I remember sitting backstage in my green room with tears streaming down my face just before I was about to go on stage. I was on the West Coast in Irvine, California, and about to speak at my first-ever Business Boutique 1-Day event. This was an event, by the way, that I was so excited about! I absolutely love the work that I get to do. I am in my sweet spot using my strengths and making a difference. So why was I crying? That day wasn’t just any day—it was my son’s second birthday. At that exact moment, my husband was putting on Carter’s little hoody to go out and get pancakes. And at that same moment, I was putting on my earpiece mic to go out and speak to 1,200 women. I sat there in my room with a tight throat and burning eyes, trying to fight back the tears with everything I had in me.
That is just one example of the thousands I have where I was overwhelmed with guilt. Regardless of your stage of life, number of children, type of work, or personality style, I think guilt is one of those things that we women will battle at some level for the rest of our lives. You know that feeling, don’t you? It’s that feeling in the back of your mind that you’ve done something wrong, you’re not doing enough, and you could have done it better. It’s the feeling that all of the thousands of choices you have to make that affect these little lives that God has entrusted you with are wrong. It’s feeling that everyone else has this parenting thing figured out and you don’t. It’s the feeling that you should be somewhere but you’re not.
And the guilt gets you regardless of the path you choose. If you work outside the home, you feel guilty for not staying with your kids. If you stay home with your kids, you feel guilty for not working outside the home. If you’re present in one place, you feel guilty for being absent in another.
But I’ll tell you one thing I’ve learned in my few years of experience of being a mom that has helped me shake the guilt thing—at least a little bit. One day, when I was feeling discouraged about leaving my son at daycare, I had this thought:
“Remember that what you’re doing is important.”
I exhaled with relief at that truth.
What I am doing is important. The work that I do, the messages that I share and the lives that I get to impact are important. It would be really difficult to leave my son for something I didn’t believe in. But I practice in my daily life what I teach on stage: I only spend my time on things that are important to me. So when I focus on the importance of what I am doing, I keep the mom guilt from distracting me from living out the life God has called me to.
But focusing on the importance of what you are doing in the moment goes the other way too.
So when I don’t answer emails at night because I am being present with my family, when I leave the office on time to go for a run, or when I take time off to go on vacation and rest, I remind myself again: What I am doing is important. My family, my exercise, my rest, my hobbies, my values—those things are important.
I love how my friend Tony explains it. He says, “I’m always driving to somewhere I love. When I’m driving to work, I’m driving to a place that I love. When I’m driving home, I am driving to a place that I love.” It’s the difference of looking through the front windshield of where you’re going, rather than the rear-view mirror of what you’re momentarily leaving behind.
That’s one way that I try to be fully present and guilt-free at work, and again fully present and guilt-free at home as well. It’s a daily struggle for me, so I know how hard this is, but give it a try. Don’t look at what you’re leaving behind. Focus on the importance of what you’re going to. Wherever you are, be all there.
While there may be a list of things that you feel like you’ve fallen short on in parenting, at work, or in anything else in life for that matter, the truth is that our time is and always will be finite. You can only be in one place at a time and you can only do so much.
Instead of focusing on all that you haven’t done, didn’t fit in, or didn’t get to, think about all that you have done. I bet in place of all of those things you feel like you “failed” on, there are shining examples of things you succeeded in. It’s just a matter of taking your eyes off of what you didn’t get to and focusing them on what you did do. Instead of thinking about being absent there, think about being present here.
So the next time you’ve got guilt nagging at you no matter what choice you make, remind yourself that what you’re doing is important. It may just be the reminder you need to shake the guilt and get back in the moment.
Photo by Peignault Laurent