I recently spent the weekend with close friends from high school. Three women who remember when I was in the Church, and saw me go through leaving the Church. Who actually helped hold me together during that journey (while we listened to bad 80s music, watched Woody Allen movies, made stupid jokes, ate peanut butter out of the jar, and hung out in Greenwich Village on the weekends).
Needless to say, we know each other pretty well.
The last time I’d been with them, I noticed (in them) a habit I decided they needed to stop. Too often, for little to no reason, “I’m sorry” would escape my friends’ lips. Now, apologies are a great social construct, and caring for others – and expressing that care – is glue that holds us together. But the “I’m sorry’s” I heard weren’t worth apologizing for. “I’m sorry I’m late” – when it wasn’t her fault. “I’m sorry there are extra steps here” – did she build them? Or request them? “I’m sorry I moved your book” – when we were clearing the table to eat. Really??
There were simply too many “I’m sorry’s.” As a leadership coach I notice that too many people say too many “I’m sorry’s.” Especially women. There’s too much apologizing for things that aren’t our fault, or that we shouldn’t be apologizing for in the first place. And all this apologizing sells us short, and lessens our impact and power.
So I decided it had to stop.
I came up with a plan, and explained it to my friends. I would cure them of this nasty habit, I was sure.
I suggested a new rule for our weekends together. Each time someone said “I’m sorry,” they had to counteract that diminishment of themselves by then sharing something positive about themselves. Not only would I single-handedly cure my friends of saying “I’m sorry” too often, but I’d get them to own, and share, the great things about them as well! I was great! No wonder I was such a good coach.
Well, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the weekend we were together, the weekend that “I’m sorry” was verboten, was a rude awakening for me. Guess who said “I’m sorry” the most that weekend? I had noticed something in my friends’ behavior that I had to change in myself.
Luckily for me, I teach owning and sharing one’s strengths, so I’ve practiced owning and sharing my strengths. The first ones rolled off my tongue rather easily. “I’m a good mother,” I offered. “I’m a good friend.” “I have a good – albeit weird – sense of humor.” “I’m strong.”
My “I’m sorry’s” didn’t stop though, and I began to run out of good qualities to list. Or at least to feel more and more uncomfortable about listing them. Even for me, it got tired.
Again, I know that a heartfelt “I’m sorry” can save situations, relationships, and maybe – at a stretch – the world. But I also know that many of us use it way too often, and in ways that sabotage ourselves. I realized that I, for one, still do.
So do yourself a favor. Challenge yourself to stop saying “I’m sorry” unless it’s really appropriate. Challenge yourself to tell someone something great about yourself if you do say, “I’m sorry.” It should cure you pretty quickly.
And I’m sorry if you don’t agree. ☺
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