Giving up guilt

Today, Facebook reminded me of a post I wrote exactly thirteen years ago, quoting a phrase that really resonated with me back then:

God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die.

Bill Watterson

Does this feeling ring a bell? The feeling of not doing everything you should be doing, of not accomplishing everything you should be accomplishing, of moving too slowly and not being able to catch up...

I can think of a number of things I could say on this topic (and I probably will say them, in future articles), but for the moment, and taking into account the time of the year, today I´m going to focus on what I discovered to be the consequence (or maybe the cause?) of me feeling this way:


I felt guilty about everything.

Whatever I was doing, I felt guilty for not doing it well enough, or for being wasteful with my time and not productive enough. If I was working, I felt bad for spending little time with my daughters; if I was playing with my daughters, I felt bad for not doing something "more useful", like cleaning or cooking... And the list went on forever, hope you get the idea.

But luckily a few years later, I´m not sure exactly when, at some point something clicked in my head, and I realized that guilt was not delivering any productive outcomes for me, in fact it was the opposite. That was when I consciously decided to stop feeding my own guilt.

White page with the words "not guilty" written on it, next to a judge's hammer seen from above

Both Spain and Ireland are countries with a very strong Catholic tradition, and the concept of guilt is deeply rooted in Catholicism (I suspect this is also true of other religions, in varying degrees, but Catholicism is the one I grew up in, so it´s the one I know first hand). Now we are about to begin Lent, and here in Ireland, it´s traditional to choose something to give up during these forty days; for example, many people give up eating sweets. I guess that explains the later tradition of stuffing oneself with chocolate on Easter Sunday, you should see the size of some of the Easter eggs 🙂

I remember that, shortly after moving to Ireland, I used to get surprised when they asked me "what are you giving up for Lent?". As it´s not something usually done in Spain, I didn´t know what to answer... Until one year, when the little lightbulb in my head suddenly lit up, and the answer appeared: Guilt! I´m giving up the feeling of unnecessary guilt.

What about you? What have you decided to give up?


Has it ever happened to you that, while you were worrying about a problem or a challenge that seemed unsurmountable, suddenly something else happened that completely changed your perspective and made you realize it wasn´t that bad?

Sometimes I remember the beginning of the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, a book of mostly nonsensical humour that I read many years ago (thanks Hernán for lending it to me), and of which I don´t remember much, except for a couple of details I thought were full of genius geeky wisdom🙂

The story begins with the main character arriving one day at his house, only to discover it´s about to be demolished to build a new highway. Apparently, a notice sign had been put up a few weeks before, but he hadn´t seen it, and as you can imagine, he gets very nervous; he starts shouting at the construction workers, trying with all his might to save his house from getting destroyed... But as it turns out, it doesn´t really matter, because then he finds out that the whole planet Earth is about to be destroyed, in order to build a new intergalactic highway (and there was also a warning sign that nobody had read!).

How often do we get obsessed with a specific thing as if our life depended on it, and it doesn´t occur to us to take a step back, change the way we look at it, and that way get to see the big picture?

Close up of a glass ball on a wooden log, showing a rocky landscape that we can also see out of focus in the background

Another good example, this time from real life, was the beginning of the pandemic: many of our worries from before March 2020 suddenly disappeared, as we realized that what was truly important at that time was being healthy and safe, and everything else was an additional luxury.

And I´m not saying that our previous worries were not valid, on the contrary: every single thing that happens to us generates certain thoughts and feelings, sometimes alongside physical symptoms, that we should process; we should pay attention and give them their space, because they´re here to tell us something, to deliver a warning, or maybe a teaching.

What I´m saying is that the importance of things is relative, and when we don´t have something big to worry about... Sometimes our tendency is to worry about something small as if it were big.

O a veces estamos tan metidos en la situación concreta que sea que nos cuesta verla con claridad, y como dice el dicho, “los árboles nos impiden ver el bosque”. Es entonces cuando mejor nos viene el buscar otra perspectiva, y hay muchas técnicas que nos pueden ayudar a conseguirlo, tanto en solitario como con ayuda de un amigo, o de un profesional.

Por ejemplo, cuando estemos atascados intentando tomar una decisión porque nos da miedo elegir mal, puede ser útil el recordarnos que, en esta vida, son realmente muy pocas las probabilidades de que una decisión nuestra provoque un daño irreversible e irreparable. La mayoría de las veces, tanto si sale “bien” como si sale “mal”, las consecuencias son perfectamente asumibles, así que podemos permitirnos decidir, actuar, y sobre todo aprender de los resultados.

Por cierto, lo de “bien” y “mal” lo pongo entre comillas porque como ya sabemos, todo es relativo… Salvo en the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, where they were able to find the ultimate specific answer to the Big Question on Life, the Universe, and Everything 🙂

Do what you can

It´s been a week already in 2023; we are slowly returning to normal life after the winter celebrations... And maybe the excitement we felt a few days ago, at the beginning of the year, is starting to fade away.

Aquellos planes que tanta ilusión nos hacían, aquellos propósitos, puede que ahora se nos hagan un poco cuesta arriba. De hecho, en España existe una expresión que no sé si la hay en otros países: “la cuesta de enero”. Se refiere a las dificultades que a veces tenemos para afrontar este mes, a menudo económicas (por haber gastado mucho durante las Navidades), pero yo diría que también emocionales, al haber acabado ya la época de celebraciones y haber vuelto a la rutina, el frío y la monotonía del invierno.

Wooden steps ascending through a rocky field, under a grey cloudy sky

Por lo visto hay mucha gente que ahora en enero se pone a planear sus siguientes vacaciones, para tener algo con que ilusionarse, o como se dice en inglés, “something to look forward to”. Ayer pasé por delante de una agencia de viajes, ¡y había cola! Me quedé alucinada.

What I'm trying to say is that this time of the year may feel a bit hard to us, especially if we have a goal or objective that still seems very far away and we don't feel that we're making enough progress.

I'm the first one currently in that situation: I have a few enhancements and other things planned for BinaryWords, and here I am, watching the days go by much faster than the progress I'm making with the project... In my opinion, as I've pointed out in the past, the key is finding a sustainable pace, which in my case translates to finding the balance between being patient with myself and giving myself a little kick. Resting and looking after my well-being, of course, as well as carving out time to do things I like, but also motivating myself even when I don't feel like it, and assigning reasonable tasks to myself every day or every week; otherwise, it's very easy for me to stay in my comfort zone and not move.

Speaking of, I´m happy to report that I have finally started a mailing list through Mailchimp. You can subscribe here to receive the weekly post in your email inbox, and get updates about new things coming up. If you´re already subscribed you don´t have to do anything, I´ll add you to the new list, and hopefully, you´ll start receiving emails in a slightly nicer format 🙂 And if you see any problems, please let me know so that I can fix them, I´m still learning (and I still need to investigate how to make the emails bilingual without having to write it all twice...)

Anyway, getting back to our topic, I encourage you to have patience with your goals and objectives for this year, especially during this month of January, and also to keep making progress at a pace that allows for your self-care but doesn´t allow you to make excuses 😉

And I´m finishing today with one of my favourite quotes of all times, which you can apply to any situation, including this one:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt


Today I'm writing this post from Dublin airport, I'm about to cross the pond to spend a couple of days with my American work colleagues.

Crossing the pond, interesting expression. It's one of the many metaphors we use every day.

Close up of a red flower floating on the surface of a pond

Según el diccionario de la Real Academia de la Lengua, una de las definiciones de metáfora es la “aplicación de una palabra o de una expresión a un objeto o a un concepto, al cual no denota literalmente, con el fin de sugerir una comparación (con otro objeto o concepto) y facilitar su comprensión”. Dicho así puede parecer un poco complicado, pero lo cierto es que nos pasamos el día utilizando metáforas, muchas veces sin darnos cuenta de que lo son, por ejemplo…

  • Me encontraba entre la espada y la pared
  • He was kicked out of there
  • I'm starving

And so many others.

Las metáforas nos ayudan a explicar situaciones de la vida de una manera fácil de entender, y no sólo funcionan hacia afuera, cuando hablamos con los demás, sino también hacia adentro, en nuestro diálogo interno. A veces nos resulta más fácil conectar con una emoción cuando “le damos forma” a través de una metáfora, e incluso podemos hasta dibujarla, si eso ayuda 🙂

And when we're facing a problem or a difficult situation, playing with metaphors can help us a lot in terms of changing perspective and looking for alternatives. For example, if a person is feeling that every time they try a particular thing they bang their head against a wall, they may even visualize that wall in their mind when they think in whatever it is they want to try, and get blocked. Following along with the metaphor, we could ask, where is that wall? What is it made of? How high is it? And what's behind it? In which other way could you get there? And then maybe this way, exploring ways to jump over the wall, or go around it, or even break it, this person may come to a realization and find solutions that they wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

También es muy interesante plantearnos metáforas al reflexionar sobre algún aspecto de nuestra vida, o de nuestro trabajo. Esto es algo que se hace a menudo en las metodologías Agile, en las retrospectivas de equipo: “si nuestras dos últimas semanas hubieran sido una película, ¿qué película sería, y por qué?” Una vez que añadimos ese toque de creatividad y humor a la conversación, es soprendente todo lo que puede sair de ahí.

So this week I'm proposing two things for you to do this week, if you feel like it: one is to listen with extra attention to see how many metaphors you find around you, and the other one is to find your own metaphor: if today you were a colour, which colour would you be?


It´s already mid-October, and Halloween costumes and decorations are everywhere in the shops these days.

I can´t say Halloween is my favourite time of the year. As I said last year, I don´t like scary things, not even a little bit.

Child hiding in a fort made of sofa cushions

Siempre me ha parecido curioso el que haya gente que disfrute viendo películas de terror y esas cosas; me imagino que en parte será porque el miedo que se pasa es “de mentiras”, es decir, que se sabe que es una historia inventada, no la realidad.

¿Pero que pasa cuando el miedo es “de verdad”? What is fear, how does it appear, and what´s its purpose?

Fear is one of the emotions that are recognized as universal, that is, all human beings experiment it since birth. We also share this emotion with the animal kingdom, and as you can imagine, it´s very closely related to our survival instinct.

Every emotion is an indicator, an alert sent by our brain to let us know that something important is happening, and each emotion brings us a different message. In the case of fear in particular, the message talks to us about danger, about a situation that can threaten our safety; that´s why our body reacts by staying still and sharpening its senses, to get ready to face the danger.

But the most interesting thing of it all is that our brain can´t distinguish a real threat from an imaginary one, and on top of that, when faced with an unknown situation and lacking information, it also thinks that there may be a danger, and sets off the alarm just in case. Es su manera de decirnos “más allá de aquí ya no te puedo proteger, porque no sé lo que hay”. Aparece de esta forma el miedo a lo desconocido, que tanto nos dificulta el salir de nuestra zona de confort.

Of course, fear is a tremendously useful emotion when there´s a real danger: thanks to its warning we can get to safety. But, what about situations when it shows up for other reasons, for example when faced with an important decision and worrying about the consequences, or in an uncertain situation that reaches out into the unknown? Here are a few suggestions:

  • First of all, stop fearing fear itself 🙂 It´s nothing but a messenger, an emotion that may feel a bit uncomfortable, but is here to help us.
  • Dare to dig a little deeper into that fear and discover the reason that brought it here: what is it trying to protect us from? What´s the danger in this case? And to what extent is it really a danger?
  • Use that information to make a more conscious decision: what´s hiding behind that fear? What´s the worst that can happen if you go ahead? And the best?

Interesting topic, this of fear, right? Just to finish, I´d like to mention two books on this topic that I think are very cool:

  • “Aunque tenga miedo, hágalo igual”, by Susan Jeffers - it´s based on the idea that our deepest fear is not being able to face whatever happens to us in life, but in reality, we humans are extraordinarily capable of adapting, and overcoming all kinds of situations. By practicing going ahead despite feeling fear, we gain confidence and get ready to face bigger and bigger challenges.
  • “Yes, yes, hell no! The little book for making big decisions”, by Brian Whetten - this one I have to confess I haven´t read yet, but I love its premise: when presented with an important decision to make, we can first ask reason, then intuition, and lastly, fear, and if the first two say yes and fear is the one saying no… Then the answer is a yes 🙂