Some people run marathons, I run my mouth. I had a marathon phone day earlier this week and caught up with several old friends. There seems to be so much to do around Christmas time, but it is also a time I think about the many friends I’ve had the privilege of knowing.
So instead of working on my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, writing Christmas cards, cleaning the house, pitching story ideas to producers or any number of things – I chose to reconnect with friends.
At the end of the day I thought about what I had accomplished, Years ago, a day without visible work results would have been deemed a failure in my mind. Not only would I beat myself up for my lack of initiative, I’d sprinkle a healthy dose of guilt on my psyche.
In the past, the guilt would plague me and rob me of a good night’s sleep. I would not only confine this guilt to the present situation, I would delve into my memory bank and pull out every rotten transgression (imagined or not) and emotionally torture myself. I’m not, nor have I ever been, a mean-spirited person. But I am forgetful. And forgetfulness can lead to hurting others.
In addition to the typical careless remark, missed appointment or angry word, I remember lying awake at night lambasting myself over absolutely ridiculous transgressions. I would feel regret for all the cups of coffee I forgot to serve my customers when I was a waitress, or that I failed to remember table 27 needed a bottle of ketchup. Never mind the fact that I haven’t been a server for years. These mistakes were torturing my soul. And of course those mistakes would trigger memories of other errors in judgment.
The ironic thing is that nothing of value comes from this type of self flagellation. It took me years to figure this out, but now I don’t engage in this painful process (or at least not for long.) When a guilty feeling springs forth, I focus on a solution. If I do this during the day, I can usually come up with a plan on how to avoid a similar mistake, how to make amends etc. What do I do when I try to problem solve at night? I fall asleep. It’s too much work to take this on when I’m sleepy. I let my subconscious take over. I either get a solution through a dream, or I just fall asleep and forget about it. No harm, no foul.
Not all guilt is bad. It can serve a purpose. Here are a few pointers.
• Recognize what you are feeling guilty about and use this recognition to grow, mature, and perhaps modify future behavior. If you are just beating yourself up and nothing of value results from your thoughts, say “stop” and redirect your mental meanderings.
• If your guilt is the result of unhealthy behavior (drinking, smoking, overeating etc) come up with a plan of action to change. Then stick to it. If you fail, try again.
• If you have hurt another, make amends. And do it as quickly as possible. The person you hurt may or may not accept your apology, but that is out of your control. Do your part by making the effort, try not to repeat the bad behavior in question, then move on.
• Accept that you are not perfect.
Whether you are religious or not, the Serenity Prayer offers great comfort and insight. If you need to substitute the word, God, for something else, then do so. The message is still the same:
Grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change;
The courage, to change the things that I can;
And the wisdom, to know the difference.
After my marathon phone day with my friends, I did a little work the next morning and played softball in the afternoon. Then I had two of my team mates over for a potluck dinner. I was going to clean the house before they came over, but I ran out of time. You know what? They didn’t care that the house wasn’t pristine. We had fun. That evening I received a message through Facebook from a high school friend I hadn’t heard from in decades. Of course I wrote her back right away.
I suppose I could beat myself up for not working harder. And it’s not that I condone sloth or laziness. But there is no glory in beating myself up for something from the past – including a day of no work. I was fueling my soul with the joy of reconnecting with dear friends. And I’m not about to apologize for that. Not even to myself.