Finding Balance: Dealing with guilt

Even after just a few weeks, I’ve learned that training for an Ironman is a big deal.  And it basically consumes your life.  I knew to expect that, but it’s one of those experiences you can’t really understand until you’re doing it.  It’s not that it’s more time consuming or requires more dedication than anything else in the world.  It doesn’t!  It’s just that every experience is a little bit different.  (Like I mentioned in my last post, I don’t even know how parents manage it… hats off to them!)

So,  when I’ve made steps to balance out my life by prioritizing some things over others, I’ve had to make decisions that I’m not comfortable with.  I touched on it a bit in my previous post.  I’ve had to say no to spending quality time with Rob and accept some very generous help from my parents.  When I visit my family, I have to choose to go on bike rides over spending that time with my nieces and nephews.  And it’s hard.  I hate feeling like I’m a burden on people.  I hate not being able to do the things I want to for the people I love, whether that’s cooking dinner for them or spending time with them.  And I hate the feeling (true or not) that I’m taking more than I’m giving in a relationship.

In reality, relationships of any kind are give and take.  In a healthy relationship, you won’t always be splitting things 50/50.  Sometimes, that will be the case, but often, you will support the other person when they are struggling or overwhelmed, and they will offer you the same support when you are struggling or overwhelmed.

Even though I know this is the way it works, I feel so guilty when I’m not carrying my share of the load.  And when you are working hard and chasing a dream—whether that is an Ironman or graduate school or some other entirely different big thing—you can’t always give as much as you’d like in your relationships.  That’s why nearly every article you read about deciding whether or not to train for an Ironman recommends that your loved ones be 100% on-board with your training and with your goal.  During your training, they will be shouldering more than their “fair share” of cooking, cleaning, and being a pillar of emotional support.

I don’t think I’m alone in this guilt.  But finding that elusive place of balance is about more than just the practical aspect of planning tasks and streamlining your schedule.  It’s also about finding a place of emotional stability within that schedule.  And I know that when I am constantly struggling with guilt about what I can’t do or what I want to do, I’m not in a place of emotional stability.  Now, some of this emotional stability can come from the act of streamlining your schedule itself.  When you closely analyze your schedule, you can make sure you aren’t completely neglecting your friends or your significant other.  You can make sure you include short cleaning sessions so that you don’t regress to your college-age self (at least, not very often!).  Still, when you are busy, some things you want to do and would do under different circumstances fall by the wayside.  And that’s where the guilt comes in.

I wish I had a quick fix for this problem.  I wish I even had a healthy list of great options to try!  This is something that I have always struggled with, and that certainly hasn’t changed.  I do use a few techniques to try to alleviate the guilt.

Thanking people for their support. Whether it’s verbal or comes in the form of a quick note, I think acknowledging the sacrifices that people may make for you is not only good for them but good for you.  Just a quick, “I know things have been busy lately.  Thanks for being so understanding about everything” goes a long way.  I think it offers a little moment of connection and often serves as a good reminder that the people who love us actually enjoy supporting us in our endeavors, even if they do face a few inconveniences for doing so.

Of course, you have to actually write the thank-you notes for them to do any good…


Self-talk. I always hate it when people talk about positive self-talk.  I always want to respond, “If I think I’m a piece of crap in a particular moment, I’LL CALL MYSELF A PIECE OF CRAP!”  I realize that’s immature, but it doesn’t help that usually positive self-talk comes up when I’m already in the middle of a mini-breakdown.  But in this case, I do find it useful to remind myself of all the things I’ve said over and over again in this post—people who love me also love supporting me, relationships are give-and-take, you are not a burden just because you inconvenienced someone else, etc.

Do what you can.  When an opportunity arises to help out someone who has been offering you a lot of support and you are feeling up to it, take the opportunity.  For instance, one evening last week, I realized I was feeling pretty good.  I had been planning on asking Rob to make dinner that night, but since I felt just fine, I decided to whip up an easy dish.  I wasn’t being a sacrificial martyr.  I just saw an opportunity to help out without making myself feel overwhelmed and exhausted, so I took it.  In a way, it felt like insurance against the next time that I really did need to ask for help.

I also want to point out that only one of these techniques even begins to address the underlying reasons for Ironman guilt (or grad school guilt or marathon guilt or second job guilt or whatever).  Working on self-talk starts to approach the real issue, but thanking people and doing what you can are definitely Band-Aid solutions (which isn’t all bad—coping mechanisms are important!).  In an ideal world, I’d change your life with a little mantra that reshapes the way you think about yourself in relation to others.  But I think the only thing that can really address that core issue is deep self-reflection, a lot of internal work, and maybe therapy.  And since 90% of the people reading this are probably further along in that process than I am, I’ll leave attempts at life-changing advice to the experts and keep the discussion focused on my personal experiences.

For me, the real work, the work that gets at the emotional issues behind the guilt, is a slow, messy (and very personal) process.  Most of the time I’m not even sure if I’m making progress at all!  But the surface-level coping mechanisms help me keep my sanity as I navigate through my baggage.

Which emotions surface when you are busy that hinder you from finding a place of emotional balance within your schedule?

How to do address these emotions? Have you found ways to truly deal with them, or do you rely on coping mechanisms to get by?


2 thoughts on “Finding Balance: Dealing with guilt

  1. Hanna @ TheMillennialNextDoor

    Honestly, this is why I only train for one marathon a year and why I don’t understand how people can train for and race multiple marathons/triathlons in a year. Most of us tend to forget the fact that we are not the only ones making sacrifices – our family, friends, even, to some extent, our employers have to make sacrifices so that we can go out and train for these races. And yeah, there is a lot of guilt. I’m glad you brought it up. Kevin has mentioned multiple times that he hates when I train for marathons, and it makes me so sad. Because he’s right – I’m not as available, and there’s just no way around that as long as training isn’t my full time day job.

    Balance isn’t just a day to day, week to week thing, it’s a long-term, big picture thing over the course of a year and a lifetime too. When I’m training for a marathon, I’m all in, and me and the people in my life will have to accept certain sacrifices if they’re going to support me. But that also means that when the marathon is done, I take a break. I don’t giddily rush to sign up for the next race or jump right back into 40+ mile weeks. I stop training, I run for fun, and I let the things that got neglected during training come back into the spotlight while running goes to the back burner for a while. I am okay with making sacrifices – the more interests/hobbies you have, the more necessary it becomes. But if I’m not balancing out those sacrifices in the long term, then the way I’m living my life isn’t healthy, frankly.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some people train for more than one Ironman in a year… it just blows my mind!

      I agree with everything you said! The things we do are pretty cool. Marathons are impressive. Triathlons are impressive. And, since they are important to us, it’s important that our partners support us in those endeavors. But it’s important to remember that, in the end, it’s just a hobby. And there are about a thousand things more important (in the long run) than a hobby. I am pretty much putting training first in my life until my Ironman, but after that, I will dial triathlon stuff way back and focus my attention more on things that really matter in the long run (relationships, my financial future, etc.).


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