Guilt has been a major theme in my life, and it seems to be a phantom that plagues many of us outside of politicians and ad executives. This phantom comes in and steals our happiness leaving us to wonder what went wrong. I am not saying that a little guilt here and there is not useful for the individual and imperative for a functioning society. But like salt, a pinch goes a long way.
Journaling About Guilt
The following essay I sat down and wrote just soon after I lost the worst bartending job of my life while in a nightmarish graduate school experience. This was written as I was recovering from major neck surgery (I’m still not sure if a minor neck surgery is a real thing). So, take it for what it is worth and perhaps it can help you to deal with this phantom better than I did about a decade ago.
Often I feel guilty because I don’t have a job. Even though I am recovering from major surgery and am in grad school, whenever somebody asks what I’m doing, it feels like they’re stabbing me in the gut. I can’t seem to catch up. I never can make progress. From what I hear, I guess that nobody ever does.
I feel guilty about my relative level of privilege in this world. Forever, I have seen others misfortune, and I wonder why they have been placed in that particular situation, and I am in mine. I feel self-indulgent like I never do enough, like a young child peering in at adult life without any clue as to how things really work.
Is Guilt a Waste of Time?
My grandmother says that guilt is a waste of time. She’s wise, and I want to believe her. But, somehow on a deeper level I can’t. I tormented myself day after day wondering what I’ll do, yelling at myself for spending money that I shouldn’t. Castigating myself for not doing more, I get to the point where I feel weak and useless. I feel as if I can do nothing right. Often nothing of value is produced from my time.
Am I lazy or just strange? Am I crazy or just underdeveloped? Why can’t I do better? But, to what standard am I working? Who sets the bar? Why does it bother me? Why can’t I return to living life day by day and moment to moment without worry and self-mutilation? Why do I push myself when I don’t want to be pushed? Why do I deny myself the pleasure of enjoying my successes as few and far between as they are?
I have felt great guilt for not doing enough for people in my family and in my life. I have felt guilty because I know so many others have suffered more than me. But I was once told that other people have their own karma to deal with and they should be left to work it out themselves without it having their chains pull on my conscience.
A New Perspective on Guilt
Now that I am deeper into the world of adult life, I have changed my perspective a little since I wrote this piece. Unfortunately, that feeling of guilt still has a hold on the subconscious. Spending too much money, not completing a task, using little white lies as an excuse to not participate in some activity are just a few triggers that raise the guilt trip yet again.
However, a little guilt is a good balancing force of one’s conscience, but too much is debilitating. It is not a bad tool to have available when raising children, as long as it is used fairly and in moderation. Some guilty pleasures are actually good for the soul. So, I leave you with me sneaking off to read a good book instead of finishing cleaning the apartment. Enjoy your guilty pleasures when you can.