A survey by Stylist Magazine in 2010 found that 96% of women feel guilty at least once a day. Friendships, relationships, work and body shape, were the main causes. Of the 1,324 women and 55 men questioned by the magazine, 92% claimed that men felt less guilt than women.
Feminist writer, Erica Jong, wrote in her 1973 novel the Fear of Flying:
Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilty and I will show you a man’
While some 21st century men might groan in protest at this slightly skewed view of the sexes the statement holds some truth even today.
I have to admit that I have also found this. In my work as a leadership coach and author I’ve noticed that the Achilles heel for many senior female leaders and female breadwinners is often guilt.
Does it sound familiar, guilt being like a heavy handbag that you wear around with you, handle digging deep into your shoulder blades? I have also experienced it myself, feeling torn between work and family, wanting to be the mummy who collects from the playground, has the roast dinner in the oven while wanting to give 110% to my career. This is exasperated for female breadwinners as work is very important, it maintains the status quo in your family, provides security, lifestyle, the roof over your head and the food on the table. You can’t just opt out and let someone else take the strain.
Even so, guilt is a useless emotion that is simply just a platform for wishing and imagining. You wish you could spend more time with your children and as a result you might imagine them crying all day long when you leave to go to work. Guilt doesn’t allow you to live in the reality that your child probably stopped crying the moment you left or perish the thought, that you actually really enjoy your job as much as your family life and don’t want to sacrifice time there.
This place where we feed fears leads to poor health and poor decision-making. You might for example feel the only way to ditch the guilt is to become a stay-at-home mum or to leave work early. But would sacrificing your career to feel less guilty really help anyone?
What feeds your guilt? We all have buttons and unfortunately those closest to us seem to know how to activate ‘guilt trip’ mode – especially kids. In my book Rocking your Role: the ‘how to’ guide to success for female breadwinners I suggest it’s time to ditch the guilt once and for all. The framework I set out is designed to get you using your energy on enjoying life, not feeling guilty!
Here are a few tips on how to ditch the guilt for good:
Stop beating yourself up – being the main earner should be something you can be proud of. You might not be able to do it all but you shouldn’t beat yourself up about that. Constantly battling yourself will derail your family, career and health, instead congratulate yourself on your ability to bring home the bacon.
Replace guilt with trust – trust that for others to be happy you don’t have to be unhappy. Trust that others can cope and will let you know when they can’t. If you share responsibilities be it with your family or partner you will be relieved from guilt because the load is no longer all on you.
Don’t be a martyr – self-sacrifice is ultimately never really rewarded or appreciated. It’s also sending the wrong message ‘I am not important’
Be present– give quality time, rather than counting the number of hours. Even if it’s for only twenty minutes before bed, give your full attention to your partner or loved ones and notice how good you both feel.
Focus on success – recognise when don’t you feel guilty, even if its for only 5 minutes of each day and decide on small actions to help you increase that guilt-free time. Remember you create the rulebook on how you feel and you can rewrite it anytime you decide to.
If you leave your guilt about being the main earner unchecked it can become the centre of your universe very quickly. It can lead to heated arguments, depression and poor decision making. Guilt will drain your energy and take away from the freedom you have to enjoy your life and time with loved ones. So don’t let it win, ditch your guilt today.
I am Jenny Garrett, Executive Coach, founder of Reflexion Associates, a leadership and coaching consultancy and author or Rocking Your Role – the how to guide to success for female breadwinners. Find out more about me, my programmes, speaking engagements and training at rockingyourrole.com
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