Coping with the guilt of enjoyment

Coping with the guilt of enjoyment

Many of us carry around a constant guilt: a sense that we don’t deserve to want or enjoy things.

If you know what I mean, then you’ll know that it can be super heavy and super limiting. You say yes to doing things that aren’t you because you should. You say no to things that you would love because enjoying work is for other people. Not for people like you.

Maybe you can even see the logical fallacy in this: there are people you can’t help simply because it would benefit you.

The irony is that your impact is probably greater if you enjoy what you’re doing.


Instead of hating on this feeling, let’s just lean into it for a bit.

What is the bare minimum you need to do–the humble pie you need to eat, the penance you need to pay, whatever–such that you would feel like you deserved to do something you enjoyed?

Indulge me.

Is it that your family is well fed and your children have a good education? Is it that you have office hours to help the people who want to pick your brain?

Grab a notebook and write it all down.

Once you have, take a look at it.

Is it feasible? Can you do it sustainably?

If not, take the time to work it into something feasible.

If you won’t feel like you’ve done enough until you earn $1m, that’s ok, that’s feasible, you just have to recognise the realistic timeframe.

Ok, now we have a feasible, sustainable bare minimum.

Read this out loud: if I have done these things, then I have permission to do what I enjoy.

How did that feel?

Now go do those things.

If it gives you what you need to do what you enjoy, then awesome.

If you do all those things and you still feel undeserving, guess what? That’s just a feeling you’re going to have to deal with, because you’ve paid your penance?


I want to point out one more thing:

There is no penance to be paid. There is no reason to feel guilty. You are deserving of doing fully aligned work that you enjoy.

Maybe one day you’ll believe that all the way to your bones. There is a path to that. It’s a longer one. The best I can do is tell you that it exists and people have made it there. If you want to go down this path, re-read the first part of this post every now and then. See what comes up. Let the internal argument happen. Get curious about it. Maybe even journal about it.

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Until you reach that place, use this blog post as a stopgap solution.

The most generous thing you can do for other people is to unlock yourself.