The Problem of Guilt: You aren’t doing what you should be doing.

Ok, so on Friday we talked about the prevalence of guilt, and the fact that in many cases it can be traced back to two main causes:

  • You aren’t doing what you should be doing.
  • You have unrealistic expectations of yourself and need a reality check.

Today we are looking at point one:


You aren’t doing what you should be doing.

In this first instance, you might be one of those people who is constantly busy, has a full schedule, overcommits to things, and can never say no to anything. You are at all the bake sales, you sit on at least two committees, and you are the occasional babysitter for your neighbour’s cat. And you hate cats. You are there for everyone, always.

And yet, you also feel immensely guilty.  You are always late to your appointments, your daughter is mad because she’s always the last one picked up from school, and your family ate takeaway for the third time this week. Also, you didn’t actually bake the cupcakes, you got them from M+S, but you couldn’t bake them because your volunteer commitment at the homeless shelter went overtime.

You are constantly doing good and worthy things, but you always feel guilty because you aren’t doing “enough.”


Listen up: almost always that feeling of “not enough” is because you are majorly dropping the ball around those closest to you. And that guilt? Those closest to you are the ones who most deserve your time and attention.

It’s time to step back, take a breath, and evaluate your situation.



What SHOULD you be doing?

When we examine this question, we start with ourselves and work outwards. Are we well rested and taken care of? If we have health issues, are we attending to them? If we are spiritual or religious, are we making regular time for that in our lives? Our healthy and whole functioning is what makes possible our ability to reach outwards to the other elements of our life.

If we are sinking, we are a drowning person pulling others in with us.

From that point, comes our partner, if we have one. Are we communicating well? Are we making time to reconnect? Are we enjoying time together? Are we meeting each other’s needs? Make sure that relationship is strong, because a) you have committed to life together, and it works best if you enjoy each other and b) the next levels rely on your strength as a unit. If you have children, they rest on the foundation you build. Is the foundation shaky? Is it strong?

Your children are your next layer outward, and their stability and sense of security rests on you and your partner’s attentive presence, both as individuals they connect with, and together as their united parental unit. Are you connecting with them? Do you know what’s going on in their lives? Do you know their struggles, worries, and interests? Are you familiar with their friends?

And then, in order to support all of this, you have your work. Are you fulfilling your obligations? Are you able to meet your goals? Are you able to manage it so that your work serves your life, and not vice versa?

As the circles move outwards we have our obligations to our extended family, and to our friends. Our extended family deserves time, and building those relationships makes your own family unit stronger. And we need our friends – if they are good ones they provide a richness and perspective in our lives that we don’t get anywhere else – but, as with all the other layers this requires our time and attention as well.

That’s a lot, isn’t it? Breaking those layers down, looking at the time involved in each, I can’t help but notice something: all of this takes a lot  of time and energy. These aren’t aspects of our lives that can just be shoved into corners, and sporadically tended to in brief moments of free time.



So, it is a great thing to be on a committee to help the homeless. It is wonderful to run the bake sale. The world needs people are willing to give of themselves.

But if this means neglecting or negatively impacting what you should be doing, then no matter how good the endeavour is you shouldn’t be doing it. Seriously.

Your husband shouldn’t feel lonely because your obligations are so numerous that you don’t even have time for dinner. Your children shouldn’t be puzzling through life without your solid and consistent presence. And you shouldn’t be running yourself so ragged that you escape to bed the moment you get home, can’t even muster a smile as you walk through the door, and screen your best friend’s calls.

And if this is what your life looks like, it is no wonder you feel guilty.

YES:  You are doing so much. You are doing good things. BUT: Your priorities are screwed up and you feel guilty because all those good things are taking you away from those who need you most.

You are very much needed, this is a fact. But you can’t be there for everyone, all the time. Make sure that those who most deserve you have their needs filled first. 

So. Take a breath. Evaluate your situation. Figure out what you should be doing, and do it well. Then, figure out what time and energy you have for any “extras.” If running the bake sale really gives you joy, and you can take that joy back home with you, go for it.

And I promise you: If you weed out the extraneous activity and are honest about what you actually should be doing, and give those layers of your life attention, your guilt might start melting away.



“But Mary! I SHOULD be doing the Bake Sale! And I SHOULD be on X, Y, and Z committee. It’s great to focus on what I should be doing, but I SHOULD be doing these things as well.”

Well, that’s where the next post comes in. Because, let’s be real.

Coming at you Thursday: You have unrealistic expectations of yourself and need a reality check.

And yes, I am aware there is another problem here: I really hate doing what I “should” be doing – that’s why I distract myself with one million other things. 

That, my friends, is a complicated post for another day.



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