t finished.

The original arrangement was for me to hand over a keynote/powerpoint document so she could edit it. All she had was an un editable PDF. 

Lesson 6: BE HONEST

I had to fess up to a degree and admit that this had taken me way longer than I anticipated and if she wanted an editable version I was going to have to charge her $250 for it. To be honest I was hoping that would be the end of it. I was so embarrassed by the amount of time I’d already spent on this that losing her as a client seemed like the easiest way out! I was so cross at myself for letting ALL of my boundaries drop and consequences were wasted time, money and a deflated ego. I produced substandard work because I didn’t have time to do the job right. I have processes and systems that work for a reason, when I skip them I will fail.

The client kindly came back to me and asked for the editable version. I think she was feeling bad sending me a link to the reference material the morning after I’d done the design! I said, thanks and sure, I can have that for you Friday afternoon! Bear in mind I received this request at 4.30pm on Thursday afternoon.

Lesson 7: SAY NO! 

The client wanted the editable version for the first thing Friday morning. There was no way I was going to be able to do it by then. Matt had just arrived home with our Super Normal “Spring Dumpling Banquet” for my belated birthday feast. I wanted to hang out with my family. I work 9-4 four days a week. I make those hours work so well for me that I don’t work at night or on the weekend, that time is for my family. I’ve spent years perfecting my productivity systems so I can run a full time business while still wholehearted raising two kids!

Funny side note here, just to add to the calamity that is life right now. Just before Matt got home with the banquet, we had the local pest control guy, Stuart (the Beekeeper, he was a talker!!) rock up on his way home to check up on a maintenance request we’d made a few days earlier. We’d been hearing all sorts of noises in the walls of our rental and finally decided to take action, coincidentally arriving at my birthday feast!. Picture this if you will, Matt has multiple pots on the stove, duck in the oven and tiny containers of pickled vegetables and other culinary delights arranged around him. Stuart emerges from the man hole above the kitchen and says he has some good news! It's not possums, phew! But it is a RAT HIGHWAY! He said there is evidence of 20-30 rats using our roof for all sorts of gross rat things! 

So as we prepared our delicious banquet, Stuart dusted our ceiling cavity with some horrendous poison that may or maynot cause the rats to die in the walls. He was lovely and Alice took quite a liking to him but he was a slightly unexpected birthday dinner guest! 

After dinner Matt and I were cleaning up and I explained the stress of the day with this presentation that had gone wrong. Matt was right when he said I should’ve spoken out instead of silently persevering. We are there to help each other. He also made me realise that I had charged a woman for a job I didn’t complete. If you strip back all the drama she wanted an editable presentation template. I had not delivered. 

As I read Alice's book “Brianna, the Bee Fairy” I felt like there was a cynda block on my chest. The words were coming out but the realization that I was wrong had hit like a tsunami wave of anxiety. My chest feels heavy and it's like my ears fill with water, things start to slow down and I feel really uncomfortable. This is what my anxiety attacks look like. I did my box breathing (4 seconds in, 4 seconds out, 4 seconds in, 4 seconds out) until Alice was asleep.

A quick google and I discovered I can turn a PDF into a Powerpoint Document. Back to the TinyOffice I went. This time I was only there for an hour or so. Like any transfer of files between programs it took a while to make everything look right. All of the fonts had gone crazy and the styling in Keynote isn’t nearly as powerful as InDesign so I had to manually go through and fix everything. It wasn’t perfect but it was certainly usable. 

This morning I got an email from the client saying that she really appreciated me getting the editable file to her. I doubt she’d read this blog but if she did I wonder what her experience of our engagement was? I’m having full blown panic attacks and she has just engaged some designer who didn’t do what she asked!

It comes back to boundaries. I know what I need to do the best job possible. 

  • I need a clear brief that I work through with the client. The brief should not be sent in an email to be misinterpreted later on. 
  • I shouldn’t work outside of my working hours. If I can’t complete the project within my working hours then I say NO.
  • I have a minimum engagement of $1000 for ad hoc work. I need to stick to this. ANY job I do for under that amount ends up costing me TWICE as much in time and energy. A high minimum means that I don’t have to cut corners. I have time to invest in the brief, sample design then the execution of the actual design. Everybody wins.
  • I can’t be led astray by making a quick buck. It’s hard when money is tight but I would much rather have no money and my integrity than a couple of extra grand earned from substandard work.
  • Ask for help. I should’ve talked to Matt sooner than I did.
  • There are no bad clients. It is my responsibility to make sure that I have everything I need to do my job well - not the clients.
  • KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES. When things don’t feel right it's almost always because your boundaries have been breached. You need to understand and remind yourself of your boundaries to avoid situations like I've just described.
  • Self-compassion. We are always going to fuck things up at some stage, even on your birthday!

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