Boastful or Blessed?

Handling the guilt of success during hard times

BUSSucessWomanOne person’s success can be another’s resentment.

“I sent an announcement to my e-mail group when I got a raise, and one girl asked me not to share when some members didn’t have jobs,” recalls Brittany Miller, whose first raise of the year during this recessionary period nearly ended some of her relationships.  “She said I was being ‘too boastful.’”

Hurt and confused, Miller, who lives and works in the Washington, D.C. area as a finance specialist with a leading communications company, retreated from the group altogether and kept further successes to herself. But surprisingly, the 24-year-old isn’t the only one feeling the pinch.

A recent study from Leadership IQ, a research company in Marietta, Georgia, polled more than 4,000 people who have kept their jobs after corporate cutbacks and found that 62% of them feel guilty, anxious, and angry following company layoffs. “When you are affluent while so many are not, you might feel guilty that you’re not suffering the way everyone else is,” says Alduan Tartt, a psychologist in Decatur, Georgia. “But you worked hard for your success. You should feel blessed that you’re in a position to help.”

Though your first instinct may be to pull away, Tartt says that the best way to allay your guilt is to reach out to your loved ones. “Guilt is caused by a lack of a sense of power. But you do have power,” he says. “You have the power to help [others] by reviewing resumes, introducing them to people in your network, inviting them with you to networking events, and brainstorming with them.”

Tartt also says it’s important to comfort those who have lost their jobs. “When friends are let go, contact them immediately, set up lunch dates, and help them think about what their next move is going to be. Remember: Friends don’t want your guilt, they want your support.”

That’s advice Miller is now following. She’s reconnecting with her friends and even returned to the e-mail group, where she critiques résumés and posts job listings. In the end, Miller offers her own advice: “It’s okay to feel good about yourself and at the same time feel bad for others. Just don’t allow guilt to take over your happiness.”

For more information on managing your relationships during these tough times, check out the October 2009 issue of Black Enterprise.

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  • http://www.rgcsolutions.com Angel Nix

    “Survivors Syndrome” is a real life concept experienced by those that keep their jobs after layoffs occur. Within an organization, the survivors are not only feeling guilt but they are often hit with heavier workloads and more demanding schedules. Many survivors also work with the stress and the fear that they will be in the next cycle of layoffs. They are viewed as “the fortunate ones” but they need support and encouragement too. This is a difficult time on both sides of the coin therefore unity is critical moving forward.

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