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Work, Self Care and Guilt

by | Aug 14, 2020 | Coaching, Empathy, Leadership

I love to swim. I feel incredibly lucky to live somewhere I can swim regularly.

This morning I woke up late and hesitated. Did I have time to swim? My better self sent me down to the pool, but after 2 lengths the guilt set it. How come I was swimming? I should be working! Not only am I in the pool but there might be urgent emails piling up after my new rule of no looking at emails when I am not at my desk. Oh – and did I say my diary says I am officially off today…..?  So what is this guilt anyway?

 Wow – when I catch myself thinking this I am quite shocked. To put things in context, I have recently acknowledged the I am burnt out. It has been brewing for a long time, and those close to me are not surprised. I’ve had most of the symptoms including, unfortunately, mild depression. Something I have never experienced. It has been quite shocking.

 So here I am feeling guilty about looking after myself and intrigued about this guilt. I know that only by recovering am I of any use to anyone.

 I am guessing some of you are also experiencing guilt when you take time to look after yourself.  When we do things which will restore our wellbeing, we are often pulled away in our minds to what else we ‘should’ be doing. Our working lives have become so pressured with the expectation to be ‘on’ all the time. Covid-19 has made this worse for many people I know. Needing to be ‘on’ all the time for work to make up for the time spent looking after the kids or talking to family and so on.

 We feel guilty that we might not be seen to be pulling our weight in our teams – I know I do. We feel guilt for not supporting our boss in every way possible – after all they are also in this state. We feel guilty for not spending enough time with family, friends, children.

 Guilt, guilt, guilt.

 This morning I happy to say I caught myself and slowly I managed to stop the noise. Instead of hearing the guilt I kept swimming and let it float off into the distance. Oh that felt good. 30 minutes of time to get oxygen into my system, to feel the water on my skin. 30 minutes to calm and come back to myself.

 Now, I am at my desk writing this. I still haven’t looked at my emails. Who knows what I should be dealing with. Yet…. I know that writing feeds my soul as much as swimming so instead I am sharing this with you.

 As coaches and leaders it is important for us to be listening out for this guilt in others. As a coach, I am listening to hear how I can support my clients to better look after themselves. As leaders, we can have explicit conversations with our teams about their own wellbeing. We can have rules about email access, working hours and model this by taking time to look after ourselves.

 I remember a previous CEO of global Pharma company who went for a run mid morning from the office. After his run, he stood in the coffee queue in the main office in his sweaty running gear. Everyone saw him. He was making a clear statement that taking time for yourself is good.  ‘If I can do it, so can you.’

 Do you recognise this guilt? I’d love to hear what you do to let it go. How do you let it float off into the distance? What do you do to look after yourself? How do you look after others?

 I am wishing you and myself a guilt free weekend.

Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes (ACTP). Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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