Reclaiming My Time: 4 Lessons from Auntie Maxine Waters on Establishing Boundaries

In late July 2017, unassuming hero and everybody’s favorite play-auntie Congresswoman Maxine Waters started a social movement with three simple words: “Reclaiming my time.” Beyond its practical meaning in the context of a House Financial Services Committee hearing, the phrase struck a chord with women across the country and the internet exploded with the new catchphrase. Within days the story had taken over news feeds, trending hashtags, and even had a gospel remix.


If you haven’t seen the clip, please get your life together and watch it. (Bonus points if you watch the entire questioning.) We should all be taking notes from Auntie Maxine, who gave us a solid schooling on why it’s so important to establish and enforce boundaries in a professional environment.

Fortunately, the lessons she offers up are universal. Here are four key takeaways that we can all use to start reclaiming our time in other areas of our lives.

Examine the unsolicited gift.

When Waters asked him a direct question, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin offered up a host of gratuitous compliments instead of a real answer. Now, I’m sure Waters enjoys compliments as much as the next woman, but she didn’t accept them in that moment, in that forum. She wanted answers, not accolades. And because she only had time for one, she opted out of the unsolicited pleasantries.

Universal Lesson: ​Just because someone offers you something nice doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Everything takes up space, be it mental, emotional, physical or chronological. Every unwanted item you accept into your life makes you less available to what you actually want and need. When you default to acceptance, you allow others to choose how your time, energy, and space is used. Reclaim it all.

Every unwanted item you accept into your life makes you less available to what you actually want and need. Share on X

Stand up for yourself.

When Waters realized that Mnuchin was wasting her time, she didn’t wait for someone else to cut him off. She moved decisively on her own behalf. When the committee chairman backed Waters after Mnuchin complained about being interrupted, she also insisted on not being penalized for the time it took to explain the rules of order. She could have stayed silent on both counts, but instead, she stood up for herself and acted in her own best interests, so that she could do what needed to be done.

Universal Lesson: ​Other people may witness you being bullied, used or undervalued, but there is no guarantee that they will intervene on your behalf. Don’t forfeit your time, sanity or comfort simply because you’re waiting on someone else to come to your rescue. Be your own hero.

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Clear > nice.

If Waters had been concerned with being nice, she might have let Mnuchin finish his complements before asking for more direct answers. Or she might have bothered with a more gracious explanation of committee rules. But both of those things would have wasted more time, and the answers were more important. So Auntie Maxine interrupted him with the three words that quickly and clearly got her point across.

Universal Lesson: It’s necessary to call people out on their bad behavior when it directly affects us. But those messages can be easily ignored if we put more effort into being nice rather then being clear. Focus on making your words and actions effective. Their feelings are irrelevant if they don’t acknowledge your boundaries.

Repeat as needed.

Most video clips of the Waters-Mnuchin showdown circulating the interwebs show Auntie Maxine repeating “Reclaiming my time” while Mnuchin avoids answering a direct question. But what’s more fascinating is what happened next: Waters continued with her line of questioning and Mnuchin starting giving more direct answers. Her tactics were immediately effective…and I doubt anyone will try to out-talk her at a hearing again anytime soon.

Universal Lesson: People learn to respect the boundaries we set if we give them no other alternative. We should all be so persistent, to enforce our own standards until they’re taken seriously. Be consistent, and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself as many times as you need to.

Be more intentional with your boundaries and start reclaiming your time. Share on X

We teach people how to treat us with every conversation, every interaction. It’s necessary to establish and enforce boundaries in any healthy relationship, be it romantic, social, or professional. Be more intentional with your boundaries and start reclaiming your time, energy, space, and anything else you may have given away too freely.​

One Reply to “Reclaiming My Time: 4 Lessons from Auntie Maxine Waters on Establishing Boundaries”

  1. This is a lesson today! Thanks for sharing this message Elizabeth. I’m going to put it into really practice asks pay more attention to the boundaries I need in my professional life to be respected and “reclaim my time”!

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