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Recently I interviewed Katherine Ichoya, the Executive Director of FEMCOM (French for Federation of National Associations of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa), for Wisdom Exchange TV. I couldn’t help but be affected by her enthusiasm and contagious spirit. She is a woman who really has a good grasp of her purpose, her abilities, and what it takes to achieve her goals. You would be challenged to not feel positively affected by her persistence, passion and perspectives.
To sit across from her, talking about her career pursuits, her involvement in creating gender policy for COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa), and her expectations for FEMCOM, you would not see the chink in her armor. She would have to tell you about the great burden she carries. And she told me.
When Katherine strode into my office, she generously welcomed me into her reality. Katherine shares her guilt, once it is exposed, it would no longer be an obstacle to sharing her achievements. Conversely, if her overwhelming guilt were not revealed, it would be like she was living a lie. For Katherine Ichoya, authenticity is the only option. For her to admit her guilt was giving herself permission to admit her achievements. Once that permission was granted, the woman that walks into my office in Nairobi is allowed to shine.
Katherine carries the weight of her son’s death from an overdose, which Katherine correlates to her choice to relocate her family to the U.S. in pursuit of her education. She obtained her Masters in Public Administration/Macro Economics in 1990.
Katherine’s husband, son and daughter relocated in order for her to pursue her vision to someday-affected gender policy. Katherine questions now if she should have just accepted status quo. For those who know Katherine and her achievements, they know that to accept anything but pursuit of equality and opportunity for women would have left a huge void in so many lives.
I write this blog not to debate whether the price Katherine paid was too high, or if her son’s choices were a direct consequence of Katherine’s choice to pursue her career. I write this blog to acknowledge a curse that plagues so many women, as mothers, and as natural nurturers. Many of us have this compulsion of onboarding all our children’s bad decisions and carrying them as our burden. We have the overwhelming sense of guilt. We even feel guilty if we don’t feel guilty.
This is not to suggest that our decisions don’t impact our children and the people around us, it is to suggest that there comes a point in everyone’s life that their decisions are just that: their decisions. Our lives are impacted by so many external influences. To bear the burden of every decision your loved ones make is a heavy load to carry.
Why as women do we often feel this overwhelming sense of guilt? If we are accomplished in our career, what did we not provide at home? If we stayed at home with children, what could we have achieved if we focused on our career? If we are laid-off and decided to take time at home, we wonder what we should be doing to give back to the community. It never stops. We feel we are always letting someone down.
What is guilt? I think this is a pretty good definition from Wikipedia: “Guilt is an affective state in which one experiences conflict at having done something that one believes one should not have done (or conversely, having not done something one believes one should have done).”
How do you deal with guilt? These are some possible strategies, however, psychologist I am sure could provide much more insight.
- Seek to understand why you feel guilty. Is it something you have done that you can change? Is it society imposing its standards on you? Is it your past that is holding you prisoner and defining what is good or bad behavior?
- Accept that you are human, and by definition, no one is perfect.
- Consider the circumstances around the situation you have guilt. Be content that you did the best you could do with the resources and information you had. I use this one a lot, not only with guilt, but whenever I feel a sense of discomfort of how I have dealt with a situation.
- Acknowledge your shortcomings as soon as you feel a sense of guilt, then leave the past in the past and agree to deal with it differently in the future.
- Put yourself first. This one is hard for many women, but I have observed many men I respect doing this, and they seem to be more content. By putting our needs first, we usually serve the people around us better. We need to ensure that we also accept the consequences of this decision such as judgment or condemnation.
Guilt is a wasted emotion. It is consuming, and the reality is that we often feel guilty about things that have nothing to do with our actions.
There is always something else we could be doing, or something someone else thinks we should be doing. But we only have one journey and that is the one we are on. Journeys learn from the past, but they always go forward. So in order to live a life with limited or no guilt we need take responsibility for our choices and move forward freely with the knowledge that because of our past we will make better decisions in the future.
Action: I challenge all the women out there to beat guilt by doing any of the following:
1. Do something different to address the feeling of guilt
2. Accept your decision was the best decision based on the resources you had
3. Leave the past in the past and move on.
Life is too short to be carrying all that baggage around. Besides, so many of us have bad backs.
Visit our other Ignite Excellence Group of initiatives’ websites with corresponding blogs.
Suzanne F Stevens – Profiling women leaders who have pushed their edge to personal or professional potential from backpack to briefcase to boardroom
Ignite Excellence Foundation – Leadership, Advocacy, Education – following donations to scholarships for women in developing countries
Wisdom Exchange TV – A forum where women will be inspired from the achievements of African women in business, education, philanthropy and politics.
You Me & We – a husbands and wife’s journey through Africa in 2011/12
Ignite Excellence Inc. – Influence, Differentiate, Engage more people and more business – a training & development company