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How to Manage Work-Life Guilt

TIGNUM Thoughts

March 6th, 2021

Insights from the author

By Scott Peltin

Recently, during a conversation with an executive, she made an interesting comment. She shared that during this pandemic, working from home, she has often gotten to spend time with her kids in the middle of the day to go over their schoolwork. In the past, when she was working from an office, this was impossible. On some days, she can even take a quick power nap during her biggest energy dip in the afternoon. On other days, she’s able to go for a walk after lunch to reset and refocus for her afternoon meetings. But then she paused and shared the insight that she felt guilty about taking these freedoms. At the same time, she shared that when she jumps back on her email some evenings to catch up on work, she feels equally guilty for taking away from her family or personal time.


Have you ever had a similar story?


So often, we create our own constraints that not only take away our freedoms but also lead to feelings of guilt, self-judgment for being lazy, and feelings of not being good enough. This close-minded thinking makes us feel bad for taking time to recharge and recover or to check in with a family member or friend. Ironically, it often also makes us feel guilty for working in the evening, on weekends, or even on vacation. We can’t win. On one end, we fear our co-workers may doubt our commitment, while on the other end, we fear our family or friends may think we are a workaholic heading to burnout.


One of the biggest reasons for all this may be that we forget that the true purpose of our work and our life is to make an impact. It may be an impact on a stakeholder or a cause, on a colleague or customer, on a family member or friend, on a project, or even on ourselves. Unfortunately, when we take away our own freedom to make an impact by constraining it with old ways of thinking (linked to factory and assembly line work) where everything is measured in time, we lose our impact. We know that relationships are built by moments, not by time. In these moments, we either make a positive impact or a negative impact. Are you capturing your most critical moments, even while you are working remotely?


Over the years, terms like work-life balance and work-life integration have been thrown around. While these terms were well-intentioned to help you lead a holistic life, too often they missed the mark. Take balance, for instance. The target of balance is impossible to reach. Life is always morphing. There is no such thing as continuous balance. At TIGNUM, we would love for you to explore the term work-life freedom to battle the guilt. In our vast experience in Sustainable Human Performance, this term more accurately describes both the challenges we face and the outcomes we seek.


These challenges include: staying relevant and collaborative while working remotely, trying to work from home while our kids are schooling from home, trying to stay focused and awake while juggling meetings/calls across numerous time zones, trying to keep and build great personal and professional relationships, trying to deliver our promises and projects on time, trying to innovate in a world that is changing faster than we can adapt, trying to stay sustainable and high-performing in a demanding world, etc. While the outcomes are embedded in these challenges, in the end, there is one primary outcome we seek: to make the greatest positive impact possible everywhere in our life, including on ourselves and our own Sustainable Human Performance.


So, how do we apply the concept of freedom to our work-life challenges to create the impact we want?


Invariably, it starts by reshaping our self-image so we see ourselves making the biggest impact possible by being fully present wherever we are. If you are with your kids - be there. If you are with your team - be there. Most importantly, make the greatest impact possible by being prepared, being intentional, and being an energy multiplier. Next, we need to reframe our inner dialogue and replace stories of guilt and judgment with stories of freedom, flexibility, and impact. Finally, we need to cherish the freedom to consistently invest in our own growth, development, and Sustainable Human Performance so we can let ourselves and others see the value we create.


We don’t know how this quickly-changing future will shape the demands on us, both personally and professionally. But we do know that work-life freedom is the only way to make the impact we want in all areas of our life. When we do this, we not only create more value, but we also let go of the ties that bind us, and we eliminate the guilt we often experience.


As always, we would love to know what you think.

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