Guilt is never a nice feeling. At its worst, it reminds us we’ve hurt someone (which is what I think its original purpose was for), and many live with that feeling for the rest of their lives.
But, like many negative emotions, guilt can also interfere with other aspects of your life. Like worry, it can hijack your mind and keep you from creating, because your mind is occupied by all the other things you should be doing.
To be clear, I’m not going to rant about how important it is to feed your creativity to the point where it looks like I’m asking you to ignore your responsibilities. What I’m talking about here is the guilt that comes after those basic—and hugely important—duties have been completed.
But a Parent’s Duty Never Ends
I know. Even when I’m in my office, with both doors closed, my ears are open, listening to my kids. As much as I dream of spending a week away at a writers’ residency, I think the silence would be too distracting.
But let’s look at the context: Do you feel guilty about spending time on your creative work because you could be chopping up vegetables for tomorrow? Or because you forgot to dust the baseboards again? Oh—a few doors have fingerprints that have been driving you crazy, right?
I’m not teasing you here—those are things going on my head, too. (Garage door from the laundry room and office door from the kitchen—fingerprints galore!) But my point is you’re not feeling guilty because your kids are hungry and you insist on continuing your art.
Look at the Full Context
You need to step back first and examine the big picture (the trees vs. forest thinking I was talking about last week). Let’s look at an after-work situation. You finish at 5:00, want dinner on the table by 6:00, and feel guilty for not having a full, standard supper ready for your family. When it comes time to work on your own personal project, you’re chewing yourself up at having made tacos with last night’s leftover ground beef instead of finding some ingenious way of turning cooked ground beef into steak, baking huge potatoes, and julienning carrots for the wok.
The thing is, you’re almost never in the door until 5:30. What options do you have? Well, you can
- Continue berating yourself for not living up to your high standards, but we’ve seen this hasn’t been working for you.
- Move supper to 6:30.
- Put supper in a slow cooker in the morning.
- Prepare the meat in the morning so you can throw it in the oven the moment you get home.
- If your kids are old enough and are home before you are, start getting them to help.
- Lower your expectation.
Your feelings of guilt that you can’t have a full meat-potatoes-vegetables meal on the table every evening will only sap your creative energy. They’re not worth it.
Use Your Creativity and a Little Self-Compassion to Solve Your Problem
Years ago, I dated a guy whose mom always made us meat, potatoes, and a vegetable for supper when we came to visit. He wondered why she didn’t try pasta on occasion, or other dishes. Her response was that, as students, we likely ate pasta all the time, and she thought this would be a nice change (she was right). But I think part of it, too, was that she knew exactly when to start, how long each step would take her, and she could quickly switch up meats and vegetables as needed. It was easiest for her and let her focus her energy on other things.
A word about lowering your expectations: Keep in mind your overall goals and the least amount of work needed to accomplish them. For example, I want my kids to have healthy, home-cooked meals. For me, this means one substantial protein, at least one vegetable (usually two), and a grain. Possible options include
- tacos (minus the high-sodium spice mix that comes in the package)
- pasta and a good meat sauce
- oven-baked chicken, roasted vegetables, and quinoa
- turkey and carrot casserole, with brown rice, tomato sauce, and cheese
And if things are so harried sometimes that all I have time to cook is frozen, breaded meat, frozen peas, and toast, then that’s okay. (But not all the time—a few times a months is my limit.)
You deserve time to be creative. I would even say that you need it. If you’re finding yourself feeling guilty while you’re creating, examine the source of that guilt and what can be done to get rid of it. Guilt does have its purpose, but killing your own personal creativity is not one of them.