This week authors J. Thorn and Crys Cain discuss how they deal with the guilt of not doing, both in their work and in their personal lives.


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Crys: Hello and welcome to The Author Life Community Podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my co-host J Thorn.

J: Hey Crys, what’s going on?

Crys: Insanity. I say that almost every week. This is like normal people life insanity. It’s just the kid is off school for a week, and so everything is just not normal. And I don’t do well with not normal. So if my not normal is insanity, that’s fine. But my not normal is not that right now.

J: Costa Rica is pretty Catholic, right?

Crys: Yes. So this is the holiday. I would say literally all of Central and South America is off this week, and specifically most businesses are closed from today through Sunday. So this is the end of high season, which goes from Christmas to here. This is the biggest party week of the year.

Everybody in Costa Rica, I don’t know how it is in other countries, but everybody in Costa Rica goes to the beaches. So the city becomes a dead zone. Even like the tourist areas in the central mountains and stuff, they’re pretty dead. Everybody goes to the beaches. So I’m really glad I’m not at the beach this year. I’ve been at the beach most years, and all of us who live at the beach hole up in our houses and don’t leave for a week.

How’s your week been?

J: It’s been okay. It’s been okay. You know, I’ve had a just a few ups and downs here and there, but it’s just goes with the territory.

Crys: Yeah, indeed. I have a question for us that I think is very pertinent to both of us as people who are addicted to work, but also people in our community have asked it a few times. And that is: do you struggle with the guilt of not doing?

J: Do you?

Crys: All the time. If I’m doing really well in work, I feel really guilty about the lack of what I’m doing in so many other areas of my life. If I’m doing well in the rest of my life then I feel guilty about what’s not happening in my work, often. I’m working on it, I’m much better than I used to be. How about you?

J: This is a hard question for me to answer. I do have an answer, but I think you’ll probably relate. If some higher power said you don’t have to worry about your basic needs, they will be met, your family will be taken care of, just do something productive in the world, I would be doing exactly what I’m doing right now. So am I addicted to work? I don’t know. Is this my life? Is it work? How do I define one from the other?

So like this is all wrapped up in it for me. And I think where I struggle is if I start looking around at what other people are doing or not doing, that’s when I start to feel guilty. And I could be technically working like 16 hours a day and I look to my left and I see some something someone’s doing and I’m like, I should be doing that.

So it’s a complicated question. I think it might be different for folks who have a day job or have other commitments. That’s why this has become a tricky question for me. Do you feel any of that or are you able to compartmentalize?

Crys: Yeah, I think there’s two facets. There’s the one facet where there’s someone who feels guilty because they are not making, or they can’t find time to do the work they really want to do because of all the priorities that they feel they have to do.

And Becca Symes has some really good information on that particular fear because that tends to be very personality based. If you really have a high sense of responsibility to your family and to anybody that you’ve committed to, it’s really hard for you to work on the you things until you’ve cleared off all of the commitment things. And for some people, that’s just something that they have to learn to work with their own systems on. So that’s one part of the equation.

The other part of the equation I think is more of that when you’re working healthily in your business, you are putting time to doing the things in your business, but it’s harder to take a break because you have difficulty prioritizing rest. So I think there’s kind of two facets.

Of course there’s far more facets than that, but I think those are two of the biggest elements of this. And I think that those of us who are raised in America, for the most part as a group, do tend to struggle with this one. We are brought up to believe by society that our value is measured by our production. And when that is a core part of how you’re brought up, you don’t necessarily see that’s not a healthy reaction until you burn out and realize like, yeah, I do need to prioritize rest.

There’s a great quote by Nat Eliason, and it was in an email he sent. I’m gonna see if I can remember to paraphrase it. But it was something about, and I may have read this in a Write Away episode recently, but it was about what if you scheduled in your rest time first and then let your work fill in the gaps around that? Prioritize the rest, whether that’s going to watch a movie with family or reading a book. What if you prioritize that, put that in your schedule first, and then let everything else filter around that?

And that feels very radical and difficult to me, but also possibly very healthy once you’ve gotten past the place where, at least where I started out, where I was like, I have to grind to get to that level of basic efficiency where I don’t have to worry about every dollar hitting my account, where I’m not worried about keeping a roof over my head the next week. And that set the grounds for me having the fear of taking time because I was legitimately worried back then about actually having food, rent, all those good things.

J: Yeah. I think my experience was probably different. Because I was raised in that puritanical perspective of you’ve got to work and punch the clock and grind and all that, but I never bought into it. Like I always pushed back against that. From the time I was a small kid, nope, I’m going to rest, I’m going to go play. Like I never had an issue feeling like I had to meet those expectations.

I think where the guilt also manifests for me, and I don’t know if I can articulate this properly, but there’s certain things that I know I’m good at and I hate doing. And I feel guilt when I don’t do those because I feel as though I’m sort of squandering a talent or I’m wasting a skill I’ve developed, even though it may no longer suit me or might not be good for me at all, but I feel guilt because I’m like, I should be doing this and I’m not.

So that’s another flavor. There’s so many flavors of guilt. But that’s one for me too. And it’s even worse when someone will point it out and they’re like, oh, you should really do this. And I’m like, oh, I know I should, but I hate it. I hate doing that. So I don’t know, that’s just another observation. I’ll throw out.

Crys: How do you deal with that when it comes up?

J: Not well. You know, sometimes I’ll try, like I’ll convince myself like, yes, I should be doing that. And then I start doing it and I go, this sucks. I hate doing this. Why am I doing this? And then I stop again. And so from the outside it looks pretty erratic. Like it looks like there’s some schizophrenia energy there because I’ll start things and stop things and start things and stop things. And some of that’s experimenting, but some of that truly is reminding myself how much I hate this thing.

Crys: Yeah, that’s fair. It’s been a while since I’ve had the chronic feeling of I’m not doing enough. I used to wallow in that feeling a lot. And that was probably in some of my most productive times, as I was doing a lot and then fussing at myself that I wasn’t doing more. And I do have that occasionally where I look back at like where I had massive amounts of energy and I was doing a lot, and I’m not able to meet those levels today. Sometimes I’ll have a little bit of wah about that. And about two days every month I have like just complete lay in bed, wail at the world emotions, but then they go away. And I’m starting to catch them quicker.

I just have to remind myself, one, our energy is seasonal, what we’re able to do is seasonal. I have far more brain space taken up by being a mom than I did when he was a toddler. And at the time I thought toddlerdom was so all-consuming cause they just wanted you all the time. Yeah, but they couldn’t ask you questions back then, so you didn’t have to come up with like complex answers about relationships and friendships and how we don’t bite people at school, you know?

J: You don’t bite people at school? I never learned that lesson.

Crys: I was like, that’s for later, as an adult consensually. Like not in school as a child. But you know, they get more complicated and they take up more brain space, and I have to constantly remind myself like so much of my energy is going towards learning the world all over again about how to teach a human. And so work has to take less time, and that’s okay because I’m still doing really good work.

J: Yes. I don’t know if you’ll find this discouraging or encouraging, but you’re in for about 15, at least 15 more years. So every time you think you’ve got this figured out, there’s like a new layer of complexity that comes in and takes up more brain space.

Crys: And as they get more freedom, like the fear ratches up because you gotta let them make decisions and they’re gonna make the wrong ones occasionally.

J: They have to.

Crys: They have to, especially when you’re as bull-headed as humans like you and I, and then produce other humans that are bullheaded, they have to make those bad decisions to learn.

J: True.

Crys: So this has gone from being a writing podcast to being a parenting podcast, but sometimes it’s one in the same.

J: For sure. And there’s two things I should probably mention that I forgot to at the beginning. If you’re listening to this in real time, the five-day how-to book challenge starts today. It’s not too late to jump in there. And also The Author Life Summit tickets are still available and on sale. So I just needed to remind folks of those two things.

Crys: Absolutely. All right, friends. Thank you so much for joining us. My question for you is: do you feel the guilt of not doing, and what about?

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