A little while back, I caught a cold.
It was a summer cold, and we all know those are hell. A week of the actual cold, then three weeks of the sniffles as a chaser. Ugh.
So I had a cold, and I dialed down my activities to zero or nearly so. I slept, watched a little Netflix, answered only mission critical emails. And when I was feeling better, another business owner said to me, “You must feel so guilty for not being able to work.”
Why would I feel guilty for not working when I am physically incapable of working? Sure, it’s only a cold, but I can have three days of not getting out of bed, or I can work at 40% efficiency for two weeks. The logic is clearly on the side of taking time off to be sick.
But then I remembered, this is actually how society is set up; to guilt people over things they have no control over.
Laura Vanderkam (a productivity writer I greatly enjoy) recently wrote a post asking why “Women Can’t Have It All” is such reliable clickbait. And it is. It’s really good clickbait, because it’s a hot-button issue and moreover, you always have to read the article to see how THIS writer is defining “It All” to see whether you agree or disagree.
I was discussing the Mommy Wars with my husband, and he asked (somewhat naively) why all these women seemed to care so much about what other people thought of how they parented. Why was this even up for discussion, breastfeeding and day-care and homeschooling? Surely it was obviously that every family had to decide what was best for them?
I will pause while we all share a cynical laugh.
But I answered him seriously and I said that I thought that women probably got in the habit of thinking about these things because from the moment they become pregnant, people ask them questions and push their views, which forces the women to think on their choices and prepare a defense for them. Planning to drink in moderation? Planning a home-birth? Whether people agree or disagree with them, they almost always demand an explanation.
And this leads to second-guessing.
Self-reflection and the humility to consider whether you might be wrong are good things. In moderation.
But you really have to develop the skill of trusting yourself. Because you can never truly prove in an objective sense that you made the right choice. So you have to believe that you made a good choice, a choice that honors your situation and limitations. And then you have to let the issue rest.
This post is late. I mean, it’s late according to my standards, which are probably not anyone else’s standards. I can beat myself up about the fact that I didn’t get this post together in time, but the fact is I gave my time to help someone else, which left me rather short of writing time. And then this topic, which is so multi-faceted, gave me so many opportunities to pursue I was faced with a paradox of choice.
It didn’t come together as quickly as I wanted, but my vision was strong, and I knew that it would come together. Just not necessarily to my (largely arbitrary) deadline. I know myself, and I trust my process.
“Process” is a kind of catch-all term for the ways that we navigate life. All creative people have a process, and they’re consciously aware of nurturing it. But I think all people have a process, even when they’re not aware of it. The process is that sense that you’ll feel better if you take a walk. It’s the intuition that tells you that you’re done for the day, even if it’s only 3pm, and that pushing further would be futile. It’s the self-awareness that the best possible thing you can do for your business is to leave it alone and go do a favor for a friend.
That’s not to say that trusting the process doesn’t look a bit like self-indulgence. This is especially true if you suffer from a Protestant Work Ethic, Catholic Guilt, or First Generation Immigrant Expectations. Tuning into that voice can be VERY hard when that’s the case, and I’m not saying that it isn’t.
What I’m saying is that trusting yourself leads to more fulfillment and success with less angst than any other method on the market.
And that’s nothing to scoff at. In fact, it can actually be a source of supreme joy.
Did you see Dave Sedaris’s last essay? He got a FitBit (a web-enabled pedometer). Well, he so enjoyed watching his stepcount add up that soon he was walking 25 miles a day. Not just walking– he collected garbage from the ditches and by-ways wherever he went. He talked with everybody, and became so well-known (and appreciated!) that the local government named a new garbage truck after him.
The cynics will say that having a garbage truck named after you is a pretty sad achievement, or that Dave Sedaris is so well known that he can write a stupid essay about a FitBit to universal acclaim. But I see that, and I see a man who writes for a few hours every morning and then does what he wants for the rest of the day. That’s his process. He trusts his process, and he gets out of the house. He doesn’t click around on the internet just in case inspiration strikes and he can work a little bit longer because he feels GUILTY about not working a full eight hours.
Guilt is a completely unproductive emotion. Instead of indulging in it, learn your process like you learn the ins and outs of a cantankerous classic car. Give it what it needs, whether it’s a little richer fuel mixture or a complete tuneup. You do that, and you’ll be beautifully productive. Without even realizing it, you’ll do wonderful things for yourself; your business; your life.
And trust yourself.