From Rachel Hollis’s new book Girl, Stop Apologizing to Maja Jovanovic’s Hey Ladies, Stop Apologizing and Other Career Mistakes Women Make, there is an effort underway to encourage women and girls to stop saying sorry so often.
I find that in certain situations, we do apologize when we shouldn’t have to, either out of politeness or because we’re uncomfortable with being assertive.
But while I am often too quick to say “I’m sorry” out of habit, when it comes to the things I really feel bad about — when I really am in the wrong — I’m only now, at age 42, learning to apologize. And now that I’ve started, I can’t stop.
It all started with my 10-year-old son, who is seemingly incapable of admitting he is wrong and apologizing. At first, this behaviour frustrated me. But soon I came to realize that I wasn’t so different. I began to consider all the times I wish I had admitted I was sorry. For yelling and snapping at my family, for being late to a meeting. For being so wrapped up in my own life that I wasn’t there for a friend when she needed me. How could I teach my son to apologize when I couldn’t do it myself?
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My reluctance had a lot to do with shame. Saying sorry when you’re in the wrong requires you to acknowledge that you’re not perfect, and that means admitting to your own shortcomings. As I began apologizing, I became more aware of all the times I could have been more generous, with my time and with my heart.
It was a relief to finally admit that to myself — to say that I hadn’t actually been right all along, that I had actually been a jerk. It meant I no longer had to justify my side of the story, even to myself. And then, when I started admitting I was wrong to others? Well, that was just plain addictive.
I started reaching out, writing letters and Facebook messages. Some apologies were well received; others not so much. I didn’t let it dissuade me. Everyone’s on their own journey at their own pace and not everyone’s ready to say sorry or forgive. But that’s okay. I am, and I am loving it.
You see, by opening myself up to forgiveness from others, I am also forgiving myself. And that means I’m giving myself a chance to do better, and to be better.
Of course, women should speak up and be assertive without apology. But if we think holding back on saying sorry when we’ve done something wrong or hurtful is going to make the world a better place, or make us look more successful, we’re missing the point.
All this apologizing has taught me that being a strong, confident person isn’t about refusing to apologize. It’s about owning up to our mistakes, loving ourselves even when we’re not perfect, and giving others the chance to do the same.
This story first appeared in the November 2019 issue of Broadview with the title “Saying sorry.”
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