Guilt is universal
September 7, 2011 4:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I abandon guilt, when my behaviour isn’t hurting anyone?

I want to feel good about my unusual life choices.

I work from home which is not so unusual. But I don’t do 40 hours a week. Maybe I get up to 20 hours, but it’s enough to pay the bills. I could do more work, there’s enough there, but I slack off sometimes. I meet my deadlines. I do good work. But I don’t work as much as the average Jo. A big part of that is that I deal with depression. I am on medication and seeing a doctor, and I take steps to be healthy, eating well, exercising, but it still throws me sometimes. Anyway, I feel guilty for not working a 40 hour week. I feel like a failure for not pushing myself. If I doubled my income, I could do cool things like renovate my house or travel. And I don’t do that. And days when I don’t work, sometimes I just sleep or play stupid games on the computer instead of doing stuff like living my life.

So how do I abandon guilt/shame, when my behaviour isn’t hurting anyone?
posted by b33j to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I feel like a failure for not pushing myself.

It's possible you feel like a failure because your depression causes you to feel like a failure, not your supposed lack of work ethic.

If 20 hours is all you can do, and you're self-sufficient, then good for you! A lot of people would love to be able to pay their bills on 20 hours a week. Many people who are depressed work zero hours a week, so you are doing better than them!

Accept yourself, and praise yourself for what you do, not arbitrary things you think you should do.
posted by The Deej at 4:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Based on personal experience: Helping others alleviates guilt.

Knowing that you did something good for someone in difficult circumstances really soothes that ache. Gets you out of your own skull too, which is also great.
posted by krilli at 4:25 PM on September 7, 2011

Accept the decisions you make. But it is hard to tell whether it is the depression that is making you behave that way, or whether it is making you believe it isn't hurting anyone. Guilt is one of the ways our subconscious speaks to us.

Ask yourself this: when you spend a day sleeping and and playing stupid games, do you also feel regret? If so, then you aren't 100% cool with living the slack lifestyle. Some part of you is more ambitious. So you have to figure out which part you'd rather live with: the slacker or the more ambitious part?
posted by gjc at 4:29 PM on September 7, 2011

I read something interesting about guilt today:

"Guilt is a trap. People love guilt because they feel if they suffer enough guilt, they'll make up for what they've done, whereas, in fact, they're just sitting in a puddle and splashing. Contrition, you move forward. It's over. You are willing to forgo the pleasure of guilt." - Sister Wendy Beckett

This might be a helpful way for you to move forward. I think it's similar to what gjc is saying about accepting the decisions you make. You have decided to work 20 hours a week, and actually, by all accounts, it's not working out too badly for you. You're able to pay the bills, do good work, and meet your deadlines. You might want to think about how you can frame this as a good thing, not as a bad thing.
posted by k8lin at 4:34 PM on September 7, 2011 [13 favorites]

Similar question here which may hopefully be helpful:
posted by foursentences at 4:35 PM on September 7, 2011

If you are feeling guilty because you feel you aren't working as hard as other people, realize that you probably work just as hard or even harder than "the average Jo" because of your depression. It can be tough to make yourself work any amount of time while dealing with depression.

A saying I like is that it isn't important to be *the* best, just *your* best. If you are putting forth your best effort (even if that means days where depression causes you to stay in bed or procrastinate), then you are doing your best.
posted by shortyJBot at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

It might help to connect with people who also work part-time by choice, or who otherwise reject the careerist lifestyle. You could check out online forums and local meetups related to voluntary simplicity, early retirement, and the like.
posted by aphorist at 5:03 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your question instantly made me think of this op-ed, Are Jobs Obsolete?

If you feel like you need to be more "deserving" of your stability, volunteer somewhere.

If you truly want to work more, and the work is available, and you have goals you want to meet by earning more, and you can't figure out how to motivate yourself, then maybe that's depression talking.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:06 PM on September 7, 2011

What would be the point of working over 20 hours a week when you can support yourself on that?

I sort of understand, though, so what if you were to set aside just *one* hour a week, not for paid employment, but for doing something helpful? You could write two or three Amnesty letters in an hour, for example. Your country's Amnesty will probably have a list of appeals and a bunch of sample letters online.
posted by tel3path at 5:06 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't assume that just because people are clocking in at forty hours that they are actually working those forty hours.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:11 PM on September 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

You know, I once read that a study of hunter-gatherers showed they worked about... 20 hours a week. Then they picked up agriculture and it was all downhill from there.

I envy you! If I could work 20 hours a week and support myself, I absolutely would. Work isn't the only thing in life. The real question is, what are you doing with the REST of your life? If the answer to THAT question doesn't make you happy, then maybe that's what you need to change.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:23 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

And days when I don’t work, sometimes I just sleep or play stupid games on the computer instead of doing stuff like living my life

You sound like someone with depression.

I don't think you should feel guilty in any way at all. But I do think that you should pay attention to the nagging feeling that something isn't right about your life. I don't know anything about you, but I want to offer a distant interpretation: there is something inside you that knows you can take a next step towards more activity, whatever that may be. That feeling is making you uneasy, and your "guilt" is a familiar way to you to categorize it. So I say lose the guilt but still listen to the feeling that you've had enough inaction.

You don't say if your depression is getting better, getting worse, or staying pretty much the same month to month. You didn't mention if you are regularly spending time with a therapist. If not, I urge going beyond just meds and a doctor. With a open schedule like yours, meeting regularly with a therapist seems possible. A great thing to work on in therapy would be addressing this feeling you have that more could be done, but you're not, and you feel guilty about that. Setting particular goals (e.g. ending guilt over spending time the way you want, adding more activity into your week, whether it's work or other) and then working those goals with your therapist would be what I would want to do.

I found one of the biggest things that helped me recover from major depression was to set aside the timetable of how fast I should be "normal" or "productive" again. Letting that go didn't make everything better by itself, but it cleared my head enough to see what single steps I could do to walk back into the light. Then I could find things that will energized me enough to want to do it rather than feeling like I "had to" or "should" do it.

Taking it easy can be a very helpful step in dealing with depression. That you can make ends meet on 20 a week is a blessing--it would be a very valuable use of your time to directly address this avoidance behavior that keeps you on the couch and feeling bad! Just take a step, but take your time. Good luck.
posted by buzzv at 6:04 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

So you work 20 hours, and support yourself just fine out of that - amazing! You meet your own needs and are independent. If you were to work more hours, you'd be unhappy, and also wouldn't have time to do all those things you think you could do if you had more money. Also, you're freeing up 20 hours a week of paid employment for someone else who needs the money - someone else has a job that they need because you aren't using up any more resources than you need. That's pretty admirable.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:24 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you, Mefi! As usual you worked out the question I should have asked which was not how, but why, and then how.

It didn't even occur to me that it was the depression talking (doh! face palm). Thank you for the instant boost of self-worth - I am trying very hard and yep, some days depression makes everything more difficult. Thank you for reminding me that it's okay to take the time I need to recover, or even, just to be.

Thank you for the suggestions on how I can contribute too - I have plans to volunteer, but until I managed some structure in my life, I was putting it off, because I didn't want to be flaky. Thank you for reminding me that not everyone who turns up to work, works the whole time - I don't chat with colleagues which is a normal networking part of a day at the office but probably takes up a good 20% of time that I don't bill.

Regarding the progress of the depression, doc & I are working through a series of steps. I'm considering therapy (again).
posted by b33j at 7:19 PM on September 7, 2011

Oh my hell are you kidding me? Being able to pay all my bills while working less than 40 hours a week would pretty much be my definition of success. Tell depression to suck it, go back to therapy, and congrats on being in an enviable position.

Seriously, you're good. No guilt allowed over this.
posted by Space Kitty at 11:03 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in the why of freeing yourself from guilt, and not just the how, perhaps it would help to read about the history of the work ethic, or investigate why working less is better for the globe.
posted by velvet winter at 12:58 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Guilt is a huge part of my issues with depression, and a hefty portion of that guilt is work/money/success related. I have one quote that keeps me going, it's my basis for establishing a sane, meaningful, and best of all relieving perspective on my life:

"There is only one success — to be able to spend your life in your own way."

Att. Christopher Morley.
posted by carsonb at 12:11 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you feel guilty because you can't make yourself do more. You feel like you should have more energy, be more productive. Maybe you think you're letting yourself down.

It's the depression. Go see a doctor. Try different meds until something works. Try to schedule yourself working from a coffeeshop or library several times a week; change of environment, getting out, being around people, can help a lot. Tomorrow, around noon, stop working, and go outside. Even if it's raining, take a walk. A little exercise, a little fresh air, ideally a little sunshine, it helps. Do you like animals? Volunteer at an animal shelter, to walk dogs or visit with cats, whatever. They'd probably love a morning volunteer. You'll be energized, and have more fun when you return to your work, and having to be somewhere will get you up and moving.

Depression is a beast. You deserve to feel better. Keep getting help until it works. You don't deserve guilt.
posted by theora55 at 3:57 PM on September 8, 2011

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