I woke up in the middle of the night last night and guilt was on my mind. My primary focus was guilt for not writing another blog post in weeks. Guilt about being unproductive. Guilt that doubted my value if I wasn’t doing what I feel is important to me. Guilt about my inherent worth as a human being. Ugh—that rabbit hole can be nasty! Fortunately, I am a good enough meditator that I was able to put those thoughts aside and go back to sleep. But unfortunately, they were still on my mind this morning. And because I suspect I’m not the only one who feels the nagging pull of guilt at least once in a while, I decided to write down some of the thoughts I’ve been able to explore as the morning progressed.
To start with I think many of you know I love to travel—especially during the summer. But guilt is not usually on the agenda. While Thom and I are pretty much sticking to one new location every month this year, there is still so much to see and explore that I’ve been distracted. Right now, we are staying in the beach town of Ventura, CA about a block from the ocean. Besides taking great walks, exploring the town and riding our e-bikes, it seems like something is always going on. Who has time to write?
On the other hand, because my blog is over twelve years old now it is frequently on my mind. I do check it regularly to make sure it is running okay and monitor if I need to update any plugins or answer comments on older posts. But because I’ve given myself permission to back away in the last year or two (I used to do a blog post every single week) I vowed to myself to only write if I had something worthwhile to say and the time to write it. So far so good, right?
Sadly, my guilt trip found a side door and started chattering away. It asked: If I don’t have something worthwhile to say (or write about!) does that lower my value and worth? If I can’t find interesting and provocative things to share with my readers, does that mean my mind has turned to mush? If I’m not writing does that mean I’ve lost my purpose? If I don’t do what others expect or want from me, does that diminish their love? Guilt is a bit like a worm that starts out small but can work its way into our thinking in all sorts of insidious ways if we aren’t watching out for it.
The thing is, I know that I (and anyone reading this) are so much more than what we “do”. I belong to the camp that says every person on the planet is a special and unique manifestation of the Universe, (or if you like your words to be a bit more Biblical, “A holy loving child of God.”) I tend to believe as Matthew Fox (and others) teach, that we were each born as “Original Blessings.” None of us need justify our existence. Of course we must accept responsibility for the choices we make and where they lead—but we are enough just as we are. Our value and worth as a living being (along with all other living beings and the planet herself) just Is.
So why do I (we) have a need to feel productive? Where does productivity shame come from? A big part of the reason is because we have been conditioned to do it. I’m not talking about the desire to create and contribute—I’m talking about that constant push to do more, be more, have more that is so prevalent in our culture. I’m referring to that unconscious drive to look busy even if we aren’t really doing something that important or in line with our highest intentions. Is it too bold to say that sometimes we run around doing productive things out of habit? Worse yet—are we afraid of being judged harshly if we aren’t?
At my age and place in life I am very fortunate that I don’t have to write blog posts to grind out a living—OR—to prove anything to anybody. But apparently that doesn’t necessarily stop the guilt train from showing up now and then to tell me I should. The good news is, there are things we can do if we want to get off that hamster wheel and get back to creating and expressing only if and when our hearts and minds guide us to do it.
Here are a few things that seem to help:
- Acknowledge the guilt if or when it shows up. Talk about it. Write about it. Shine the light on it and amazingly much of it will go away. Similar to the emotion of shame, guilt thrives on secrecy. Get it out and let go of any false messages it is trying to share.
- Pay attention to your self talk. Our inner critic loves to criticize us into feeling bad about something we either did or didn’t do. Fortunately, the more aware we are of those inner voices and how they are often not in our best interests, the more we can work to either eliminate them or change them to being supportive.
- Analyze if there is something you did or didn’t do that was a valid problem. Guilt can be helpful if it allows us to recognize and help with any behavior or situation we really want to improve. Then if action is required, the key is to take it—not just continue to ruminate on it and perpetuate the guilt.
- Be clear about your boundaries. When we take the time to establish what is important to us, it is much easier to know if what we are doing (or not doing) is in our best and highest interests. If there is something that truly needs to be done and we have the ability, time (and responsibility for it)—then do it. If not, let it go.
- Know what you can control and what you can’t. Sometimes we take on responsibility or obligation from others that is best left to them alone. Do what is ours to do and let the others go.
- Do what you can and are guided to do but never forget you are enough just being who you are.
While I’m sure there are more steps that could help us overcome guilt and/or productivity shame, these helped me this morning. Just by listening to me process during our walk, Thom gave me the space to share what was going on in my head. By the time we returned home, the guilt was gone. That’s also when I realized I probably wasn’t the only one who had this kind of “trip” showing up now and then—so this blog post popped out wanting to be written. (Funny how that works!) So with those thoughts, regardless of whatever travels you have planned this summer, it might be SMART to avoid any and all guilt trips along the way.