Yesterday I came across a post by Cindy Krischer Goodman on the Miami Herald‘s Web site, about a speech given by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the Commonwealth Institute South Florida. The appearance featured tales from Albright’s recently published book, “Read My Pins,” as well as a little personal history: she was a journalist, researcher, full time (single) mom to three daughters, and later a professor… all before ever stepping foot on Capitol Hill.
Pretty amazing. So amazing you might think you’ve nothing in common with the Artist Formerly Known as Madame Secretary. But believe me, you do.
In regard to work/life balance, Albright said: ‘There are no easy choices. Every woman’s middle name is guilt.’
Guilt. It’s truly a woman’s problem, isn’t it? Much like the need for approval, it’s almost a birthright.
And what is it good for, anyway? I mean, I’m sure Jiminy Cricket would insist it serves a certain purpose, helping that know-it-all goody two-shoes on our shoulder ensure we don’t actually beat up the idiot driver who cut us off or steal the shoes we can’t afford or get busy with the guy in the mailroom, no matter how tempted we might be. But it’s not the same as a conscience–and I think we’re quick to confuse the two.
Nor do I think there’s any doubt that guilt weighs heavily on our choices. To a certain extent, it drives them. And keeps us looking over our shoulders. And stresses us out. That wicked emotion can be downright paralyzing. We don’t want to hurt anyone, put anyone out, do the wrong thing. It hits us from both sides, too: Sometimes we make choices we don’t really want, strictly because we’d rather not deal with the guilt. And other times, we choose to go the other way–and then are left feeling guilty over it. It complicates things, loading each choice down with some additional–and not necessarily relevant–worry. In the same way that factoring others’ feelings and our own fear of being judged out of our decisions requires conscious work, so does eliminating the guilt factor. How often do we do things we don’t want to do? Say yes when we don’t mean it? And women, with our oversized To-Do lists and our underdeveloped sense of balance–well, I don’t think it’s too wild a stretch to suggest the two are related.
So, how do we get rid of it? Hell if I know. But perhaps a good place to start would be to take back our middle names and cut that Guilt Monster down to size. Are you with me?