• Wed, Aug 1 2012

Bullish Life: What Do You Feel Guilty About Today?

Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.

A teenage student of mine has a problem – she is involved in the worst unpaid internship in the world.

Her mom made her go into a local doctor’s office and, explaining that she had “nothing to do” all summer, request to work there. She does not actually want to be a doctor (her mom wants her to be a doctor).

The doctor’s office doesn’t really have much useful work she can do, but they’ve kindly exposed her to all facets of the business: this resulted in getting squirted with blood during someone’s wisdom tooth surgery.

She wants to just stop going there and never speak to them again. But she can’t! Because … wait for it … the doctor’s office is located in her family’s apartment building. Awkward. How New York.

I offered some suggestions. For instance, “Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity! This has really helped me see that this isn’t for me – I’m a little squeamish and should really explore other career options.”

I have written before, on many occasions, about women who have trouble being direct, even when they are obviously in the right. In Bullish: How to Communicate with Chutzpah:

For instance, I once worked for a company that was late in paying me. My contact at the company had an elaborate plan to slip the invoice into a magical stack of invoices so that the person who pays the invoices would think that the invoice had been fast-tracked by the person who makes the magical stack. What? No one has done anything wrong here. I did the work. Everyone likes it! You got the money approved before you asked me to do it. Now I would like my invoice processed! You should ask the lady who signs thing to pay the invoice! Yay! There isn’t even a problem here.

(See also: Bullish Life: Breaking Free From Terrible Situations. And if you haven’t read my four-part series on asking for more money, I think you should do so and consider asking for more money. Not just for yourself, either – are you getting emails from the Obama campaign asking for money and wishing you had money to give? I want you to make more money for your future self, and for all of us. See Bullish: How to Ask for More Money, Part I and Part II, Bullish: How to Ask for More Money Q&A, and Bullish: How Negotiating a Raise is Like Dating.)

My student didn’t like the direct option. (She had also once told me a story about a “friend” repeatedly cheating off her paper, and the incredible lengths she had gone to – changing seats, buying a new pencil box to block the friend’s view – to try to stop this without having to say anything.)

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  • alexandra

    This is terrifyingly true and accurate. I do this all the time.

    Also, I know the point of this article wasn’t to give dating advice, BUT: remembering that men enjoy getting away with ditching things can be helpful when one of them is driving you insane. Instead of beating yourself up about it, try to put yourself in the shoes of a pathologically guiltless person. Then re-read the Bullish “basic principles of sexual ethics” article and focus on how you are right.

  • Topf

    Yes! Thank you! I am feeling guilty for changing my gym to one with more flexible hours, with the possibility of just using the treadmill instead of just visiting courses and cheaper! I have so many good reasons and I feel so bad I thought for a while about paying 2 memberships.

  • Lindsey

    This is absolutely the best thing I could have read today.

    In mid-June I applied for a job at my campus’s cafeteria. I got an e-mail saying that she would be in touch regarding the position. A few days ago I got an e-mail from her addressed “Hey, gang” and including people I already knew worked in the cafeteria. The e-mail was asking for the days off we would need for the semester. Then today I got an e-mail asking for the schedule of everyone. I mean, obviously the logical thing to do would be to send her an e-mail asking if I’ve been hired. But I’ve felt like, maybe that would be too assertive. Uhm, no. That’s completely ridiculous. I’m being a non-assertive nervous nellie. No more, Jen Dziura, no more!

  • Amanda

    I dunno how much of that is actual guilt and how much is fear of confrontation. I mean, if your client could just text her boss and then never have to see him again, I bet she would.

  • Kat

    This kind of relates to me right now! I am in graduate school, but am losing a lot of research time because my boss keeps asking me to do admin duties. (This past week I only got three of five days in the lab, that’s how bad it is) I have been trying to find a way to say to him that I want to actually do my program, without any success. I keep feeling guilty that I am the only one sufficiently competent in the group to do these things, so I cannot say no. I will have to overcome this and tell him to make someone else do it. Thanks :)

  • I’m affraid I…

    I always like your articles. But why would I apply mediocre standards to myself? How is that going to make me “more awesome than most people in the market”?
    I don’t think I should be able to foresee crazy events, but I should be wise enough to only promise things over which I am in control. I can promise, that I will do something. But people making promises about team performance and long term success are suspect to me.
    Yes, I do feel constantly guilty about minor things, that nobody around me will ever notice or think about. Obviously I am not afraid to speak out directly in certain situations, but I have many other fears. And I do think that this helps me reaching to be a better person.

    And I am a guy. Asking men about things specific to their gender, just like asking women, will never give you meaningful results. You will find a much greater influence of society and gender clichés on the answers and self-perception of men and women than on their actual feelings and actions. In general, people don’t really know about their own motives.