I was late to a meeting this morning. It was absolutely unavoidable because I had to drop my kids off at school (which starts at 9 a.m.) before I could head over to the meeting across town (which also started at 9 a.m.). I hate being late.
As I got closer to my destination I imagined walking into the meeting and what I would need to say about my lateness. As I contemplated my options, I heard the voice of all the empowered ladies in my ear. Don’t apologize! Say “Thank you for waiting on me” and move along. You didn’t do anything wrong, so why are you apologizing?
That just didn’t sit well with me.
I hate being late and I hate when other people are late. You know what defuses that? When someone owns it. When they don’t make excuses, but they do acknowledge how irritating it is when you’re made to wait without understanding why. If someone walked into a room where I’d been waiting on them for 15 minutes and said, “Thank you for waiting on me,” I don’t think I’d feel very forgiving. I think that would just increase my irritation that they not only made me wait, but then acted like that was a conscious choice I made that was deserving of thanks.
This is one small example in a world where we hurt, offend, inconvenience, and frustrate strangers and friends on a daily basis. When we realize our error, it’s time to acknowledge it. We don’t need to dance around it or make excuses. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about it. We just need to own our error—intentional or accidental—and keep moving.
Apologizing doesn’t need to be a sign of our weakness or proof that we aren’t comfortable with success. Apologizing for things that are entirely out of our control but still had negative consequences on others is an act of kindness toward those we’ve hurt. How many times have I talked to my kids about this? Just because you didn’t mean to step on your brother’s foot doesn’t make it hurt any less. Apologizing quickly and without beating yourself up puts the focus where it belongs—on the other person’s pain. When we refuse to apologize or we engage in too much self-pity with our apologies (“I’m the WORST! I always do stuff like this! I’m SO SORRY.”) we make it about us. When we can acknowledge that our actions have hurt someone and we can apologize, then we can move past it.
So I’m done second-guessing my apologies. When I feel genuinely sorry for hurt or inconvenience I caused, I’m going to own it. I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen or act like a “thank you” will mean the same thing as taking responsibility. I’m also not going to make it about me by falling into a self-pity hole that tries to get out of taking responsibility by making people feel sorry for me. I’m going to believe people can give me grace the same way I give it to them. And when someone apologies to me, I’m going to make the awkward effort to forgive them instead of just saying, “It’s fine.”
I’m not a perfect person. I’m OK with that. Apologizing should be a natural part of acknowledging my humanity. Giving and receiving grace should be a daily part of my reality, not something I’m striving to avoid.
From now on, I’m done apologizing for my apologies.
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