Here are my 4 easy steps to break the apology habit.
Full disclosure: It’s taken me a bit of time to get to a point in my life and career where I don’t constantly worry that I’ve said or done something highly idiotic. Correct me if I’m wrong (and man, I hope I’m not), but we all experience a certain level of anxiety about how we conduct ourselves socially, especially at work. Those feelings are some of the few things you actually appreciate seeing fade with age, unlike your fast metabolism or the ability to perform long division. With years comes experience, with experience comes confidence, and confidence means the ability to stop justifying your well-formed opinions. It’s time we all own our statements, outright ask our questions, and stop with all the “I’m sorry to bug you, but…”
Sending this proclamation out into the void of the internet is obviously much easier than executing it day-to-day. I’ll extol the virtues of an apology-free existence—and the correct definition of feminism, for that matter—until I’m blue in the face, but I can’t lie and say that it’s been effortless. Every time I proofread my emails (English major over here), nine times out of ten I’ll delete some version of “I’m sorry.” A “hate to disturb you” or “just checking in” is still a cleverly disguised version of an apology. So, how exactly have I conditioned myself to quit and simply spit out my intentions? I check these four steps every. single. day.
Step 1: Realize everything for which you’re actually sorry
I pride myself on being a fairly compassionate person. I’m from the Midwest, so I come by it honestly, but that means it took even longer to unlearn my apologetic habits. In my daily life, there are generally very few things for which I now feel the need to say “I’m sorry,” including but not limited to:
1. Hitting a person on the train with my work bag: Depends on where the collision took place. Face? Yes. Elbow, ehh…
2. Rolling over someone’s foot with a full suitcase: Again, if they’re in work boots as opposed to sandals, I might chalk it up to a busy street.
3. Death, dismemberment, etc.
That’s pretty much it. I’m not sorry that I’m writing you an email to confirm a photo shoot deadline, or speaking up in a meeting with the entire team. That’s my job. They know it, you know it, the girl behind you in line at the coffee shop knows it. No apology necessary. You were hired for a reason, remember?
Step 2: Work harder
This might seem exceptionally vague, but just think on it for a second. For most of us, working involves offering up your ideas in hopes that it will improve the overall performance of your company and your team. That may mean you’re constantly worrying your ideas might not be good enough, but instead of throwing out every single notion that pops into your skull, just take another two minutes and really dissect how you might formulate a solution. I try really hard to make sure my ideas have a degree of care and consideration behind them, rather than scraping the bottom of the barrel on every group email. That way, I have nothing to feel sorry for when I release them into my office.
Step 3: Learn to accept a critique
That sentence hurt to write, because I am the queen of taking criticism poorly, even well-intentioned, constructive, sent-with-a-million-encouraging-emojis criticism. I equate it with my sensitive artist soul. Still, that headspace isn’t helpful when you’re surrounded by dozens of people with brains and opinions of their own. Many of them want to help you improve, and may even ask for your advice on something they’re working on, too! Wild, isn’t it? Remind yourself that a helpful (or even an unhelpful) comment about your work doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or stupid. Sometimes it just means that your idea will be better if you let other people aid its growth. It does not mean you need to apologize in any way once you receive said critique, or for doing the work in the first place.
Step 4: Stand up for your ideas
This is a big one. This is after you draw on *all* that knowledge from years of unpaid internships, shitty jobs, or hours of practice that you’ve worked so hard to acquire. Follow through on steps 1-3, and then defend the best ideas. There are certainly times when your boss, and even your coworkers, might not understand your point of view on the first try, and that’s totally okay. They’re exercising their right to have an opinion. But if you believe in your gut that it’s a dynamite idea, then damnit, state that as clearly as possible, don’t back down, and don’t apologize for offering it up for consideration. Sure, if your boss says, “No, I don’t think having free donuts in the office 24/7 is a good plan” after you’ve pitched it ten million times, then absolutely back down (tear), but stand by the quality ones. Seriously, great innovation always starts with a single idea. I’m pretty sure a millionaire has said that in an interview, and she probably never apologized for it either.