I was an incessant apologizer for a long time. The words reflexively fell out of my mouth whether warranted or not. I’d even been known to apologize to an inanimate object or two.
But here’s a mild confession: I’m not sorry for most of the things I apologized for.
Maybe I need to back up.
Sorry, but I feel like…
A co-worker told me last year that I always preface statements with, “Sorry, but I feel like…” rather than just saying them.
Like so many women I know, I’m motivated to grow professionally. And yet, I’ve found myself using this phrase to deflect my opinions, my ideas, and occasionally to even downplay successes. Yes, being modest and effacing are just part of being polite, but these and other direct and implied apologies seem to flow so much more naturally to women.
Ever since my co-worker pointed this out about me, I’ve noticed it everywhere — slowly surfacing in conversations in the language of other women. A lot of us, it seems, are uncomfortable with taking full ownership of our feelings and opinions, and all too often feel compelled to apologize for taking what we deserve or showing even the least bit of pride in our successes.
As women, we seem to pick up this need to apologize from each other. Far too many of us take it a step further and passive aggressively look down on those who seem too sure of themselves.
Why I’m going to stop apologizing
The breaking point for me was seeing a female co-worker — who had been a chronic apologizer — go on maternity leave. She had been one of the hardest workers in the office, but in her absence, I listened as she was talked about constantly for taking the time off. Male coworkers called her incessantly on her leave and when she asked to return to a four-day work week to continue to help with her two young kids, they gave her a hard time. Never mind that no one raised an eyebrow about the man in our office who unapologetically worked four-day weeks to spend more time with his own teenage children.
The reality I’ve observed is that working women who don’t apologize for their success are mocked for being crass bitches or rough around the edges — stripped of their femininity for being bold and for going after what they want in their careers.
In turn, women seem to apologize out of fear of being thought of this way. Even when they didn’t do anything wrong or are offering sympathy — that is to say, they have no actual reasons to be sorry — women apologize because they’re afraid of how they might be viewed. And it’s this fear that keeps so many of us small.
So back to not being sorry.
In particular, I’m not sorry if my ambition makes others uncomfortable; I’m proud of my accomplishments so far, whether they’re public — like my promotions or published articles — or private. Working makes me happy. I like what I do and I want to get better and find even more success; why should I apologize, or feel like I have to?