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(Job) Survivor's Guilt

Like many people out there, I've been experiencing an exhaustion I can't explain; many days I wake up tired. My usual activities have been cut by about half and my days consist of (sometimes) showering, working, reading, walking, and working in my garden now that it's spring. The activities that have been cut out are any sort of social interactions, running kids to and from school and activities, my usual mindless walk through TJMaxx, and about 100 other things that are now unavailable.

Realistically, I know there is a low but consistent vibration of stress that I'm feeling 24-hours a day that's causing a lot of my exhaustion; all of the things we normally used to do we either can't or it takes a new level of planning. In my case, work is adding to the exhaustion.

And I feel dead guilty admitting that.

At the beginning of 2020, I decided to niche my digital marketing business to almost exclusively work with professionals in the financial industry. The change made me nervous, but my gut was telling me to do it, and it paid off. These days financial advisors are extremely busy, which means I am, too. Not only did I not see a decrease in my business because of current events, it's actually increased - and I am truly grateful.

Being an introvert and pretty boring person in general, my business model turned out to be ideal for what's happening. I work from home because I want to be available for my kids and I have one consultant who also works from home. My overhead is low because I'm not a risk-taker - I pretty much invest the minimum that I have to into my business which makes me sleep better at night. I was already conducting most of my meetings on Zoom or over the phone because I like to be on my computer looking at my clients' accounts as we're talking.

In a nutshell, I've been pretty much self-quarantined for the last four years.

Surviving the Storm

I've spent a lot of time these last few months on Zoom calls with the networking groups I'm involved with and because everything has come to a screeching halt, much of the meetings consist of all of us updating each other on how business is going. I have cried after (and sometimes during) many of these meetings as I listen to friends and colleagues who are suffering and wondering if their businesses will survive the shut down. I sometimes lie awake at night wondering how I can help them.

And I feel guilty admitting in these meetings that everything is going well for my business.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned how I was feeling in a closed group on Facebook. I said, "I'm so exhausted right now that I can barely move, but I feel so bad about saying that because I know all I should be thinking about is how grateful I am to have a job."

One of the very wise women in the group responded, "You can be tired and grateful at the same time. It's not one or the other."

It's kind of like I feel like I don't have a right be tired because I should be spending all of my time being happy that I'm working when others aren't. It's like people who survive catastrophic events who feel guilty about being happy.

I ran across this Brene Brown quote that describes a lot of what I'm feeling:

"There is this idea that I'm, you know, I'm struggling. My daughter's crying because she got ripped out of her junior year of college. She doesn't get to finish school. Her friends don't have graduation. It's going to be postponed. And she thinks, 'Oh, I can't cry or be sad about that, because my mom is trying to hold a company together. And that's harder.' And then I'm thinking, 'I can't cry about that, because look at the E.R. doctor in New York.' And then the E.R. doctor's thinking, 'This is hard as hell, but I can't cry because look at the woman who just lost her husband.'

"That whole mythology of rank-ordering suffering is built on the idea that compassion and empathy are finite — that if I have eight slices of empathy and I give Gayle one, I only have seven. So I've got to really make sure Gayle deserves one. That's not the way they work. Every time we practice empathy and compassion, we make more empathy and compassion.

"Here's what people have to understand about emotional literacy: Shame and empathy are incompatible. So if I feel shame about feeling sad and not deserving, I have less empathy to offer other people who really need it. So, own your feeling. This is our family motto. You can always own your feelings. You can always even complain and talk about it. Just piss and moan with perspective. But hurt is hurt."

Owning Your Feelings

It's interesting that when I talk to friends who've lost jobs or businesses, the first thing I want to do is hug and comfort them...but I don't think to do that for myself. I don't give myself the same emotional support that I'd give someone else. I don't tell myself that it's okay to be tired and grateful at the same time - someone else had to tell me that. I don't tell myself that it's okay - even GOOD - that my business is surviving, like a friend would.

I'm still learning that I'm allowed to have empathy for myself even though my struggle is different from someone else's. I'm allowed to feel what I need to feel as I try to survive this storm. And I'm allowed to be freaking tired.

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