Bullish Life: What Do You Feel Guilty About Today?

My second try at advice was that she say something like, “I’m sorry I misjudged – I need to end this internship earlier than we discussed so I can do my summer reading for school. It’s a lot more work than I anticipated.”

This is basically true (she does have a summer reading list) in the same way that, “I love working here, but I need to have a job that allows me to contribute to supporting my aging parents” can also be basically true, even though you shouldn’t really need that kind of excuse to want to be paid market rates for your work, or better than market rates for being more awesome than other people in the market.

I also said, “You’re talking about this like it’s some terrible thing you’ve done that you need to worm your way out of. You know, you haven’t done anything wrong here.”

She said something like: “But I feel so guilty!”

I said, “I think this is a really common girl thing.”


“Yes. Adult women I know struggle with this all the time. I have never heard this from a man.”

I write Bullish articles all the time about being direct and making ballsy but reasonable demands and how to get your head in the right place to be able to do this painlessly and effectively. In Bullish: Seven Sentences to Boost Your Career and Life, I recommended the phrase, “It’s not possible.” In Bullish: How to Ask for More Money, Part II, I suggested, “It would be illogical.” Both clauses are best delivered collegially and matter-of-factly, followed by a “but” and an attempt to reach a compromise or satisfy demands in some other way.

When I get letters from men (somewhat rarely), most of them take the tone, “Oh, it’s good that you’re telling women this thing that we’ve been passing down from father-to-son all this time.” You can sort of feel the beneficent nod the letter-writer made as he was writing.

I asked a small panel of men about feeling guilty for no reason. I said, “A woman I know is feeling guilty about quitting her unpaid internship. I told her she shouldn’t feel guilty because she isn’t doing anything wrong. I think this is a girl thing.”  (Obviously anecdotal) responses:

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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.