I once asked a woman in a senior leadership role, what the number one issue she faced in the work place was. Expecting to hear glass ceiling, harassment and all the usual working women issues, imagine my surprise when she replied, “Guilt.”
This got me wondering why working women can’t shake that devil called guilt off their shoulders no matter how in control they are of their life.
When I was single and working I felt guilty that I was not spending enough time with my parents and siblings and helping with the household chores. When I got married I felt guilty for not being the perfect housewife. And once I had a kid, the emotion went to a different level altogether.
It’s not that this horrible feeling creeps up every time you have to work over a weekend or travel for business; it’s a constant, dull, ache. You feel guilty when you’re at work for all the things that you could be doing at home with your kid and when you are home it’s guilt for all the challenging assignments you could be doing if you didn’t have responsibilities to fulfill at home. This is usually followed by a series of questions: “Is it worth it?’, “Am I doing the right thing?” and “Do I really want this at this point in my life?”
After going through this drill for a big part of my career, I came to the conclusion that while there was no pill to make the guilt go away, thankfully it was not the worst thing to live with. It forced me to dig a little deeper to understand where this emotion was coming from and why it attacked me constantly. So I did what every typical business graduate would: I drew a decision tree of my life and all the choices I had. I could quit and spend all my time with my family and do all the things that I never have time for – basically spend my savings at the beauty salon. I could work from home – that way I could be in two places at the same time. As the drawing on the sheet took the form of a lush, healthy tree, I realised that it couldn’t be one without the other.
I wanted to work. It meant something to me and if I was choosing that path, it would mean I would have to sacrifice some things. The tree I made helped me sift through what I was choosing and what I was giving up. As long as it was a choice, it meant that I was in the driving seat. Working comes with its own set of sacrifices and the question is not whether we feel guilty about these sacrifices but whether we choose to choose versus letting it happen to us. More importantly, we have to forgive ourselves for these sacrifices because you only feel guilty in the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
As for how in control I am, I may feel like a 4 out of 10, but this is only at this point in my life which means that there is hope of it getting better – and that I can live with. So the moral of this story is that once in a while it is good to indulge in a little bit of remorse to figure out and make peace with the choices you have made in life. It also helps give clarity to your long term goals, desires and dreams. After all, you have to be okay with the choices you make. So for now all I am going to feel guilty about is devouring the chocolate fudge cake.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, July 29th, 2012.