I was interviewed recently about how, as a ‘working mum’, I handle guilt. It was a story that made the front cover of the Gold Coast Eye magazine, making me feel a little excited to be a covergirl and my son impressed that he graced the pages in a double-page spread of the newspaper (not that he really knows what that means).
Anyway, apart from being a story that generated much hype in our household, it was also a story that generated loads of conversation on and off-line. So here, I wanted to share a little further with you, why Guilt has a place and how to use it to your advantage in your business.
But, let me start here: I never call myself a ‘working mum’. I refer to my role as a full-time mum and a full-time business woman. The reason behind this? Because really, when you are the head of an operation that brings in your livelihood and employs other people (in charge of a company, or the strategic director of your business) and a mother, neither role ever leaves your mind.
Even when I am hosting a 75-person breakfast event, writing marketing content for our various projects, or working with our clients in the Lead Better Business School, a little part of my mind is regularly checking in with my children. I wonder, ‘How are they doing?’, ‘Are they happy today?’, ‘I hope that Charles went down alright for his lunchtime sleep’.
And when I am with my children, 6 out of 7 days a week, I am also monitoring the conversations in my mind about the business. Like, “I must follow-up on the speaker for the November event”, “Did that blog post get sent today?”, “I wonder how Ed’s workshop is going?” And then sometimes, there’s the niggling, “Seriously, would you two just go to bed so I can get an hour’s work done!”
Neither role ever leaves you. But you have choice: It’s what you do with those questions in your mind that either stops you, or supports you. And it’s here, guilt has a necessary place in your every day, AND the outcomes you achieve in your business.
“I’m just going to say it: I’m pro-guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt helps us stay on track because it’s about our behavior. It occurs when we compare something we’ve done – or failed to do – with our personal values”
– Brene Brown, PhD
Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers and her 2010 TEDx Houston talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world, with over 25 million viewers. So, I reckon she has got a handle on this guilt/emotion stuff.
Her view is simple: Guilt is an internal compass. If you feel guilty about something, then it’s important to you.
Feel guilty about leaving your kids in daycare while you go off to work? Awesome, their development is important to you.
Feel guilty that you missed your 1-year-old’s first step because you were on the phone, making a deal or watering down a conflict between your team? Great, you have identified where your value as a parent lies.
Feel guilty that you just yelled at an employee, when it really could have been handled with a re-frame of your question? Cool, now you can see that how people are treated in your employ is a yard stick.
Insert the thing you feel guilty about. Excellent, now you know that thing can be high on your priority list.
I could go on with the things you feel guilty about, right? Because that’s what we do when we feel guilty, isn’t it, we continue down that thought train and beat ourselves up. So, let’s not do that.
Guilt is not actually a feeling, it’s a thought. But, it triggers a series of emotions (as thoughts do) and most often, they are sadness, fear, or anger-related. The key to overcoming guilt is choice: Do I choose to feel guilty, or do I choose to look past it and see the benefits of the thing I am doing when I have felt guilty. For example, in the newspaper article [link to media article], I am quoted with the following:
‘[Rebecca] says she still feels guilty for leaving the boys so she can do things for herself, but looks instead at how her resulting happiness actually benefits those around her, rather than focusing on a perceived negative.
“[I am] learning that the high of doing something for [me] is better than the low of feeling guilty. When the Business League is on and Ed and I go [host that], my mum comes over and looks after our children, so there’s a moment during that morning where I’m wondering “are the kids OK?” …. It’s then I stop and realise how energised I feel doing what I’m doing and then go home and be a better mother for my children.”
Guilt can be positive. It is a thought that allows you to stop and check in with yourself about how you actually want to respond to a situation. It allows you to assess, “Is what I’m doing right now important to me, or not?” If so, let yourself revel in it and top up your passion tank. If it’s not, then it’s time to reassess your priorities.
The presence of guilt is a mind game.
You can choose to engage, or disengage.
But this is not an article just based at Mums or ‘mummy-type’ situations based around our children. Men experience it too. It’s just that most of the time they are unable to communicate it in words. It comes out in the form of an irrational burst of shouting (or snide snap) at you, or the kids. Or, it could come as a desire to crack open a beer as soon as they walk in the door. Or, it can show up as an extended disappearance to the ‘man cave’.
Recently I was rendered sleepless after an encounter in a work meeting. We had brought in a contractor to fulfill a role. After 6 weeks in that role, I didn’t see this person was delivering on their contracted position. So, prior to a group meeting with all involved in this project, I tossed over how I should approach it. The answer was, with honesty and integrity … And by calling that contractor on their agreed deliverables. So, that’s what I did.
This contractor did not herald my approach. Indeed, their reaction to my gentle ‘calling’ was to get his back-up, to respond in a defensive nature. I held my ground and after the meeting, reiterated our action points from the meeting and restated the contracted agreed role.
That night, I was sad. I was ‘funking’ and beating myself up that I had made this person feel bad. The thoughts were of guilt, “Couldn’t I have just let them go? Why did I have to be so ‘rules’ in my approach? Were they indeed doing a good job?” I meditated on my feelings, I tossed and turned and then finally, I went to sleep. I awoke the next morning still reeling that I had hurt this contractor’s feelings. BUT, I was also strong in my approach, having felt that I operated with integrity, so any backlash was not something I could control. At the end of the day, I can not control someone else’s chosen feeling.
I could go on with that story, but the end is irrelevant to the lesson. Through the feelings and thoughts of guilt, I was able to recognise this: It is important to me how people within my teams feel. No-brainer. I know what it is like to feel under-appreciated in a team, so it makes me even more mindful of the feelings of others.
But, mostly this lesson taught me to be honest and stand for what I see as being quality output in a person’s role. I felt guilty for calling them on their level of operation – because high performance is important to me. I am as strong with others as I am with myself.
Can you think of a time when your guilty feeling has allowed you to see what’s important in your operation?
Guilt definitely has a place in your business. It allows you to create your own set of values. It allows you to practice mindfulness and choice. It allows you to perform and lead better. Most of all, it makes you human.
I’d love to hear your feedback on this blog post. Make sure you leave a commentContact Us].
P.S. If you want to see the article, check out the article in the media section on our website (Stop the Guilt Slide).