Don't Beat Yourself Up Over Self-Directed Work

The biggest lesson I learnt from writing a book was to stop beating myself up over my work.

I’ve touched on this before, in a post titled In An Age of Knowledge Work, Emotional Regulation is a Superpower. I wrote, then:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Something interesting about this.

So, I still use the mantra that I took from Amy Hoy:

“The work is the work. It is not more nor less than the work. It just is.

“You are not morally superior for doing the work, and you are not a moral failure if you fail to do what you set out to do. All the work is is that it’s something that will give you a set of preferred outcomes if you do it. If you work on the book (or the side project, or record the podcast, or do the design brief), that work will obtain for you a certain set of desirable outcomes. If you don’t do the work, you will not have those outcomes.

“That’s all there is to it.”

And the good news is that I’ve not fallen into ‘blame-spirals’ that have affected my overall effectiveness.

But I’m now wondering if I’m going too easy on myself these days, and I wonder if I’m not pushing myself hard enough.

I don’t have a good answer right now, and I know finding a balance between ‘keeping yourself accountable’ and ‘not blaming yourself until it affects your personal effectiveness’ is really, really difficult.

I’ll be happy to hear suggestions, for those of you who’ve managed to find a balance. What’s worked for you?

I really enjoyed the Emotional Regulation as Superpower article. I think it was published before I started reading so I’m glad for the repost/revisit. It closely aligns with some of my thoughts.

For context, I’m in Product Management. It’s been a mixed bag: I came into the role from Analytics, where I felt really strong, really confident, and really capable. With Product, it’s so undefined that I had a really tough time characterizing it in all its many forms and permutations (e.g. PM can differ by company size, company stage, industry, Product type, C-suite definition of “Product”, etc etc).

I ended up taking some time in between roles during this COVID time and did some writing. I’ll copy/paste with light editing here:

To be a PM, you need to be able to understand and regulate your own emotions along with those of others

This is not unique to Product Management: at a certain level (usually management, but sometimes before), you will need to be able to grok and traverse other peoples’ emotions. Up until this point, you are relatively exempted from any deficiency or weakness in handling disagreement and the emotions that inevitably come with it:

  • As an IC, conflicts can be mediated by seniors or managers
  • As a young person, conflicts can be chalked up to inexperience (e.g. “terrible twos”)

However, at a certain point, your inability to understand when somebody has been hurt, or your indifference to the concepts of intent vs. impact become toxic to your team, and depending on your level, your org and company

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This trick helps me to break out of my own self-flagellating perspective:

What would I say to my best friend if they were going through this?

Replace with younger sibling/parent/partner, whichever is most effective in shocking you into the realization of the unkind words you’re treating yourself with.


I LOVE this.

This matches my experience, for what it’s worth. The way I used to express this to fellow managers (when something terribly bad happened in our org) is “Well, we’re the shit umbrellas. Our job is to take the shit so those underneath us won’t have to.”

I don’t think I ever explicitly thought about the importance of emotional regulation the higher up you get, but you’re absolutely right. It becomes more of a thing the further you rise.