We sat on a bench next to the playground, watching our kids swing and climb after a long day of school. It was gray out; we’d barely seen the sun all week.
“Does this weather make you incredibly sleepy?” I asked through a yawn.
My friend agreed wholeheartedly.
“I don’t even have an excuse,” I said with a laugh. “I just woke up from a nap.”
She looked at me incredulously, adding that she almost never sits down during the day and can’t remember the last time she took a nap on a weekday.
As she told me this, I could see on her face that she was torn between pride and regret at this admission. Was her productivity worth it? Would life keep humming along without her vigilance? What would it feel like to take an hour-long nap on a Wednesday?
When I asked her why she never sits down at home, she stumbled a bit and landed on, “I don’t know. I guess I’d just feel… guilty?”
That word, guilty, pops up so often in our lives. For a while, I thought I felt less of it than other women I know and love. I’m comfortable taking a different pace than a lot of my peers. But lately I’ve been noticing so many areas where guilt pops up, both for me and for the people I’m close to.
Guilt serves us when it helps us notice and address our shortcomings. But dwelling in it only slows our growth. Worse yet, sometimes we feel guilt for no good reason at all. I love these tongue-in-cheek words from Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes:
“There’s no problem so awful, that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.”
Next time you feel that too-familiar pang of guilt, push back a little. Ask yourself if this is something you can genuinely learn from and improve on. If so, make note, do your best to follow through, and move on.
Stop Feeling Guilty About These 7 Things
If instead you find that the guilt is unfounded—like I think is often the case with the seven triggers below—set it aside.
1. Sitting down.
As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take time to rest. Practice simple self-care. Take a whole day off and call it a mental health day! Sitting down doesn’t always come at the cost of your productivity: It might just make you more effective when you get back up.
2. Prioritizing your life—and sticking to it.
Living by your values feels amazing, except for those times when your priorities don’t line up with others’. Nothing stirs up the guilt like saying no. But as always, remember that a quiet “I’ll pass” lets you say a big yes to the things that really matter to you.
3. Not living the minimalist lifestyle you have in your head.
Let’s say you have a mother who wants to pass her collectibles to you. Or you have a kid who has fallen hard for swimming and needs shuttled to and from practices and meets. Let’s say (and this is totally hypothetical) you have a husband who has never thrown away a T-shirt.
But you—you have a different lifestyle in mind. A slower gait, a less cluttered home.
Our family member’s values don’t always match our own, or at least not right away. This shouldn’t make you feel less than. It just adds a little more richness to your story.
4. Quiet ambition.
Have you ever read a motivational quote on Pinterest that actually made you feel guilty for not being blindingly ambitious? Something about how if you work hard (and never sleep), you can do anything?
If your vision for your life is more of a slow-burning fire, that’s okay. The world needs people who do good things at their own pace, one foot in front of another.
5. Pursuing interests that aren’t money-making.
There’s so much beauty in a side hustle that is just for your own joy.
6. Feeling everything. (Or not feeling everything.)
In the last year I’ve become aware of all the feelings I’m absorbing. I take on the feelings of my husband, my children, the grocery clerk who looked tired, and the woman I read about in the news.
If you tend to do life this way, you know that carrying all of this takes a toll, so we have to be careful about how much we let in. But our sensitivity also makes us good friends, great parents, and empathetic people. Try not to feel guilty for the way you are.
7. Wanting to be alone.
If you’re a parent, especially an introverted one, you know the irony of loving your family more than anything while also wanting to get away—more than anything. Strangely, these two feelings are not mutually exclusive, and you are not the only one experiencing them. (Refer to #1 for a pep talk about why rest & rejuvenation, including solo time, are absolutely worth it.)
I hope this list helps you walk with lighter shoulders as you learn to brush off any guilt that’s holding you in one place. And you can bet that that day at the park, my friend left with strict instructions from me to make that nap happen.