I’ve faced this many times. I’ve spoken to others who have gone through this and are still going through it. I’m talking about the guilt that you feel when you have to turn down projects, say “no” to people, when you have to pull back from being available to help everyone.

I came up against this guilt a few times last year. There were people who wanted my help that I didn’t have capacity to help. There were people who wanted help with work that wasn’t in my zone of genius. People came to me with huge requests and tiny budgets. There were people who I let take me through the whole rigmarole of a meeting, and then 10 emails, and then a few phone calls, and then more emails, only to realise that they didn’t really want to have the work done at all. There were people I saw who were struggling and I knew I could help them, but they refused my help or insisted they weren’t ready to ask someone for help.

All of these situations happened more than once, and every single one caused me to feel varying intensities of guilt. I’ve chatted to people in my close friend circle and my business circle about this, and, like everything we go through in our businesses, I am totally, one billion percent not alone.

I burnt out at the end of last year, and it was because I felt that I had to say “yes” to every opportunity that came my way.

I feared that if I said no, that I would feel guilty, and that I would appear ungrateful. (Another damaging thought pattern played out in my head as follows: “People are coming to you and asking you to work with them. These are all opportunities for you and your business. You have to say ‘yes’ to all of them otherwise people will think you’re stuck up, nobody will want to work with you and you’ll get no clients.”)

Of course, that was another mindset shift that had to happen to help me save my sanity.

So, I’m going to talk about a few thoughts for you to take on board for the next time you feel yourself slipping into guilt.

Shed the Guilt: Help Where You Can

This sounds obvious, but you’re never ever going to be able to help everyone that needs it. But, if everybody helps where they can, we can still make a big difference in the lives of others.

How do you choose who you do help and who you can’t help? That is based on your principles and values, but it’s also based on your capacity and your available resources. If you find a worthy project that you’re passionate about, but you don’t have the time available to dedicate to the project, you’re going to end up sacrificing something else, or potentially working extra long hours or working on too many projects at the same time.

So my advice here is to help where you can. Decide how many projects (and the type of project, if you offer a variety of products/services) you can comfortably work on in a 3-month period. Then decide on the number of pro-bono or charity projects you’re taking on over the same time period. Stick to those numbers. You’ll feel a bit guilty at the beginning, but the more you practice politely declining work once you’ve reached your quota, the more natural it will become. Knowing that you’re protecting yourself from overworking and burnout also makes saying “no” an act of self-care, and thus, makes it easier to do.

Be Kind to Yourself

In 2017, I had taken on more work than I had the time for, and I worked 16 to 18-hour days, plus weekends, to get projects done. I sacrificed time with my husband and family, and I felt overwhelmed at the number of projects on the go at once. I feel that I did good work on those projects, but it came at great personal sacrifice.

I’ve since learned that I can be a far better human being by taking on fewer projects, and giving myself a bit more space to take joy in my work without feeling chased by deadlines and feeling overwhelmed with consistent stress.

I’ve moved into 2018 with far greater mindfulness and am making better decisions with more discernment about who I can help and the type of projects I am happy to work on.

Share the Load, Share the Love

You probably have a network of boss babes around you (physically, and online). What’s worked for me is to build up relationships with business owners whose skills complement yours. Then when someone asks for work that’s related to yours but not quite what you offer, you can refer them to someone you know, like and trust.

For example, I’m a web designer, but I don’t offer logo design or social media marketing. These skills are complementary to mine, but are not in my zone of awesome. I know boss ladies who are excellent at these two areas, and I refer clients to them when I receive enquiries.

I feel fantastic doing this because it helps the client and it helps my friends. It also helps me to feel far less guilty about declining to work with them because I know that their project will get done by someone who specialises in that type of work.

Guilt holds you back from fully showing up in your business as your most fantastic self. With these pointers, hopefully you are able to minimise the impact it has in your life and on your work.

We would love to hear from you! How have you experienced guilt while running your business, doing client work or selling your products?

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Melissa is the owner and creative brain behind Fox & Owl Media.  She creates client-attracting and highly converting state-of-the-art websites for female entrepreneurs.  She has considerable experience with website design and copywriting.  Melissa's comprehensive website solutions will get you up and running with a beautiful site that will turn a "maybe" into a "yes!"

You can find her on social media by clicking the links below.

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