The Self-Inflicted Guilt Is Overwhelming

Chances are that you wouldn’t worry so much about what other people thought of you if you realized just how seldom they do. You are not the center of the universe and, as much as we would like to believe that everyone is looking out for everyone else, the truth is that most of us are incredibly self-centered. The person who thinks the most about you is you. By extension, the person who places the greatest expectations on you is also you.

I understand this intuitively and intellectually. I just don’t allow myself to fully accept and embrace it.

The Man in the Mirror

Whether you work in a creative field or your career is a little more pragmatic in nature, if you’re anything like me (and I know I am), then you may have also realized that you are your own worst critic. Nothing I ever do is good enough for me. I can always do better. I might believe I’m not earning as much as I should or I’m not putting forth my absolute best. Some might say that constantly striving for improvement is to be admired. It can also be gut-wretchingly painful.

Something I’ve struggled with ever since I started freelance writing is the overwhelming sense of guilt I feel when I’m not productive. Yes, being my own boss affords me a great deal of flexibility and freedom. It also leads me to believe, oftentimes to my own detriment, that because I can work at any time, I feel like I should be working all the time. Personal time can take a backseat when there’s something “more useful” to be done.

The stress and guilt I feel have been amplified immensely since becoming a dad. I am incredibly thankful to have been able to stay home with my daughter all this time, but this work-life arrangement has also been a profound source of great personal struggle. I never feel like I am fully present.

A Rock and a Hard Place

When I’m sitting in front of the computer, as I am right now, typing up this blog post, my mind can wander over to how I could be spending quality time with my baby instead. When I’m working, I feel like I am being less of a father. Conversely, when I am spending quality time with my daughter, my mind can wander over to how I could be working, how I could be growing my business and contributing more to the financial well-being of my family. When I’m parenting, I feel like I am being less of an entrepreneur.

Under both scenarios, the sense of guilt is admittedly self-inflicted. My wife is not giving me a hard time. My colleagues and clients are not admonishing my dedication to my family. It’s all me. I am to blame. And it keeps eating me up inside.

No one said this journey — both personal and professional — was going to be easy, nor did I expect it to be. For my part, it’s a matter of changing my mindset and giving myself the permission to let this stress go. That’s the theory, anyway.