Like most people, I suck at keeping New Year’s resolutions.
I start the year with great intentions and a long list of concrete area to improve. Morning bicep curls! Kale smoothies! Less than 10 minutes of computer time per day! Color coded stacks of sweaters in the closet! I’m slavishly devoted to every item on the list for about two weeks. Then I slip up in one small area, and it has a domino effect–the whole thing quickly comes crashing down. After all, if I can’t stick to my daily journaling, what’s the use even trying to keep my make-up drawer organized (great logic, right?)??
So this year, I scrapped the list idea, and instead, I made just one small, simple resolution. I wasn’t going to blog about it until I could see that I’d kept it longer than my standard two weeks, and so far, about a quarter of the way into the year, it seems to be working, and it’s brought about some positive changes in my outlook.
I resolved to apologize less.
This resolution came about one day in early January when I was typing out an email to a co-worker. I started out by saying, “Dear _____________, sorry I didn’t” and then stopped. I sat back in my chair and looked at my screen with its blinking cursor. Why was I apologizing? How often did I apologize for things? I did a quick search for the word “sorry” in my Gmail account. Hundreds of emails came up.
“Sorry this is late.”
“Sorry I missed that.”
“Sorry for the delay.”
“Sorry I forgot about…”
“Sorry I overlooked…”
The word had clearly reached a critical level of overuse. I was saying it and typing it from habit, not true contrition. Even worse, I was mostly apologizing for things that I didn’t need to apologize for. Apparently, a lot of women are prone to doing this.
I had thought of my constant apologies as just genuine humility, an admission to the world that I was human and fallible. But they weren’t. They were fostering a self-deprecating mindset, which is very different from true humility. My apologies weren’t an admission of human weakness; they were a statement of inferiority, keeping me constantly in the “you are right, I am wrong” frame of mind. They occasionally fostered a victim mentality, which is toxic to constructive dialogue and collaboration. And I used them sometimes to assuage people’s anger, which can have a temporarily pacifying effect, but usually doesn’t solve anything.
Even worse, I realized that my persistent apologies made me like the boy who cried wolf: when I actually did need to apologize for something, “I’m sorry” had been robbed of its meaning because I used it for everything from stapling things too loudly to walking through the door at the same time as someone else to missing an action item in an email from my boss.
Apologies are important and precious in a broken world. They’re precious enough that we shouldn’t sling them around as a general cure-all for every level of errors. They’re for when we hurt people, either intentionally or unintentionally. They’re for when we make mistakes with consequences that significantly impact those around us. They’re a balm to be applied to wounds we did not cause (“I’m so sorry to hear that your mother passed away”). When apologies are sincere, they can restore relationships and help rebuild trust.
In the weeks that I’ve been mindful about keeping this resolution, I’ve become calmer, more confident, and less obsessed with what people think of me. I’ve used the backspace arrow quite a lot in my emails, as I still find myself automatically reaching for that apology. I’m learning to say “oops!” or “hm!” or “c’est la vie!” instead of my quick go-to, “sorry!”
There’s no need for me–or for anyone–to apologize for occupying space on this planet. Giving and extending grace is part of what it means to be human, and I don’t need more or less grace than any other person alive. Sorry, but I’m not sorry anymore.