Business Women

How Uncontrolled Guilt Can Ruin Your Business and Family-Life

September 4, 2018

How Uncontrolled Guilt Can Ruin Your Business and Family-Life

By Hina Khan

Guilt is a word we often ascribe to the abusive inner voice that not only seeks to sabotage our work, but that also prevents us from being fully present and truly enjoying the richness we have created for ourselves in our personal and professional lives.

If you’re a parent and an entrepreneur, you know the voice of guilt only too well.

Indeed, if you spoke to your employees the way your guilt has you speak to yourself, you would likely be sued for abuse.

We feel guilty all the time.

We feel guilty about being away from our family when we’re at work. When we’re with family, we feel guilty for not working.

We feel guilty for not prioritizing our health.

We feel guilty for going to the bathroom when we have the window seat on a plane.

Guilt can make us miss the best moments of our prime. Guilt can prevent us from truly celebrating our victories.

Unlike fear or love, emotions that are deeply rooted in the evolutionary process and play an important roles in keeping us alive and safe, guilt is often the product of cultural and inherited paradigms.

When we feel guilt, it is often because we are applying a standard to ourselves that we can’t possibly achieve. Sometimes that impossibly high bar is derived from the paradigm of what we assume our family and social circle expect of us. Sometimes friends and family are reminding us that we’re not meeting their expectations. Sometimes we have internalized a dialogue based on what we think they want from us.

Regardless of its deeper origins, the guilt-ridden entrepreneur is often the rule rather than the exception. Breaking the hold our uncontrolled guilt has on us is possible, but it requires that we become the owners of our decisions and that our decisions be reflections of our priorities and values.

Before we move forward, let’s be clear about something: the opposite of uncontrolled guilt is not indulging our narcissistic tendencies. When I say that we entrepreneurs need to control our guilt, I am not advocating for a “me first at the expense of all else” attitude.

The first step to managing uncontrolled guilt is to understand that work-life balance is a false dichotomy. By pretending to seek a perfect balance between the time we give our craft and the time we give our family, we are setting ourselves up for failure before we begin.

Rather than seek a perfect balance, we should seek a healthy equilibrium by understanding that work and life are not part of us; we are part of them, and we need to consciously decide what version of us each gets and when. Allow me to explain.

When I deal with work-life balance questions in my practice I often begin by asking my clients “What was the atmosphere like in your house when you were growing up? What was the energy like in your home?”. After listening to their responses I then ask, “if we imagine your children as adults responding to the same question, what would they say?”. The later question is often followed by silence and sometimes tears.

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In trying to be great parents and great bosses we sometimes allow ourselves to get focused on the wrong things. We feel guilty because our kids aren’t in 5 different extracurricular activities like the neighbours’ kids, and we feel guilty that we sometimes miss key moments in the activities they are doing.

But if we go back to the basics, we have to remember our roles as architects of the atmosphere and energy in which our children are raised. Gabor Mate, the sage Canadian psychologist and holocaust survivor, once said “the best gift you can give your children is your own happiness.” Think about that for a moment: don’t our children deserve our happiness? Don’t we deserve our happiness?

Our first responsibility is not to be glorified chauffeurs. Our first responsibility is to build a household environment filled with love, happiness and security. To do that our family needs the best version of us. We can be the best version of ourselves by setting boundaries.

For example, when we are home we should be rigorous in turning off our phones and putting them away.

We may try to tell ourselves that a work emergency may arise and we’ll be needed, but that rarely happens.

Instead, what often happens is that work invades every other space we have.

It’s one thing for us to work a lot and be away from time to time. It’s another thing to never fully get away from work.

The dopamine rush we get when our cell phone buzzes is the product of a neurological process that is calling us to attention for fear of danger. Exposing ourselves to that process constantly will allow stress to find us whenever stress feels it is convenient. The constant invasion of stress is the antithesis of creating a safe, caring and loving household. If you’re spending time with your kids while you’re on your phone, your kids will figure out what your priorities are.

Second, we need our activities to reflect our consciously-chosen priorities. Maybe instead of having our kids in multiple extra-curricular activities we have them in one or two at a time because we value and prioritize having a household that is not always on the move. Valuing and prioritizing uncluttered and calm evenings is not going to cause your children damage over the long term.

Third, instead of giving your kids Disney, aim to give them sacred moments or rituals where they feel your presence and their place in your list of priorities.

Sometimes, for example, I read to my son for 10 minutes before he goes to school. I am helping him get in the right headspace to face his day. It’s a ritual we share, and rituals are powerful because they leave a permanent mark on our fleeting memories of the flow of time.

Forth, we entrepreneurs must own our decisions and then stop apologizing for them.

Once we take conscious decisions our family doesn’t always come in second to work, because there will be moments when we prioritize family over work, just as there will be moments when we prioritize work over family.

Sometimes we will miss a sports game.

Sometimes we will leave an important conference early or miss it altogether.

When we start owning our decisions, we stop being victims of circumstance and start becoming architects of our lives. We understand and accept that there will always be imperfect but rarely dire outcomes. Nonetheless, when we own our decisions & we embrace our healthy but never perfect work-life balance.

Instead of asking “how can I find work-life balance?”, we should begin with the question, “what do I need to be happy?”. By asking and then delivering the basic material we require to be the best version of ourselves at home and at work, we strengthen our own resilience, we deliver on our promise to our children, and we give ourselves the care and attention needed to move from the passenger seat of our lives into the driver’s seat.


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