Not guilty

by | Feb 11, 2021 | Leadership

I had quite a bit of feedback on my last post Permission to Pace. This was partly because people identified with feeling fatigued and demotivated, but also because giving themselves permission to take the foot off the pedal is hard.

Comments were along the lines of, “I find it difficult to pace myself because I feel guilty for not doing enough. I always think I should be doing more.”

The key word here is “should”. Feeling guilty is about what we think we “should” do rather than what we want to do or that’s important to us. For example, you work late because you know your colleagues are still working, yet you miss time with your loved ones and are too wired to sleep so you feel knackered the next day.

Being guilty means having done something wrong. Feeling guilty means worrying that you’re doing something wrong.

Essentially, we’re worried that we’re letting people down and others will think badly of us, but it’s often all in our heads. Given so many of us are working in isolation at the moment, it’s even easier for negative thoughts and feelings to spiral.

I hope I don’t sound mad saying this, and I often experience the “should” voice as though someone’s watching me and taking judgement on my decisions and actions, like Big Brother.

One client I worked with, a working mother with two small children, felt guilty for not working on her non-working day. The upshot was that she kept checking her phone for messages so she didn’t miss anything. Ironically, she then felt guilty for not being present with her children!

When she had a conversation with her manager and team after one of our coaching sessions about her intention to be less accessible on her non-working day, she found out that they hadn’t expected her to be working anyway and were delighted she was putting herself and her family first.

Interestingly, the etymology of the word “guilt” means to be in debt. On that note, here are some questions to ponder :

  • What is your feeling of guilt about? Who do you think you owe a debt to?
  • Is there any basis to that or is it just in your head?
  • What is the cost to you of feeling guilty?
  • What would you choose to do if you let go of feeling guilty?

Here’s an interesting reframe on the Big Brother theme : Author of Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, is quoted as saying, “Old George Orwell got it backward. Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat.”

What do you think? Drop me a line at


Subscribe to Alison's mailing list

* indicates required

Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

Sign up to her mailing list to receive blogs like these direct to your inbox.

Share This