Shortly before the pandemic arrived, boss bitch Amy Maniscalco wrote a piece for Medium called 6 Phrases to Replace "I'm Sorry." In it, she introduces "strong replacements for the meaningless apologies that do nothing but diminish the value of your time, your words, and ultimately your worth." I immediately bookmarked the article, sent it to five friends, and began to incorporate those replacement phrases in my daily life.
Perhaps because it was on my mind, I became aware of how often those two words were blurted for non-apologetic reasons. I listened for it in public and in the workplace. I noticed, too, when my coaching clients would apologize to me:
I'm sorry I'm talking so much.
I'm sorry I'm crying.
I'm sorry I'm laughing.
I'm sorry I didn't do my thought exercises.
I'm sorry to cut you off, but I just had a thought!
Many variations of these phrases are fueled by insecurity, fear, embarrassment, and shame. My gut reaction was to respond with "You have nothing to be sorry for," but that would have / could have elicited more apologies. "Why are you apologizing?" is also a terrible response. (For the record, "I love it, keep going" is where I've landed.)
For so many years, female-identifying and femme professionals have been socialized to downplay their opinions, to be polite and "nice" and avoid ruffling feathers. When we step outside of that minimizing world we're seen as punching up and acting #nasty or difficult, among other things. "It's cute that you're speaking up, but not the right kind of cute*." So, be quiet and smile, and make sure everyone else is comfortable and having a good time. But as Angeline Evans states on The Muse, "it’s important to recognize that not everything is your burden to bear." Bottom line: You have nothing to apologize for.
Words mean things, and you shouldn't have to feel like you need to apologize for using your Voice. The sorrys "make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence," writes TED writer Daniella Balarezo. If we've gotten into the habit of saying sorry for little, trivial things, is the impact of those two words diminished when something worth apologizing for comes along?
I'm done apologizing for being who I am and for the true things I say. I will own my mistakes and my missteps in a way that matches the size of the grievance. But here's the thing: you never, ever have to apologize to me for being your badass self. Ever. And I'm not sorry for that.
* A colleague actually said this to me once, and I immediately responded with, "I'm sorry" and awkwardly clammed up because I couldn't retrace my train of thought. I was also so astounded by that comment spoken in the workplace that I was left gobsmacked. This is a memory that really sticks with me. WTF was I sorry for? For using my subject-matter-expertise to press on an issue that sounded hinky? For not being the right kind of cute? It's a big regret that I didn't stand up for myself with a strong recovery in the moment, but it should never have happened in the first place. Once I had my head back on, I took appropriate action with HR. But I digress....
Several years ago, I was a civil servant. I first landed a government job not because I was particularly driven to the mission of the agency I was hired into-- it has a good, noble, important mission-- but because I needed A Job after being unemployed for three months (more on this in a later post).
Most mornings after my alarm sounded and I started to get myself assembled for the day, I'd open the closet door, sit on the floor and gaze at my options. Usually, I'd grab my phone or, once I was senior enough, my government-issued Blackberry (TM) and check out what I had on the books for the day. And then I'd think, "who do I need to be today?"