Your Guilt Is a Gift. Do You Know How to Use It?

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by Janine Davis

Every female founder and exec I know struggles with balancing being a Leader and a Woman. We all want to give 100% to each area of our lives, which, of course, is mathematically impossible. We’re in an age where, although we are finally allowed to let our abilities shine through leadership, we’ve yet to figure out a way to integrate being a strong leader with the other aspects of being what’s historically defined being a woman — mother, wife and domestic goddess. We want to be exceptional at it all, and as a result, we feel like failures across the board. When you dig beneath the surface of that desire, there often lies a deep, nearly cellular-level guilt. It’s a bad guilt. It hurts. It’s fueled by fear. It says things like this:

· What kind of a mom am I to miss my daughter’s game?

· How am I ever going to get a husband if I work 15 hours a day and then pass out each night?

· It’s hard enough being a woman entrepreneur in a man’s world. I have to work twice as hard to get the __________________ I need. (fill in the blank — respect, funding, etc).

· Will there ever be a good time to take a step back to have a child?

· Everyone says “self-care” is important, but when am I going to fit that into my 15-hour days? I’m too scared to take my foot off the gas. But, if I don’t take care of myself, I’ll fail.

I’ve yet to coach or mentor a female founder where some variation on that theme has not come to light. Through the coaching process, I’ve witnessed a lot of angst, confusion, inability to latch on to a path that allows these founders to shed the guilt. But eventually, they come to one path that opens for them. It’s about shifting that guilt into the opportunity to model balance and self-acceptance.

You can get there through a couple of avenues. One is to ask yourself “What would you say to your BFF?” Works like a charm. Another extremely effective way is to turn the lens from the founder to their employees. Do they want their people to constantly beat themselves up and to feel like failures? Do they want them plagued by guilt? Do they want them to feel they have to hide who they really are?

When these founders ask themselves those questions, there’s a resounding NO. The kind of “No” that says they would never want anyone else to feel the way they feel about themselves. When they realize that, as leaders, they have the opportunity to model balance, acceptance & integrity, their bodies shift. Tension becomes purpose. There is an opportunity to show their team what it’s like to be real, to do the best they can do, to have integrity by aligning their actions with their values by allocating time to all parts of their lives that matter. Maybe it’s women’s inherent caretaker nature, but that vantage point shift and re-framing creates a path for guilt to morph into self-acceptance, which in turn provides a safe haven for self-acceptance within the essence of a company’s core. So, when you feel guilt ebbing into your world, use that moment as a cue to remember that you’re doing your best, and to model that self-acceptance for your team.