Yesterday, my afternoon started with two back to back one-on-one meetings with clients.
Who both greeted me with an apology.
Not hi or hello. They came through the door tripping over themselves to apologize.
One was running a few minutes late, so I get the apology there, I appreciate it, and I would do the same. But I can’t even remember why the other client was apologizing. Because it wasn’t necessary in that moment.
I’m not new to the apology game. I was no more than 10 years old, hanging out with my best friend Teri when she told me to stop apologizing. I can’t imagine what I was sorry for at that prepubescent age, but in any case, her casual chiding of me prompted an endless loop of graveling on my part.
Stop saying you’re sorry.
Yes, right, sorry.
I said stop saying sorry.
Ugh, yes! Sorry!
And on it went.
Apologies are almost reflexive for many of us, and that’s the kind of apology I’m talking about. Last week, a client shared a piece of writing from a coaching session she’d had with me over a year ago. She’d hopped into my session at the last minute, meaning I hadn’t prepared for her. But she literally walked in the door apologizing.
And I told her not to apologize - I was glad she was there. I try to remind clients that I’m glad they showed up - but I hadn’t truly appreciated how important that might be. She went on to say in her note:
“For thirty-six hours I had been in a constant stage of apology. Sorry I’m late. (Times ten.) Sorry I forgot to text you. Sorry I forgot the water bottle. Sorry you are wet. Sorry your team lost. Sorry I have no dinner plan. Sorry I drank too much wine and fell asleep on the couch at 9:00 PM. Sorry I’m (still) tired. Sorry about the dog (acting like a dog). Sorry about the injustice of your whole situation. Sorry I cannot fix it. Sorry you are losing your mind. Sorry I must be losing my mind!”
I think my favorite line is “sorry about the dog acting like a dog.”
This is what so many of us do, and I get it. I apologize for the weather - for your headache - for your neck pain - for your job situation - for the fact that your sandwich came out with choose on it when you said no cheese.
Saying you’re sorry can be a way of empathizing. People will say “it’s not your fault my boss is a tool,” and I’ll say no, but I’m sorry that you’re going through it. That’s the empathy.
But I’m often apologizing for so many other things - not just what I did or didn’t do - of course I’ll apologize if I’m running late - if I missed a deadline - if I forgot something - but it’s that other side of apologizing - the apology you probably don’t even know you ‘re giving, not for what you’ve done or haven’t done, but for who you are.
That’s the one that I won’t accept.
Acknowledge when you’re in the wrong, yes. But don’t assume that everything about you is wrong. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I’m often a sh*t show when I’m walking out the door. That’s not my favorite quality about myself. Yes, I’m working to be more efficient.
But it doesn’t make you wrong. You are not wrong for being you - for worrying so much about others that you lose track of your own needs - for trying to be so helpful to others that you forget your own schedule - you are not wrong for being so empathetic that you express your compassion with an acknowledgement of another’s suffering.
So next time you are running five minutes late to a session - the next time you have to change your schedule because life happened - don’t apologize to me.
Apology not accepted.