Guest Interview: Jen Thoemke


Today we get to sit down with Jennifer Thoemke and unpack her process for dealing with constraint. With  more than 25 years of leadership experience, Jen shares her approach to self-leadership and how it translates into leading others well – especially when dealing with the limitations of the pandemic in her two prosperous, face-to-face businesses. Listen and learn how to prioritize your values and what creating community can look like for your team.

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Guest Interview: Joellen Kramer


On this episode, we sit down with Joellen Kramer, English Teacher at Lakewood High School and Coordinator of Lakewood’s International  Baccalaureate Diploma Program. Joellen shares her experiences with constraint personally and as a teacher during unprecedented times. She takes us inside her frontline work with tomorrow’s leaders and the self-leadership principles she hopes to pass on to her students. This is an inspiring episode you won’t want to miss!

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Protective Constraints


On today’s episode, we take a look at a different aspect of constraint. Explore protective constraints and learn how to discern if they support your efforts at living according to your values and moving towards your goal. Are you overprotecting? Listen in and find out.

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Boss Yourself First –


BYF Podcast Season 2 Episode 9

Welcome everyone, Thank you for joining me this week, I know I said we’d be starting our constraint hall of fame interviews this week but something has come to my attention that I want to spend this episode addressing and then next week I have an amazing guest interview, we are talking with an amazing woman who is in the trenches of wrestling with constraint as a high school teacher. Shout out to all the teachers who are important and incredible under “normal” circumstances but have been frontline warriors trying to educate our children through the pandemic. I’m so looking forward to sharing that conversation with you.

 But I’ve heard from a few of you that there is a different aspect of constraint that bears discussing. And remember so far this season we have been defining constraint as a limitation that we ourselves or circumstances or people outside of ourselves set that inspires creativity and innovation to get to our desired results. But what some of you have told me you would like to explore are constraints or limitations we put on ourselves to protect not necessarily achieve a result. And what happens when those protective constraints are no longer needed. Variations of this came up in a few conversations with listeners, so to me that means we should unpack it.

 Some examples of what I’m talking about here. We’ll start off with a really familiar one for most of us. “I’m limiting my physical interaction with others to protect my health during a pandemic.” So a different kind of constraint. Still limitation but to protect. It’s defense instead of offense. Here’s another one, I’m limiting my choices in foods to protect my weight. Or how about this, I’m limiting how and who  I’m dating to protect my heart. I’m limiting what jobs I’m applying for to protect my ego. I’m limiting my color choices in my wardrobe to protect my energy around choices. I’m limiting my appointments to protect my time.

So a lot of different scenarios here and I invite you to step out of judgement around all of them. Let these limits be neutral. Because protecting is important. There are things we really want and need to protect. Anything that feels limited in supply but high in demand are valuable resources worthy of protection. like energy, time, attention. It is the work of a self-leader to distribute and invest those resources wisely.

What about the other two we mentioned, health, heart and ego. Again, a skilled self-leader inventories and stewards these aspects of our humanity with wisdom and compassion for themselves and others.

In all of these instances we can think of constraints more like guardrails, that keep us moving forward safely to our desired results. Because I still think you can see the desired result being supported by the constraints above. Results like getting yourself and your family and neighbors  through the pandemic unscathed, connecting with others in a fulfilling relationship, losing weight to be healthy and live longer, finding a job that meets your needs and acts as a conduit of meaning in your life, having more energy and still being stylish, managing your time for maximum resilience and impact. So even though you’re building protective constraints, they are supporting your goals.

But how do you know, and here’s the real crux of the questions, how do you know when those limitations are no longer serving you. Or have even become a detriment? Honestly, I think this crosses over bit into the idea of pathway dependence that we discussed at the beginning of this season. When we repeat a way of doing things and in this case a self-imposed constraint, when we repeat it enough, it becomes more of a habit and less of a conscious choice. I believe a self-leader regularly reflects on their habits to make sure they are still the best choice, aligning with current values and goals. And pathway dependence means you’ve had success doing things a certain way to get a result, in this case protecting something, that you lose the vision for a different way of doing things, utilizing your resources differently. So I think this question fits in the pathway dependence conversation  but let’s unpack this a bit more.

The question again is how do you now when a constraint is no longer serving you  or has become a detriment. When I really focused on this question, I kept seeing an image of the character from Monk. Have you seen that? It’s an older show about a man who already had Obsessive Compulsive tendencies but with the death of his wife he went into high level protection and OCD. And after living in a pandemic, his obsessive use of hand cleaner and wipes just don’t seem that farfetched. And this is an extreme example of constraints. These rules you live by that at some level, protected something you valued but need to be adjusted to make sure that it’s not over protecting and actually holding you back in an important growth area.

And I’ll be honest with you, when I was wrestling with health issues in 2019 and we worked for months getting incorrect diagnosis after incorrect diagnoses and even still we haven’t figured everything out, I searched out and created rules or limitations that I adhered to because I so much wanted to feel better. I’ve shared with you before, the most helpful diagnosis we got was that of paradoxical vocal cord dysfunction and instead of adding more medications, I was allowed to drop most of them and began working with a vocal therapist. One of the first things we did is she had me describe my journey to her, and what showed up in that, was the rules I had been living by and we examined them, kept the ones that supported my healing and discarded the rest. And we added a few new ones to the mix. Part of that healing had been to not talk or whisper for two weeks prior to my therapy, to let my throat heal, but then with her, I began to speak, and even sing among other vocal exercises to work my throat. I remember one morning showing up to therapy and talking softly when my therapist asked my what was wrong. I said that I was so afraid that I had damaged my throat the night before shouting at my dog who was about to knock a hot dish off the stove. She told me something very important, I needed to trust that my throat was strong and getting stronger. I needed to believe it and I needed to live like it. I needed to let go of the constraints that had supported my healing but were no longer needed.

So here are a few steps to discerning if your protective constraint is still supporting you.

Are you growing? And this doesn’t mean growing in every way but do you feel you are continuing on the journey to being your next better version of yourself. I remember a song lyric from a song I liked in high school and I couldn’t really tell you any of the other lyrics but this one stuck, it said if you ever stop growing then you start to die. Asking this question, are you growing will help reveal if you are over-protecting. I’m all for margin and resilience but. Are you underestimating your capacity? Time, energy, family, heart, ego –

 So again, you don’t have to be achieving in every area all the time, that’s not how I define growth, but are you continuing to evolve as a human. Taking on challenges, learning new skills, expanding your awareness and impact. If you can’t identify any level of growth, have a look at your self-imposed constraints.

Limitations that once protected you could now be stunting your growth.

You may find it helpful to talk to a good friend or even a coach to help you examine your constraints. Remember these are self-imposed, you get to choose what to keep and what to get rid of.

Another question could be, are you dreaming? I’m not talking about do you dream while you sleep. I’m talking about awake dreaming. Are you playing with ideas about what you would do without any restrictions. Sometimes we are so locked into our constraints that we forget that at least many of them  self-imposed. We forget how to look beyond them and think bigger. If you answer that you’re not dreaming, reconnect with old dreams and then ask yourself what experiences would feed your soul? Challenge yourself to make a bucket list. Once that is done, ask what is stopping you from going for something on your list. See if any of those obstacles are self-imposed constraints that no longer serve you.

Once you’ve exposed the constraints that no longer support your pursuit of living according to your values and goals, take steps to let go of them.

The most important place to start in changing an old constraint is your mind. Create a thought that supports the change and repeat it as needed.

For me with my throat, anytime I begin to feel anxious about straining my voice or it’s unreliability, I remind myself that “my throat is stronger than it was and getting stronger every day.”

Yes I still have some self-care constraints that continue on and I show up to do my throat exercises every day but I no longer stress over shouting for my favorite team or singing a familiar tune.

So are you growing, are you dreaming, are self-imposed constraints responsible for a lack in either of those areas. What thought do you need to lift a constraint that has outlived its purpose.

I hope this discussion and these steps give you food for thought and support for your questions around a different aspect of constraint.




Own and Flip Constraints


On today’s episode, we look at a simple but powerful technique to quickly process constraint. Learn to own your constraint and then flip it to generate creative and motivating energy. We also take a peek into Laura Huang’s excellent book,  Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage. Don’t miss this short and powerful episode!

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Episode Transcript

Boss Yourself First –


BYF Podcast Season 2 Episode 8

As we wrap up our solo episodes of the season, I want to give you another perspective on constraint and another sort of quick hack for processing constraint.  We’ve spent the last 7 weeks looking at the stages of processing constraint and tools to help us clearly identify the constraint and ask the right questions to get to innovative solutions. We’ve also looked at supporting our work by tapping into emotional motivation. Today, I want to share another simple tool for processing constraints be they physical constraints, emotional constraints, mental constraints. When we run into an obstacle that limits our movement toward our desired result, this method can help you out. And this is a method I’ve used for some time and I really didn’t think about how it applies to constraints because I usually use it with myself and clients when it comes to limiting beliefs but since limiting beliefs whether they are held by ourselves or someone else, are a form of constraint. This all came together for me back when I was first preparing for this season and I was reading a book by a Harvard Associate Professor named Laura Huang. If you haven’t heard of her yet, you will she is an up and coming thought leader and a very popular professor. Her book is called Edge, Turning Adversity into Advantage and it is an excellent read and after reading it, I can see why she is such a popular professor. Anyway, Huang writes about a particular constraint and I want to share that with you and then I’ll share the method I mentioned earlier. As a child, Huang was place in a Gifted and Talented Math program but not the reading/language arts GT program. The reason she was given was that the language arts would be too challenging for her as a non-native English speaker. This was confusing as Huang is a multi-language native speaker and one of those languages was English. However, this was a concept that her elementary teacher could not grasp. Almost 10 years after that Huang was enrolled in the required Freshman writing course at her university. She received a failing grade on her first writing assignment and went to get clarity from the instructor. His explanation had a familiar ring, “Don’t worry, since English is not your native language, it will take you some time to get the hang of writing. It will come.”  Frustrated, Huang surmised that because of her last name the instructor had given her the constraint of being a non-native English speaker. Her suspicions were soon confirmed when she found another Asian student in her class had a similar experience with that instructor. Here’s where it gets really fun and leads into our discussion of today’s technique. Huang and her falsely constrained fellow student decided to grab hold of that constraint and use it. Huang says, “So we came up with a plant to “own” the constraint.” In Huang’s next essay, she frequently referenced her “nonnative English” and wrote about overcoming the challenges of overcoming this constraint. The instructor missed the sarcasm and bought further into the constraint he had set. She got a B- on the paper.

I want to share this quote from Huang’s book, Edge, she says, “ When we own constraints, magical things can happen. Indeed, when we leverage difficulties and use them as tools to propel us toward success, we start to carve out our edge. “


I want that to fall fresh on you today, no matter whether a constraint comes from an outside source or from yourself, when you leverage it as a tool, you have an advantage.


That’s what we are going to do in the next few minutes. And this is a really simple process, are you ready? You own the constraint. And I’ll share with you one of my most recent ones, I am in the second draft of my book and to be really honest, I’m struggling with motivation to go through the rewrites. So, my constraint that I’m noticing is that I have low motivation to get the work done on the book.

The next step is to flip the constraint. I’m going to repeat here just so you catch the flip.


I have low motivation to work on my book so it’s not getting done.

I am highly motivated to work so it’s going to get done.


So you caught that right? I just stated the opposite of my constraint. Now that you’ve got the flip. You ask yourself a question. This is where we take advantage of our brain’s hard-wired proclivity to answer questions. We just have to ask the right question. We make a question from our flip statement of constraint.


If I were highly motivated to work on this book, what would I be doing? And here is where you can nuance the question a little bit. Make sure your words are strong enough to trigger some answers in your mind. So, to be honest, the question I just stated didn’t generate a lot of energy for me, It didn’t really connect emotionally with me. So, I looked to amp up my question. It became – If I were obsessed with finishing this book, what would I be doing right now?


Boom!  I was off to the races. If I were obsessed with finishing, I would put other projects on hold. I would let my family know that they would see a little less of me for a bit. I would put someone else in charge of dinner time. I would get my readers reading and be excited about their feedback. I would be committing to a publisher. And the list went on all the way to the condition of my desk. A writer obsessed with her book, would not let other projects clutter her workspace.


Let’s use another example that we’ve used for different techniques this season. I cannot make a profit with my restaurant with no indoor dining allowed. If we own that and flip it we’d have. I can make a profit with no indoor dining allowed. What if we wanted to amp the question? It might become, I can make more profit than ever before with no indoor dining. Then we ask ourselves the flip question? If I were making more profit than ever before, without indoor dining, what would I be doing? I’d be delivering food. I’d be making prepped meal kits to sell curbside or deliver. I’d be taking online orders for pick up.


This is a quick and powerful technique. Just be sure to get the flipped question amped up to emotional connection. You’ll know when you’ve got it because the answers will start to come and bring you a punch of energy.


The last step is to act on your ideas as soon as possible. Take the smallest, most actionable idea and make it happen as soon as you have your list generated.  Get moving and you’ll get momentum.


Hey this was a quick one today, but I hope you are already thinking of some constraints to work on. I’d love to hear about your journey, you can reach me at or message me on Instagram or Facebook. I hope you have a fantastic week owning your constraints and flipping them for your own good purposes. Thanks for being here and take care everyone.