End Your Relationship with Self-Imposed Guilt
Once upon a time, there was a single working mom who was a consultant. And she had a H.U.G.E. client proposal to turn in by the end of the week. She also had a team of four highly capable consultants working for her, plus a very flexible Partner (the Partner is the person in charge of the relationship with the client, the head honcho, the boss) who completely trusted her to get the proposal done. For simplicity, we can call this single working mother “Swati.”
As luck would have it, the Thursday before this gigantanormous proposal was due, the prospective client called and said, “You know what? I hope it’s not too much trouble but I’d really like it if you could also include <insert: a whole elephant-load more> in the proposal. Unfortunately, we can’t extend our deadline so we still need it by tomorrow. ” To which, I said, “Of course, no problem. “ (That’s how consulting is – you’re not likely to be able to get a prospective client to move their deadline).
I realized it would take our team about 12-14 hours to add in what the client had just asked for. It was 3:00pm on Thursday…my boss was arriving back from California at 5:00pm today…the proposal had to get to our binding department by 10:30am the next day…I had to leave work by 4:45pm to get my daughter…and my mom was flying in that night for a long weekend with us.
I called the team together and asked them who could work through the night. Amazingly, they all said they would do it! They plunged into their assignments and I dashed out to get my daughter. Once the Partner’s plane landed, I called him to explain everything; he diverted his cab and headed to the office to help the team (I had done lots (LOTS) of good work for him so he was genuinely happy to do this for me). Once he arrived, he and the team called to tell me everything was under control and I could look at the proposal in the morning.
After some flight delays, my mom arrived at my house at 11:45pm. Guess what I did? I packed up my computer and went into the office! What made me go in? Self-Imposed Guilt. It’s the worst kind of guilt because it just sticks to you wherever you go. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be there.
Just to review the facts: 1) My boss told me he had it under control and I needn’t worry; 2) the team went out of their way to tell me I was a great boss and they’d be happy to do get the work done.
For some reason, I couldn’t just accept their help, their gift, and just stay home. I was at work with them until 4:00am and I was at my daughter’s bedside at 6:00am when she woke.
So, the Grand Destructor of my work-life balance was…er…me. We won the proposal; was it specifically because I showed up? Nope. The team was awesome and it showed in their work. Was it a productive use of my energies? Nope. All I did was beat myself up over circumstances I couldn’t control – even when the people around me told me it was covered. And I stumbled through the next three days in a fog, all through my mother’s visit (which made me feel guilty about how I wasn’t participating enough in the weekend with her or my daughter).
Whether you are a single mom, a single dad, or a working parent, I think we all agree we don’t have time to beat ourselves up, to drink up self-imposed guilt. We need good healthy boundaries and we need to say no when necessary; we also need to say yes when presented with offers for help like I was.
Take the help, take the help, take the help. I didn’t even have to ask for it; yet I pushed it away. My behavior change has been to let people help me. People feel good when you let them help you. So let them!
See you soon for secret number 5…