If you’re female, chances are you’ve felt guilty about something work-related lately. Maybe you’re convinced you said the wrong thing during a meeting, or perhaps you’ve had to miss a soccer game or parent/teacher conference because you were on the job. Women do guilt really well. Many of us say “sorry” repeatedly and obsess over minor mistakes.
The trouble with guilt is that it’s a wasted emotion. It doesn’t propel you forward; it holds you back. Instead of wallowing in regret, you could actually be using that energy to get something done.
The reason many women feel so much guilt is that, at our core, many of us believe we’re screwing up if we’re not meeting the stereotype of the ideal woman. You know her: She looks great, she does everything perfectly (at home and at work), she’s a great mother, and she’s really nice.
Jodi Detjen, co-author of “The Orange Line – A Woman’s Guide to Integrating Career, Family and Life,” says women have imbibed centuries’ worth of rules about how we should behave, and sticking to them is harming our careers.
“We only feel guilt because we believe we’re breaking a rule,” says Detjen. She urges women to question those age-old assumptions. Only when they do that, she says, will more women free themselves up to excel in the workplace.
“Why do we feel guilty if we’re dropping our kid off at day care? We should feel good about making money for our family,” she says. We suffer, of course, because society has had ideas about a “woman’s job” since, well, forever.
How to overcome guilt:
• Ask yourself why you’re feeling guilty. It’s likely you’re seeing your life through what Detjen calls “the feminine filter” — an outdated lens that dictates what a woman should be. Have the strength to question it. Why should you “be” anything?
• Negotiate to determine household and career duties with your partner if and when you can. Detjen was miserable for years after she put her career aside, raising two boys, telling herself motherhood was more important. Then, she realized her career was vital to her — and her household’s — happiness. She and her husband negotiate a lot about who will be where, when.
• If you feel you have upset someone at work, or made an error, apologize once, then move on. Being “nice” doesn’t require self-flagellation and multiple apologies.
Ashley Milne-Tyte is a radio producer and reporter based in New York City. She hosts a bi-monthly podcast called “The Broad Experience” about women in the workplace. Listen to how an expert CEO manages her personal and private lives on”The Broad Experience” by clicking below.