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.

Hiciera lo que hiciera, me sentía culpable por no hacerlo lo suficientemente bien, o por ser poco productiva y malgastar mi tiempo. Si estaba trabajando, me sentía mal por pasar poco tiempo con mis hijas; si estaba jugando con mis hijas, me sentía mal por no estar haciendo algo «más útil», como limpiar o cocinar… Y así, la lista seguía hasta el infinito, espero que se entienda la 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

Tanto España como Irlanda son países de tradición muy católica, y el concepto de culpa está muy enraizado en el catolicismo (sospecho que en otras religiones también, en mayor o menor medida, pero el catolicismo es la religión con la que me crié, y la que conozco de primera mano). Ahora estamos a punto de empezar la Cuaresma, y en Irlanda es típico elegir algo a lo que renunciar durante estos cuarenta días; por ejemplo, hay mucha gente que renuncia a los dulces. Supongo que de ahí viene luego la costumbre de atiborrarse de chocolate por Pascua de Resurrección, tendríais que ver el tamaño de los «Easter eggs» 🙂

Recuerdo que al poco de mudarme a Irlanda me sorprendía cuando me preguntaban: «¿y tú a qué vas a renunciar esta Cuaresma?» Como en España eso no es costumbre, no se me ocurría qué contestar… Hasta que un año se me encendió la bombillita y apareció en mi cabeza la respuesta: ¡A la culpa! Renuncio a sentirme culpable inútilmente.

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.

Or sometimes we´re so deeply involved in a specific situation that we find it difficult to see it clearly, and as the saying goes, "we can´t see the forest for the trees". That´s when we can benefit most from seeking a different perspective, and a variety of techniques can help us with that, either working individually or with help from a friend, or a professional.

For example, when we´re stuck trying to make a decision for fear of choosing wrong, it may be useful to remind ourselves that in this life, the probabilities of a decision of ours causing irreversible and irreparable damage are very slim. In the majority of cases, regardless of the outcome being "good" or "bad", the consequences are perfectly tolerable, so we can afford to decide, take action, and above all, learn from our results.

By the way, I´m writing "good" or "bad" with quotation marks because as we already know, everything is relative... Except in 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.

All those plans we were so excited about, all those new year's resolutions, may feel a bit uphill to us right now... In fact, in Spain there's a saying, I'm not sure if it exists in other countries: "la cuesta de enero" (January's "hill" - the word "cuesta" refers to both "hill" and something that's difficult, costly). It alludes to the difficulties we face sometimes during this month, often in terms of money (after spending a lot at Christmas), but I would say also emotionally, given that celebration time is now over and we return to the cold and monotonous winter time.

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

Apparently, January is the month when many people start planning their next holiday, in order to have something to look forward to. Yesterday I happened to walk by a travel agency, and was really surprised by the queue of customers!

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

According to Wordreference, one of the definitions of metaphor is a "Rhetorical way of describing another object or thing by suggesting a comparison of it to something else, but without using the word 'like'' or 'as''". Explained like this, it may seem a bit complicated, but the truth is that we use metaphors all day long, very often without noticing that they are, for example...

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

And so many others.

Metaphors help us to explain life situations in a way that's easy to understand, and they don't only work outwards, when we speak with others, they also work inwards, in our inner dialogue. Sometimes we find it easier to connect with an emotion when we "give it a shape" through a metaphor, and that way we can even draw it, if it helps 🙂

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.

Metaphors are also very interesting to think of when reflecting on some aspect of our life, or our work. This is often done in Agile methodologies, as part of team retrospectives: "if our last two weeks had been a movie, which movie would it be, and why?" Once we add that touch of creativity and humour to the conversation, it's amazing how much can come out of there.

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

I always wondered about the people who actually enjoy watching horror movies and things like that; I guess part of the fun is because it´s “fake” fear, I mean, it´s clear that it´s a made-up story, not reality.

But what happens when our fear is not fake? 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. It´s our brain´s way to say "I can´t protect you beyond this point, because I don´t know what´s out there". This is how our fear of the unknown appears, making it so difficult for us to get out of our comfort zone.

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:

  • “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, 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 🙂