This blog post is brought to you by a fever and a feeling: guilt.
I took a trip last week, and allowed myself to lighten my workload while I was away, because I knew that when I came back, I would hit the ground running. I had a lot to catch up on and new projects to start, and I was excited to get back and have a bunch of really long productive days ahead of me. Kate M and I both tend to work every day, and we do that because we both like to work and we care a lot about what we’re working on.
And that’s great! Until your momentum is stopped — by a trip, followed by a cold, followed by days in bed and the feeling that you’re really letting your other startup half down.
Since I have been home, I have been in-bed-all-day-with-the-lights-off sick. Even as I write this, I am having trouble focusing for more than a few sentences at a time, but I have been so wracked with guilt for the last two days about my unproductive time that I just have to get it all out.
Shouldn’t I feel guilty?
I worry a lot about letting Kate M down. She has given me this incredible opportunity because she saw my potential, and now it’s my job to deliver on that potential. And when I go on a trip, work less, and then come home and work even less — that feels terrible. It’s my job to help keep things moving, and I feel like what I’m actually doing is helping things slow down and stop.
When I reflect on these feelings, I realize a lot of my success has actually come from this desire to help and not let people down. It makes me great as an assistant and customer service person; I will fight through whatever to come out on the other side with *you* feeling happier for having interacted with me. I want you to like me, and I want to impress you.
But these feelings are, at the same time, also kind of a terrible motivation — after all, I can’t run my career based on the approval and reactions of others. I have to pursue what I’m passionate about, make the choices that are right for me and my company, and do things because they are important, not because I think they’ll make someone else happy — unless, of course, making someone else happy (like a customer) is the directive.
So this is something I need to work on.
But in moments like this, where I tell myself I should just be sick and that I’m not letting anyone down and I just have to come back to work soon and healthy and better, I start to wonder — where exactly is the line? When should I feel guilty? And when should I let it go?
I read articles like “Most People Won’t” about how the truly exceptional among us are that way simply because they do the things other people won’t. And I want to be one of those truly exceptional people, so shouldn’t I just work through the pain?
I read about executives like Sheryl Sandberg who have accomplished all of these amazing things, and I know that they have all worked through times when they were sick or traveling or otherwise challenged. They have all bucked up and taken care of business when it needed to be done. So shouldn’t I?
But maybe all of these feelings are just moot. I am productive sometimes. And I am not productive other times. Everyone is this way. Feeling guilty about it maybe doesn’t matter at all.
As I am writing this, I am thinking of the quote from Star Wars: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Feeling guilty is actually a really pointless thing to do. Spending my sick days feeling guilty doesn’t get things done, and in the end, that is kind of what matters most.
After all, your company (not the people in it, but the business itself) doesn’t care how you feel. Guilty? Fine — but what have you built today? Oh, you feel great today? Not interested — what did you move forward? What’s the progress?
How to move on
Maybe instead of feeling guilty and wondering if that makes you good or bad at your job, you have to simply decide when you are “working” and when you are “not working”. As we are increasingly connected and *able* to work anywhere, anytime, it has to be more of an active decision not to engage with the work you could be doing, if you aren’t willing or able to do it.
You have to get out of the limbo of “I am not at work, but I am stressing about working.” Either accomplish something, or disconnect. There is no point in ruining free time or sick time thinking about work. If it is so distracting that you cannot relax or feel better, then you should just work. And if you really can’t or don’t want to work, then you shouldn’t. Break away; do what you really want to.
Feeling guilty can ruin a day, and the odds are good that no one else is thinking about how you let them down. We are all allowed to unplug. And we should. It’s good for us, makes us better at our jobs, and helps us stay healthier and happier too.
So today, I’m giving myself a break.
Do you ever struggle with feelings of guilt over being less productive or away from the office? How do you manage? I would love to hear about it in the comments.