Sorry, I'm Not Sorry About This

 Photo by  Matthew Henry  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Someone I love dearly prefaces or ends basically everything she says with, "sorry." She is the most loving, kind, and generous person in the world, and she's sorry about it.

"I'm so sorry, but can I please have a glass of water?" What? Yes, get a cup. We are not rationing our water here. 

"I put your sweatshirt on your bed, is that ok? Oh my gosh, I'm sorry if it's not."

"I breathed air. Holy moly, I'm so sorry."

On and on. It's not just her. I notice that a lot of people in my cohort, women in particular, but some men too, are apologetic about being alive and having human needs. I used to be this way too.

I first noticed how apologetic I was when I moved to Colorado and worked at a start up in Boulder. I met a friend there, who was also from the Midwest and who also apologized incessantly. Obviously, we became friends and bonded over being sorry. We both noticed that we each apologized like crazy, and we assumed it was a Midwest politeness thing (at this point, I'm sure that that's not entirely the case). I jokingly called it an Apology Cyclone because we would ask each other questions and apologize about talking for too long about ourselves. Without noticing it, she and I would spend a good portion of the conversation apologizing to one another for basically nothing. Hence, an Apology Cyclone.

The trouble I have with being so apologetic all of the time for no good reason is that it screams, "I'm not deserving of expressing, let alone attaining, my wants and needs, having opinions, or taking up any space, so I need to apologize to show you that I know this and will keep myself small and out of the way." Being preemptively sorry about existing is exhausting and will bring people into your life who agree that you should constantly be sorry about existing.

Throwing around the word "sorry" like it's your job is signals to the world that your wants, needs, and opinions are unimportant. It might be hard to hear, but it also indicates that your standards are low and that you're willing to accept less than you deserve - people in your life will then treat you accordingly and you'll essentially prove yourself right. Long term, it's a recipe for victimhood and even martyrdom. It tells the world, "I'm sorry for being myself." Which, over time, will absolutely morph into, "I feel sorry for myself because I'm myself."

Obviously, apologies can be important and sometimes your behavior warrants apologies. I'm not saying that admitting fault and apologizing when it's clear that's the answer is a problem. It's when requests, needs, and benign behaviors are cushioned by apologies on every side that the real apologies just become worthless. When you apologize for everything, your real apologies become empty. When you can't tell which behaviors are cause for an apology, you tell the world that you're preemptively afraid of their reaction to everything you do.

It's not polite of you to hedge your bets and play apology roulette. It also doesn't make you an asshole to speak up for your wants, needs, and yourself without apologizing. Conversely, apologizing like crazy doesn't excuse your poor behavior or somehow make you more polite. Additionally, apologizing when it's unnecessary can be pretty self-absorbed, because you're spending more time and effort thinking about your behavior and feelings about your behavior than you are watching people's reactions to your behaviors. If someone is negatively affected by what you're doing or saying, you'll be able to see that on their face or hear it in their voice and you can reconcile and apologize accordingly. If you watch someone's face and they're negatively unaffected by your behavior, your apologizing can be confusing for that person because you've done nothing for which to apologize. If you were paying attention to their reactions to your behavior instead of your own feelings about your behavior, you'd stop apologizing so damn much.

I think it's important to assess what you apologize for in your day to day, because chances are good that you don't even realize how often you say "sorry." Personally, I noticed that I was saying "sorry" a lot when I meant, "excuse me" or "pardon me." Although "sorry" might just be a colloquial or less formal way to convey "excuse me" or "pardon me," I think that there's a momentum effect and a connotation to using "sorry" in their place. Sorry implies that you're being a burden by expressing yourself. Words and their meanings are important to how we think and feel about the world around us.

Being apologetic about the small stuff in your life means that you are also apologetic about your wants, needs, likes, dislikes, goals, and the bigger picture of your life. When this is the case, there's no way that you'll make progress towards your big picture. If you're sorry for existing and taking up space, then you certainly won't pull a seat up to the table of your life. You definitely won't put your work out into the world. You definitely won't ask for a raise. You definitely won't speak up when you're being treated poorly.

And you definitely will not show up for yourself when you deserve an apology.  

You are allowed to be unapologetic about your needs. You are allowed to be unapologetic about your long term goals. You are allowed to be unapologetic about your wants. People will respect you for having a clear picture in your head of the life you want and for getting after it. There is no need to apologize for a life well lived. 

Want a quick an easy way to see if you're apologizing for nonsense? Try something new with a trainer, coach, or teacher -- like a musical instrument, new type of exercise, or a hands on & active class / workshop. As you learn something new, you're bound to mess up. Do you apologize when you do?