I’m a recovering apologizer. I didn’t realize it until someone pointed it out to me, but I used to apologize constantly. I’d apologize if the barista messed up my drink and had to remake it. I apologized if a client ran over their allotted time. I apologized as a way to make sure that there was no misunderstanding about who I was: a kind woman.
Not to be mistaken for one of those uber aggressive, domineering and often off-putting in the workplace women.
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My best friend’s other best friend pointed out this flaw to me right around the time I turned 30. We had just met in New York City and spent some time together. She was one of those women who carried a cool confidence-a revered lawyer, quick-witted, tell it like it is, beautiful, kind, interesting and a great friend. One day she turned to me, soon after we met, and said, “Why do you apologize all the time?”
The first words that wanted to flow out of my mouth were, “I’m sorry.” The irony is not lost on me. How could I have gone almost 30 years on the planet without noticing this about myself? And if she was bold enough to point it out, how many other people have I annoyed or bothered over the years with this trait?
I knew I had to quit apologizing. This was a trained habit, though. My entire life was spent saying I’m sorry. I realized I did this most often at the worst place to do it – at work. The plethora of sorrys, that I hoped would convey that I wasn’t aggressive, were hurting how people saw me in the office. It dawned on me that when I would apologize unnecessarily, and too often, it would give off this nervous energy. That energy was a neatly wrapped package of low confidence. All the while I thought I was showing the world my kindness. I was actually showcasing how I wasn’t sure if I felt like I belonged there.
This brought me to my next conclusion-I didn’t think I belonged. I was apologizing for my presence, just in case it wasn’t enough. This is fundamentally ridiculous. I went to a great college, I have wonderful relationships with my previous bosses and I am good at my job. Of course, I belonged. Yet there I was, at thirty years old, feeling the need to apologize for myself. And maybe in some way, I was apologizing for overcoming years of female oppression, coming out of the kitchen and showing up to the workplace capable of doing any job a man can do.
I stopped apologizing for anything that didn’t involve me directly hurting someone else’s feelings. What I found was this eliminated about ninety-five percent of my apologies.
I stepped into an attitude of gratitude. Instead of apologizing to someone for having to fix work they messed up, I would thank them for their hard work. Instead of apologizing to a client for overstepping their billable hours, I would thank them for understanding they’d have to be billed more this month due to the extra work.
I talked to a woman who owns two businesses. We touched on this topic briefly, and she mentioned a phrase her grandfather used to use, “Don’t be afraid to take up space.” This was what I needed to hear. To every woman out there: take up space. You earned that space.
The more we show up to work (and life) without apologizing for our presence, the better off we will be. If all women pull up a chair and sit in their confidence, there will be no doubt that we belong there. I know I belong. So do you. Let’s not apologize for it.
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