Am I Living Up to My Full Potential?
Guilt is an unpleasant feeling. This feeling is the result of believing that you are not living in the way that you believe that you should. The cause of your guilt is often clear and you can simply resolve it by correcting whatever wrongdoing you did to cause the guilt. Sometimes the source of your guilt is not clear. There can be several reasons for this. One explanation is that you can sometimes be too critical of yourself. It is possible that you judge yourself harshly for mistakes that have harmed no one and yet you hold your self accountable. The solution to this form of guilt is learning to judge your actions fairly and forgive yourself for the small, every day mistakes that you make.
There is a third form of guilt that I want to bring to your attention today. This form of guilt is called existential guilt. The exact source of this guilt can be difficult to detect because the person that we have wronged is ourselves. We all have unfulfilled goals in our lives. We can choose to pursue or ignore these goals that we dream of reaching “someday.” Deep down we know our own capabilities and what we can accomplish with enough effort. This makes incomplete life goals difficult to ignore. Deep inside we know that we are not reaching our highest potential. Dr. Irvin Yalom describes this situation brilliantly “existential guilt… issues from omission… what [we] have not done with [our] lives.” The purpose of existential guilt is to warn us that we are not living in a way that will be satisfying in the long run. If we do not change our approach to life then the risk of regretting what we might have done differently can become very real for us. If you notice that you have been experiencing feelings of guilt, regret, or remorse but can’t understand why, it might be helpful to ask yourself what your goals and desires are and if you are really working to reach them. This can be an excellent way to begin moving towards a more satisfying way of living.