This time last year, I was hot off a coaching certification class, supporting coaching clients, in the final weeks leading up to a huge project deadline at my day job, mentoring a student director on a musical, in pre-production for my next stage play, making plans for my partner's upcoming birthday, and recovering from shingles (this is not a blog post about shingles).
I was expecting a pause in my schedule as pandemic numbers grew increasingly worrisome and closer to home. I was expecting 90 days of uncertainty. I had no idea how my world would change. None of us really, practically, understood the Experience that would become 2020.
And here we are, one year later. To say I've learned a lot about myself, my relationships, and my community would be a lame understatement. My life and my livelihood simply changed, full-stop. While I miss parts of the world from before, I'm anxious to see what's emerging: the old tactics are not going to apply in this newer world. Opportunities abound. We're all in the funknown now.
I'm feeling oddly reflective. With the privilege of hindsight I'm struck by those little things that hit me hardest over this last year; lessons I may not have otherwise experienced:
Those are the big three. Sure, I could talk about the exhilarating, terrifying experience of blowing up my day job to create the type of work life I wanted. I could extol the virtues of yoga pants and lounge bras; of not wearing high heels and makeup. Of protesting and Go Funding and learning and unlearning; of panic for the world and grief for the unnecessary loss of so many people. I'm sure you could, too.
But I'm curious: what has stuck with you? What lessons have you learned about yourself? What takeaways do you come back to when you reflect back on this year?
At its core, Dr. Sims offered a casual-but-huge takeaway about mitigating uncertainties at decision points: choose you. Yes, assess the benefits and the risks, the costs and consequences, but honor yourself. Those two simple words have stuck with me for seven months, at the front of my mind and on the tip of my tongue.
Of course I choose me, don't I? Sure. Yes. Mostly. Often. The more I thought about choosing myself, the more my certainty about actually doing it faltered:
A second list, choosing-for-me, bubbled up radiant moments when I let go of what I thought or imagined were exterior expectations and said yes to my instincts, my needs and my wants:
I spend gads of time with clients unpacking why they can't or shouldn't do things.
"They expect something else from me."
"What if I disappoint them."
"I don't want to seem selfish."
All valid, selfless reasons to avoid social discomfort. And when we talk about the cost of those decisions, I always, always think about a life on the high seas and ask, "what happens if you choose you?"
Give that a think.
Then give it a try.
Then let me know what that does for you.
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....