Bullish Life: What Do You Feel Guilty About Today?

  • “Yeah.”
  • [huge grin] “No, we don’t get that. We like getting away with something.”
  • “We like it when we’re walking away from things, even if we’re a little wrong.”

I didn’t even ask any assholes about this. Just (seemingly) normal guys.

So you can only imagine if I had asked some total douchebags: “That’s how you get bitches to do what you want. Wait, I just violated the douchebag code of silence! KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF.”

So, how many times per week (per day?) do you feel guilty? How many of them are justified?

Next time you find yourself feeling guilty, ask yourself, what, exactly, your crime was.

Make sure you’re comparing yourself to a baseline for a competent, above-average human (and no more). For instance, are you feeling guilty because you said you’d get something done but something else popped up unexpectedly? Human beings can’t actually predict the future and should not feel guilty about this. All human beings are supposed to be able to foresee things like, “If I drive drunk, people might die.” Competent, above-average humans are supposed to be able to forecast things like roughly how long a project should take if nothing totally crazy happens. Sometimes, totally crazy things happen.

If your guilt is unjustified, let it go. If you have to close your eyes and imagine yourself blowing it away like dandelion fluff, please do. Or say, “Oh, I was having an irrational guilt feeling.” Don’t own it. Treat it like hiccups. It’ll go.

More importantly, next time you find yourself acting like a guilty person, stop – other people can smell this.

If you have to ask “What would a dude do?”, do so, even if you ultimately end up pursuing a middle-ground approach. But please don’t go around wheedling and pleading and underhandedly manipulating when you could just say, “This isn’t working for me, but thanks so much for the opportunity,” or, “Because we’ve had a lot of unexpected employee absences, I’ve written this revised workflow document with a new deadline,” or, “Would you please put this invoice in today?”

(For more on emotional management, see Bullish: How to Win When the Workplace Runs on Feelings, in which I posit a theory of “Emotional Currency Arbitrage”).

Unnecessary guilt helps no one.

Send in your questions to mailto:bullish@thegloss.com or follow on Twitter @jendziura. See a Bullish archive here.

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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.