I used to be one of those people who apologized to chairs.
As in, I’d bump into that striped easy chair in the living room and say, “Oh, I’m sorry.”
I’d run into the table and out would pop, “Excuse me!”
Yes, I was one of those women. One of those women whose most-often-uttered-word is an apology.
And it’s a very big club.
At Busch Gardens one time, I saw an elegant older woman driving a bumper car. Every time her car so much as brushed another car, she very clearly said, “Oh, I do beg your pardon.”
She was one of us.
Over time, here’s what I learned: When you start off with “sorry” – when you take credit for everything that’s gone wrong – you’re one-down at the outset of any encounter.
You’re automatically at fault.
And then it becomes that it’s always your fault.
When anyone is in doubt, it’s you who’s always wrong.
Which is one hell of a way to make sure you get all the blame for pretty much everything.
This past week, a client had a difficult situation with herself, a business partner, a client and deliverables that went undelivered. As we talked through it, she kept saying, “It’s all my fault.” As a recovered Aplogetic, I listened with care.
“Are you sure,” I asked, “that you are the single and only reason this happened the way it happened?”
As we explored the matter, it became clear that perhaps office politics were involved, and perhaps communications between the business partner and the client could have been better.
It became clearer and clearer that while my client had some responsibility for the situation, she didn’t bear all the weight for the problems the project had faced.
Why is it that some of us are quick to take responsibility for things that are really other people’s responsibility or completely out of our control?
We say things like:
“I should have been able to make this work.”
“I should have been able to keep this from happening.”
“I should have seen this coming.”
Really? You are so strong, so powerful, so capable that there is nothing in the world you can’t do? Including stopping earthquakes, holding back tsunamis and getting teenagers to clean their room?
My, my. You are something.
So – tell me – why do you apologize all the time?
Honey, there is no way in hell it’s always your fault.
You aren’t that messed up.
You aren’t that powerful, either.
You are you. Darling, dear, goofy, sweet, kind, loving-in-your-own-way you.
And you can’t be in charge of everything. Nor should you be.
That job is way too big for little old you.
You have one job and only one job – and that’s to be the best you possible.
Look at it this way – you and I are fully and totally 100% responsible for the part we play in any situation. But sometimes somebody else is responsible for 95% of the trouble.
So, do this: Only when you know for sure that you have caused harm to another person, do you utter the word “sorry”.
Remember, chairs and tables can’t feel.
And some things are truly other people’s fault. Or just the way things in the world are at that moment.
It’s not your fault.
Save “sorry” for when you really need it. And, when you really and truly mean it.