What I learnt from a homeless person about putting my needs first

I had been stressing about my job and it’s never ending issues since the year started. It seemed a very great opportunity when I interviewed. I was going to get to work in a retail corporate environment and get to use my background in process improvement and also get to learn a lot about functioning of retail, marketing, sales. It seemed like an MBA on the job, and for the most part I truly enjoyed it. But there were some basic decisions that were made that were not agreeable to me. This was causing a lot of stress.

When I looked at my children , I wondered if the experience I was getting was worth it for me the stress and the sacrifice of giving up all of this precious time with my kids..

For the longest time, I dreamt of doing something on my own – starting my own business that gave me the ability to prioritize my home and my children.

A big question was bouncing on my head : Then why on earth was I struggling to quit my job so that I could better my life and those around me?

Then, one day when as I was driving to work, I stopped at a traffic light. A homeless man was holding a sign , ” Homeless, Any help will do. Hungry!”

I had Cliff cereal bars in my car and I took one and handed it out to him. He took it in his hand and looked at me with huge disappointment. He handed me the cereal bar back and said, ” I cannot eat this crap.”

I was shocked. It was a chocolate brownie flavored bar, the kind that my kids ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner!! A homeless man who did not know what life was going to bring him next, who did not know where his meal was coming from , rejected a healthy meal in his hand. At first, I was a bit angry about this situation. “How dare he?”, I thought! But then I took a deep breath.

Even though life had brought him to a stage of homelessness, he knew what he wanted for his body, he was very sure of his needs and did not waste time in rejecting anything that was not right for him. (His needs could possibly have been proper food, money, clothes for interview, another drink, a drug or something else, but I did not have the time to find as the traffic signal turned green)

As I kept thinking more about him on my remaining drive to work, I realized that he was not for one moment afraid of me judging him as a homeless person who rejects food.

He was not for one minute afraid of being hungry forever.

The answer to my question came to me

Two words : Mommy Guilt

Why was I afraid to take a break and spend time with family? After all, there are so many people on this earth who need to work and cannot afford the lifestyle I live without working hard. How can I be so selfish?

I was afraid to take a break, not earn, and spend our money

I was afraid people were going to judge me all the time and say she is “wasting” her education/degree.

I was afraid I was going to be a bad housewife. A good housewife has to do tons of these things in a day that I was not sure I am capable of

Here is the twist.

When I was working full time, I was filled with guilt as well.

I was afraid my kids were going to hate me because I did not spend enough time with them

I was afraid that they were going to grow up and I was going to miss a huge amount of time to see them blossom into two young gentlemen

I really wanted to stop working completely for someone else but I realized:

I was feeling guilty for the possibility of not earning my share

I was feeling afraid of losing my “identity”

I was afraid that I would lose my career and fail at trying to make my dreams come true.)

So still too guilty to go all the way, I asked for a part time work from home position. In theory it seemed like a happy medium but in reality the struggle with guilt only became stronger

When I was home working, I would struggle with guilt, thinking about all the laundry that needed to be done.

When I was working at home, every time I looked around all I could see was clutter in the house

When I was working at home, it reminded me that I should instead play with my child.

When I was playing with my child, I felt guilty because my projects were yet to be completed

When I was doing the laundry, I thought of cooking food.

When I was cooking food, I thought of having a bath finally……

In all this overwhelm, I was feeling guilty about having no time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life
That day something clicked in my mind for the first time. I wanted more from life, but I was not listening to myself closely enough. I kept filling myself with guilt after guilt of choosing things that were not in my favor.

I went to work because I studied to become an engineer (that is what most Indians study for) and it made more sense without listening to my heart and passion.

I chose part-time work instead of quitting completely so I would have the “best of both worlds,” in the eyes of society.  In theory, it was supposed to enable me to spend more time with my kids and also think more about my passion. Sure, it sounded good, but in reality, I was overwhelmed with guilt during the moments spent with my kids and wasn’t spending anytime focusing on my passion.

I always tried to do what sounded “right” and not what fit me and my priorities the best.

I was running away from what I truly wanted. I wanted to listen to my heart more closely and work on my own heart’s desires.

I wanted to stay home and take care of my two beautiful boys and give them more time.

I wanted to spend my time on my own terms by finding my passion and pursuing it.

I wanted things beyond what a normal 8 to 5 (sometimes night shifts, sometimes weekend work, sometimes 60 plus hours a week) could offer.

After this incident, I knew exactly how I was getting rid of my guilt.

I knew exactly how I was going to prioritize myself and my needs instead of thinking about what society preferred.

I quit my job that day. I felt very very happy about quitting and still do.

For once in my life, I felt like the homeless man with no prospects but a life free of guilt.

So what do you take from this story?

No, I am NOT telling you to go Quit your job right now! I am not telling you to hate hard work. In fact, I would never say that.  I am a total workaholic.

All I am suggesting is listen carefully to the beat of your heart and follow your dreams. And don’t kill yourself with guilt. Really, DON’T!

And if you don’t mind, please share with me what your heart truly desires and what is stopping you from achieving your dreams in the comments below.

Are you overwhelmed with guilt no matter what you do? Do you feel like you are not a good enough mother? Are you stressed out thinking about kids at work and about work when at home?


  1. Self talk can be crazy sometimes – ‘so-and-so tragedy happened in so-and-so part of the world, is it okay that I’m going to eat ice cream?’ I make a deliberate attempt to address underlying guilt feelings when I have trouble putting my needs first.

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