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'How Does Feeling Guilty Serve Me?' Permission to Experience JOY When Perfect Doesn't Exist

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A client shared with me recently how guilty she feels for not being able to spend more time with her young children. She's a working mother with a demanding job in the highly competitive financial industry. She said her guilt feels overwhelming, and it's not just the time she's not spending with her children and husband, it's also the time she's not spending with her aging parents, who live far away. When I ask her about taking time for herself, she immediately dismisses it as too unrealistic to consider and says she's long given up on that idea.

Looking fatigued, the sadness in her face was prominent as she was describing the efficiency of the family routine. The family calendar runs from an app on the smart phones, with pop-up reminders of who's doing what and when. Everyone has access from the full-time nanny to the dog walker. But her voice starts to crack as she describes everyone living under the one roof, but passing each other by. Thanks to the app, each family member and caregiver knows where everyone else is at all times, but where are the moments of spontaneous connection or time for intimacy? She finishes it by sharing, "my fear is that I will look back and decide that it wasn't worth it."

This challenge is not exclusive to my client. Many women (and men) I coach or interact with socially or connect with on social media are experiencing the same challenge. They feel an overwhelming amount of guilt meeting the demands of a career and missing many moments with their families.

Consider this -- How does feeling guilty serve me?

You may decide there is a need for you to reexamine your work priorities and how your career schedule relates to your family life. When feelings of guilt weigh heavily on you, this is a practical and smart first step in my view. Your internal guidance may be giving you valuable feedback to re-prioritize. I spend a lot of time with clients working through creative ways in which they can bring greater balance into life and find more meaningful opportunities for connection with family and friends.

But after a point, when the practical steps have been taken and changes in routine are in place, then, the question to ask yourself is "How is continuing to feel guilty serving me?"

Does feeling guilty on its own make you a better mother, father, spouse? Does it help with your performance on the job or in advancing your career? Probably not.

My experience in working with people is that once guilt is no longer seen and used as your internal guidance calling for change, then experiencing guilt on its own becomes paralyzing and stifles creativity.

It's at this point I ask clients, "Can you give yourself permission to experience joy and happiness, even though things are not perfect?"

The opportunity for healing is not focusing on the outside circumstances -- remember you've already done this by tweaking your schedule. It's about changing how we relate to the issue on the inside.

Using a big stick called guilt to beat ourselves up so we continue to feel bad, limiting feelings of joy and peace doesn't help in making us a better parent, spouse or colleague.

Can you give yourself permission to be joyous, finding peace in THIS moment? And can you come into acceptance for the choices you are making, finding fulfillment in the NOW?

Being overwhelmed with guilt about not spending time with the kids while at the office, or feeling guilty for leaving the office early to be with the family, only leaves you feeling dissatisfied in both situations.

So, reconsider, "How is feeling guilty continuing to serve me?" If you can take action which brings about a positive change is some way, then you could argue it has served a purpose -- your inner guidance got your attention. But if guilt is without action and just leads to you feeling bad, then let it go.

How you relate to the issue is the issue. Unless you plan on changing your outer reality, move into acceptance for WHAT IS. Doing so will free you to enjoy the moments you do have with your family and time spent at work.

The advice written by Julie-Ann Tathem, Tathem LLC is opinion based and for entertainment and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be in place of a consultation with a health, tax, legal or other professional.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.