Overcoming the Distractions of Guilt and Blame

When I wrote about my exercise of quiet listening last week, I had no idea what challenges I would face this Wednesday. Just before my walk, I hit a situation that filled my mind with alternating thoughts of guilt and blame.

My day job has a quarterly planning meeting scheduled in a few weeks at the company headquarters. I realized Wednesday morning that Lana and I had scheduled a private getaway for the very same days. We had been looking forward to this private retreat for months, and those days worked for us only because all of our kids would be at camp that week. There was no way I was going to give up this time alone with my wife. No way! (Besides, our deposit was non-refundable.)

On the other hand, if I missed this planning session I knew that I and my team would be at a significant disadvantage over the next quarter. It could affect my team performance and that of the whole division, putting our corporate goals at risk. I felt marginalized. I was indignant at the planners’ lack of concern for my personal and family life. They’re going to have to show some respect and move this meeting.

Then, I looked at my calendar.

Actually, there are two calendars. One is the corporate time-tracking system where I had formally registered my vacation time. It’s a cumbersome system that we visit only when we must. There was my vacation time, recorded as expected, right where nobody ever looks.

The second is the Exchange calendar where all of my meetings and appointments live. This is where all of the scheduling happens, and how other people know when I’m free or busy. Gasp! I had never recorded my vacation schedule there.

My defenses kicked in.  “Well – my senior manager formally approved my days off. He should have known.”

Oh – and now it’s time for that scheduled walk, and that exercise of quiet listening. Good luck silencing this internal battle.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…
Romans 12:3a

Blaming my senior manager didn’t last long as I realized I don’t memorize my team’s vacation schedule, either. It wasn’t his responsibility. It was mine. By failing to update my calendar, I had allowed this conflict between two critical appointments, and this was now my problem to solve.

Guilt replaced blame. I was going to let down Lana or let down my team. Who would I choose to hurt?

A guiding principle came to my mind that helped settle the matter. When I look back on this decision ten years from now, what will have been the right choice? If I skip the planning meeting and impact company performance for four months so I can keep a promise to my wife, most people at work will understand, and the rest won’t remember my decision ten years from now. But it will send an affirming, loving message to my wife. If I cancel my getaway with my wife so I can benefit the company, even the most gracious and forgiving wife will feel the impact of that decision.

The choice became obvious. Find someone to represent me for the company. They’ll do just fine. Really, it wasn’t that hard once I got over my own self-importance.

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