Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving. – Erma Bombeck
If I had a pound for every time I have heard a business owner ask a question beginning with “Should I…..?” then I would be writing this from my beautiful tropical island next to Necker, I bet I’d still feel guilty though! That darned word “should”, dictionary definition “must; ought (used to indicate duty, propriety, or expediency)” is the guilty business owner’s most used word. It stems from their feeling that there is always more that they ought to be doing for their business. “Should I use facebook?” “Should I rewrite my website?” “Should I hire an accountant?” “Should I fire my accountant?” Is there such a person as the guilt free business owner? Oh yes, and they are about as common as a guilt free mother.
Why do business owners feel guilty? You may as well ask why humans feel guilty. It’s a big subject. Here is my back-of-a-business-card simplified version.
Food, love, career, and mothers, the four major guilt groups. – Cathy Guisewite
As children we learn to form our understanding of who we are by using a combination of information gathered from various sources including; family, friends, religious belief, school, tv, internet, social networking. Each possible label is reviewed by us and, if accepted as part of our self image, we stick it on and it becomes part of the definition of who we accept that we are, a thought and belief that we have said yes to. That becomes our perception of the person that we see when we look in the mirror.
For example when I look in the mirror I see a person wearing the following labels;
- Middle aged (have only just said yes to that one)
- House owner
- Etc. etc.
For each one of the labels we accept we write a type of job description which includes a set of Key Performance Indicators – no one forces these on us, we design and self-enforce them. Please remember that we each have different life experiences and although many of you reading this will be, for example, mothers, you will have a completely different label definition of Mother than I do.
Now here comes the magic. When I look in the mirror and think of my daughter label, for example, do I see an acceptable daughter who loves and is attentive to her Mum? Sadly not. I review my daughter’s label set of KPIs and think “an acceptable daughter lives close to her Mother, I don’t.” And the guilt kicks in.
The simple formula is this;
our self designed KPIs – our perceived performance = reasons for guilt.
Remember the key word is perceived. Perception is the process of interpreting information from the external world. A perception is not a fact, it is our interpretation and it is as valid as a fairy story.
I think while all mothers deal with feelings of guilt, working mothers are plagued by guilt on steroids! – Arianna Huffington
Lets get back to our guilty business owner. You are a step ahead of me. That’s right. When we go into business for ourselves we write a new label complete with job description and Key Performance Indicators. The toughness and achievability setting of those KPIs are totally dependent upon how accepting, open minded and self- loving we are. If you were a good responsible girl who was always top of the class, then you will expect to be turning over an amazing profit within 6 months of starting your business, with a queue of adoring customers and 10,000 facebook likes.
Remember the formula. The greater the gap between our label’s definition of how we should be and our perception of our performance, the greater the guilt.
And there you have it, the guilty business owner
Guilt: punishing yourself before God doesn’t. – Alan Cohen
Before we move on it may be worth asking whether there is anything wrong in feeling “guilty”. Is guilt a performance inhibitor or enhancer for the business owner? Guilt has a value, it is there to tell us when we have not met an expected behaviour. As such it could be a useful part of a business owner’s drive to create, do better and meet her perceived standards. In most cases, however, guilt inhibits positive behaviour. The dense poisonous feelings of self hatred that guilt builds are irreparably damaging to energy and self confidence. The guilty business owner has to drag herself through her self imposed guilt swamp before facing the outside world. Even if her business succeeds, as a result of her overwork and hyper control, will she be happy and healthy? No, she will be exhausted and still feel guilty.
I don’t do guilt. Whatever I do, I do it happily. Yotam Ottolenghi
Lets start with a not too difficult tip, which will change your business and your life. Try not “should ing” on yourself. Tell you what, next time you say “Should I do xx for my business?” send me a £1! I’ll send you an invoice, promise. Seriously though, look for alternative words like “could” or “will”. Suddenly you have control again and you are not seeking permission.
The next thing to do is to destroy the labels. Remember that the KPIs and resulting guilt are only perceptions, stories that you have invented. Next time you look in the mirror say to yourself; “I am enough. I am the perfect business owner for my business. No-one else has my experience, my skills and my love. I am a guilt free and successful owner of my business.”
If you do that every day, with a smile, and that doesn’t help you feel less guilty, I’ll send you a £1.
Sue Vizard is author of Jump Start: The Start Up Book for Your Dream Business (£12.99, Panoma Press). For more information visit www.suevizard.com