Banishing the guilt

Originally published on EMU’s Debuts(

Yes, guilt. Many of us were conditioned for guilt at a very young age, but the grown-up writer version is what concerns me. Maybe it’s because I’m basically a people-pleaser. Perhaps you’re like me or know somebody like me. If anybody has a problem, I want to fix it for them. When a friend, colleague, classmate, needs help, I eagerly volunteer. I sincerely like to be helpful, and I am flattered to be asked. When I must say no, I feel badly about it. The reality is, there are times when momentum relies on tunnel vision. Thankfully, these tunnel vision times come in spurts and there is always light at the end of each tunnel. When I began an MFA program in January 2015, I was forced to be more self-indulgent and selfish about my time. Like all of you, my to-do list is very long. Sometimes, scaling back is an uncomfortable necessity. The fact is, we cannot be all things to all people all the time.

If you’re a writer or artist, I know you understand the tug-of-war of guilt that springs from dedication to the craft. We feel guilty for taking time away from family. We feel guilty that our craft does not generate enough income. We feel guilty that our homes are a mess, the car is overdue for an oil change, we haven’t moved from our workspace in days, and we don’t spend enough time with the family. Then we feel guilty when we desperately crave some downtime away from our creative endeavors because the well runs dry and the pressure feels suffocating. It can feel like we are damned if we do work and damned if we don’t. If we were to stack up all the self-imposed guilt associated with the creative life, we could reach the Moon.

When my stress level reaches a crescendo (often,) and I feel pulled in 12,000 directions, I try to ask myself a series of questions:

Who is most important in my life?

Who/what needs me the most?

Where does each demand fit in my order of priorities?

What feeds my soul?

I am still working on it, but my goal is to prioritize the to-do list and allow that to determine what I can and cannot do. I need to be kinder to myself. I hope you will be kind to yourself, too. In fact, I hereby grant us all permission to say NO when our time and energy reserves are low or when we must enter that tunnel of concentration. Let’s do so in the name of self-care while sending sincere good wishes to the people and events that we regretfully decline. Remember, we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first.