Guilt. Who needs it?
I do, apparently, because I can't seem to let it go.
I was reminded yesterday of the last course I taught. My anxiety in full throttle, I cancelled more classes than I should have because I convinced myself that somehow I could not get through them. I would procrastinate my preparation, cobble together a lesson plan the night before, and lose myself to panic in the morning. It was a cycle I repeated week after week, until finally -- after receiving the first negative evaluations ever in eleven semesters of teaching -- I gave up. Resigned my teaching assignment for the spring. And I've felt guilty ever since.
For a while I just told myself that teaching wasn't for me. "I'm a terrible teacher" became the go-to loop running through my head. But here's what I've come to: I'm not a terrible teacher. In fact, I'm a rather good teacher, but I made poor decisions and didn't seek the right support. There's also no sugar-coating the other stuff: I failed to give those students a proper course, and as much as I want to comfort myself with the thought that they've probably forgotten all about it by now, the truth is that I don't know, and I'll never know. I have to be o.k. with the fact that I messed up. I made a mistake.
A therapist once told me to substitute the critical voice in my head with a kinder one: "What would you say to a friend who was going through your situation?" she asked. I was reminded of Geneen Roth's approach, referring to yourself as "darling" or "sweetheart." Geneen suggests that when stress drives you to that third piece of chocolate cake, simply say to yourself: "Honey, you're feeling empty, it's true. But it probably isn't hunger." Sometimes I eat that third piece of cake. But sometimes I choose to feel whatever it is that's masquerading as appetite.
So I say to myself, "Sweetheart? Here's the thing. You taught a pretty terrible course, and you may or may not have turned those kids against reading for life. Please accept it, and please move on." But I don't accept it, and I don't move on, and it's not just that failure of a semester, either. I'm torn up with guilt over a million insignificant and yet apparently wholly crucial events. And the worst guilt of all? That my life is filled to the brim with blessings -- I have my health and my family, and it's springtime out there for goodness sake -- and yet I'm mired in the should-haves and why-didn't-Is.
Suddenly I understand what Marianne Williamson meant when she said that the fear at our very core is not that we are "inadequate . . . [but] that we are powerful beyond measure." If I dare to shed the guilt, to accept the past and focus on this one moment now, the only moment that ever really exists, what if I find that it's not enough? That I'm still not fulfilled? Wallowing in guilt ain't a pleasure cruise, but at least it's familiar. I want to know for sure that if I break out of the old, unproductive cycles that I'll feel better, more at peace. I want guarantees.
And so I leave you with no pronouncements grasping at a moral, no assurances that I'll do better next time. I'm just going to breathe. And possibly pet a cat or two.