Powerful Professional Women Don't Get Paralyzed by Guilt

Powerful professional women know how to unlock their natural talents, set boundaries and ask for what they want.

3 min read

This story originally appeared on Ellevate

Powerful professional women know how to unlock their natural talents, set boundaries and ask for what they want. It sounds straightforward enough, but it isn't easy. What makes it so hard? Guilt.

I don’t know any woman that isn’t plagued by it, including me. Most women have been conditioned from a young age to be nice and accommodating. And that’s okay…to an extent.

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But if too many of our decisions and choices are guided by other people’s feelings and perceptions, where do our own needs and desires fit in? Therein lies the crux of the issue: We want to help others, often to the detriment of our own well-being.

So, how do you take control of your guilt without feeling selfish?

It’s important to know what you want and set priorities. These priorities may even include doing things for other people (picking the kids up from school or making dinner for your partner, for instance). Once you have a list of your non-negotiables, everything else becomes much clearer.

Use these priorities as guides to draw boundaries. This is critical to protecting your time and your sanity. Once you find this alignment between your wants, priorities, and commitments, it becomes easier to avoid feeling guilty.

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The guilt may still creep in. That’s where strong communication comes into play. You need to let people know about your priorities. People who care about you don’t want to see you burnt out, frazzled or unhappy. But we often try to hold it all together and don’t want people to see us sweat, so they have no idea that we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and spread too thin.

You can change that by being both direct and compassionate with friends, family and colleagues. Let them know how disappointed you are that you can’t say yes to _______ (working late, a destination wedding, dinner on Thursday night), but that you just don’t have the _______ (time, money, resources) right now.

Yes, this is scary. And you may even make some people upset. But you’ll find that the people who really care about you and want you to succeed will accept this explanation. As you practice doing this more and more, the guilt will start to fade.

Another trick is to think about what you would tell a friend in your position. Would you encourage her to keep taking on more and feel bad when she has to turn something down? Probably not. Practice being as kind to yourself as you would be to other people you care about.

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It also helps if you remember this: Self-care isn't selfish. You will show up as a better employee, mother, daughter, partner and friend if you are taking care of yourself and your needs. And that’s nothing to feel guilty about.

(By Elena Lipson Lipson is the principal and founder of Mosaic Growth Partners, a consulting and coaching firm based in Washington, D.C.)

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