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Making the Most of Professional Guilt

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Most people have felt guilty at some point or another in their professional life. Maybe you missed a deadline for no good reason. Maybe you told a white lie to a co-worker to spare their feelings. Maybe you called in sick when you really weren’t under the weather at all. You knew it was wrong, but you did it anyway, and now you feel guilty about it. It’s OK; but to become better from the experience, it’s important to use the emotional energy from guilt productively. Consider a simple physics example. Energy without direction creates heat. This heat will dissipate without any use unless it’s directed. Work can be accomplished when energy is given direction. The same is true of guilt. If you find yourself feeling guilty at work, the first thing you should do is eliminate the source of the guilt. If you owe someone a report, finish it. If you slighted someone, apologize. Almost no problem will get better by ignoring it. Second, the energy of that guilty feeling should be harnessed into the next task you’re doing at that moment. If you’re feeling guilty at home because of something you did at work, pay the bills or take out the trash. Don’t let the energy of guilt dissipate without doing work.

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