Guilt is Such a Waste


“There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want, and after that to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.” – Logan Pearsall Smith

Over the years, I have been very fortunate academically and then professionally. With all of this you might think that I’m super happy and joyful and always out celebrating.

Instead, I have spent (wasted??) countless hours of my life in my head agonizing over what to do next. Should I take a new opportunity? Should I celebrate my success? Should go to this law school or that? What about all of the people who don’t get this opportunity or who are stuck or didn’t even get in anywhere? I have been crippled with guilt. Or, at least I thought it was guilt.

When I was approached by my old firm (which I quit on April 15) I started freaking out immediately. I agonized over it. That was despite fantasizing about quitting my first law job daily for six months. I felt guilty about leaving my boss in the lurch, abandoning a secretary who has been so good to me. I worried that I was abandoning a firm that gave me a chance. There are other complex feelings as well, but “guilt” is prominent.

Guilt vs. Shame

First of all: was that really even guilt? I read a wonderful book by Dr. Brené Brown about this very topic (Daring Greatly). Guilt tells us we have done something bad. Shame, she argues, tells us we are bad. Couldn’t it be true that what I was really afraid of was the damage to my reputation? I didn’t want people at either firm to think I was disloyal, that I was just after a bigger paycheck, that I didn’t value their contributions to my professional growth or that I was a quitter. I was afraid that people would have a negative impression of me as a person.

I want everyone I encounter to think that I’m a good, loyal person of great character and commitment. My sense of self-worth is built on other people’s opinion of me.

That’s not a solid foundation.

Your Worth is Inherent

Brené Brown argues that we need to recognize that we are all inherently valuable. Not because of what we do or because of what people think. Rather just because all beings are valuable and beautiful. If that is true, then I deserve to flip the golden rule and do unto myself as I would do to those who I love. I deserve some compassion.

Do Unto Yourself As You Would Do Unto Others

I have struggled for years with figuring out what is good and what is OK/reasonable. I always make this judgment from the perspective of other people. How much will this upset or disappoint someone else? How will this make that person feel? Or worse: how will this make people think or feel about me? I cannot stand the idea that people might have a negative impression of me and go to great lengths to attempt to preserve my reputation. But why? And at what cost?

So what if I imagine what I would say to a friend? What if a friend who really disliked her job had the opportunity to work for one of the top attorneys in a field she is passionate about and get a raise for doing so? Wouldn’t I offer to buy her drinks? Wouldn’t I tell her that she deserves to take a chance on happiness? Wouldn’t I remind her that we have only one life to live and we are each responsible for building the life that we want with the cards we have been dealt?

Wouldn’t I tell her to be present and take in a wonderful moment in her life when she has a choice. She can be grateful for her first law firm out of law school without being responsible to give them her entire career. She can do what she thinks is best for her today. We all deserve to get out of the agony of mulling over the past and future and to find a way into a peaceful, calm and joyful present.

The thing is, I worked hard for all of this. My childhood was tough, but I beat countless odds. I deserve to celebrate my success. And I deserve to improve my situation if the opportunity arises.

I deserve to move myself a little closer to happy.

Have you ever struggled with guilt over quitting to do something that you ultimately know is better for you?


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