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Guilt

Puppy_pleads_guilty

For so long I’ve been too afraid to write about anything. I couldn’t even write in my journal, because I was terrified by the thought of looking back on it years from now and judging my younger self for what I would have written. Because I know that what I’m feeling on a day-to-day basis is wrong. It’s not what I should be feeling. I should be elated. But instead I’m a pouty, spoiled brat.

I live in Europe. I travel all the time to places as far away as Australia. I’m getting paid to do whatever research I want and to do it at my own pace. I learned a new language this year. I’m probably healthier than I’ve ever been…blah, blah, blah. Are you indignant that I feel such apathy towards my great life? I was indignant too. I tried prodding myself with guilt and letting others try their hand at making me feel guilty. I was angry with myself for feeling unhappy. I wanted justice. I wanted to put myself through guilt bootcamp so that I would come out appreciating life and knowing the meaning of hard work and rewards.

But guilt doesn’t really work like that, does it? It’s not a great motivator. It does get you to do things, but not through motivation. Guilt paralyzes you so that whatever the world and other people throw at you, you have to take, because you can’t move out of the way. In that way guilt “gets things done.” You respond to punch after punch with the minimum amount of energy expenditure, just by accepting them, because guilt won’t let you do anything else. And when no one is throwing punches, guilt just keeps you there, motionless, so that you can’t possibly do anything to make yourself feel happy. Guilt will get you out of bed in the morning, guilt will meet the deadlines and return the phone calls, but that’s about it.

I’m not really sure what the solution is. Maybe if my life conditions get worse, I’ll start to feel less guilty. Maybe when I’m a poor Ph.D. student instead of a Fulbright grantee (oh, wait, I’ll be richer then!) and I’m not living in Europe, I’ll feel better. But probably not. I’ll be in Miami, where it’s sunny and wonderful, living with my amazing boyfriend and adorable dog, studying what I love and traveling around the world to do it…well, shoot.

Guilt pushes me to put a positive spin on the end of every blog post I write, to make the reader feel better even though I myself won’t actually take this message to heart. So insert positive spin here: You cannot rectify inequality by feeling guilty. Feeling guilty is one of the least beneficial ways to spend your time on Earth (so I can now feel guilty about wasting time too! c’mon, positive spin).  Have a great life. Do whatever you want to do. If you want to rectify injustices in the world, go and do it. Do it every day by constantly living with integrity and standing up for your principles. Do what you love, and do it with all of your energy. If you love helping people and standing up for those who have been wronged, then do it! Always be curious to learn and explore more, thereby expanding your opportunities to act. With these three things: integrity, curiosity, and passion, you can live a great life and not feel guilty (I hope). 😀

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