The Other Side of Ambition

It was late one Sunday morning not too many weekends ago. I’d slept in after a long week and a busy Saturday and woke up not feeling so well. My head was stuffy, my throat was sore, it was the usual precursor to an out-of-season cold and I decided that everything on my to-do list was getting pushed. I camped out on the sofa and binge-watched season 2 of Orange is the New Black.

Now, I still think this was the correct course of action to take: my body was telling me I needed rest. Next to planning downtime to prevent it in the first place, it was the best thing to do in the interest of self care.

Self care. Taking care of ourselves. It’s a big buzzword (buzz phrase?) among Internet entrepreneurs and I’m a big proponent of it.

Which is why I was surprised to notice, as the afternoon wore on, that I was apologizing for not being up and doing something when Todd got home from the grocery store.

Now, keep in mind that Todd had not said one word about me taking the day “off,” other than asking if he could get me anything or making sure I was tucked in sufficiently on the sofa. Aka: standard Jenn’s-run-down procedure (that there is even a procedure tells me I let this happen too often, as it is). And I wasn’t apologizing in words, necessarily, it was my body language that I noticed: head down, shoulder’s drawn in, small steps–my way of trying to blend in to the wallpaper and not be noticed, a trait I developed as a kid when the parents were fighting.

Where was this guilt coming from?!

Because the deeper I looked, that’s what this was: guilt. Specifically guilt over not working every waking moment to achieve my personal goals. Those goals that keep me up and busy every evening and most weekends. Those goals that have me spending 99% of my vacation time working weekend conventions to sell my book.  Those goals that will one day enable me to check out from the day job and support myself with my writing and art skills.

Those goals are a bit of a task master!

And that’s when I realized that guilt is the other side of ambition, the shadow of our dreams of greatness (or even just better-ness) that will rob us of our very souls before we reach our goals. The idea that we’re only fully-committed to those goals if we’re actively working on them 24/7. But what good is working 24/7 if you’re too tired and burned out to enjoy it?

So that was the script I had to flip: it wasn’t enough to acknowledge the good of self care without writing myself a virtual permission slip. And the terms of the permission slip needed to be exact, to include the words ‘and feel no guilt’ about taking time to rest and recuperate as needed.

The next few weeks are going to be hectic. The move is coming up so there’s packing to do and the new house to prepare. I’ve got some deadlines to meet and some client work to keep up with. There’s still the day job, of course, and whatever else inevitably comes up as it seems to do with greater frequency if you’re already busy. Finding the time to rest and recharge is going to be tough.

But not impossible.

Instead of shutting the laptop at 11pm each night, maybe I’ll stop at 10:30. Maybe we’ll get take-out a night or two over the next couple of weeks to save us both the time or preparing and cleaning up from a meal. Maybe I say to hell with the mountain of boxes on Sunday afternoons and go take a bubble bath with a nice glass of wine. It might only buy me a half an hour in any given direction, but those half-hours will add up, and maybe I’ll avoid waking up some Sunday morning in the future with a headache, a sore throat, and a general feeling of malaise.

Is there a specter of guilt standing in the shadow of your ambition? Time to shine a light on it!

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