I’ve recently come to the realization that I over-apologize, and often for things that aren’t my fault. I once said sorry to a trash can after walking into it. At work, I frequently apologize for miscommunications that are completely out of my control.
Perhaps I can attribute this constant rhythm of apology to my stereotypical half-Canadian status, but I think the issue runs deeper than that.
Just before fall break, I decided to consciously wean myself off of the ever-present “sorry” in my vocabulary. I found a tweet near the beginning of the semester with suggestions to prevent over-apologizing at work. I then wrote out the advice on a sticky note on my computer screen so I see it every time I open my laptop. Changing my vocabulary from “Sorry” to “Thanks for telling me,” or “Good catch,” has proven rewarding and empowering because it takes away pressure I put on myself for things I can’t control.
I was saying sorry so often as a way to ease my mind, which was constantly worried about other people’s opinions of me. The word would slip out of my mouth and over time it became natural to apologize for every perceived slight I had caused.
Don’t get me wrong, there are mistakes that merit an apology. Tailgating and then driving into the back of someone’s car calls for an apology. Sleeping past an alarm and missing an interview ought to be followed with an apology. However, I was apologizing for forgetting to tell my fellow editor I had already edited a story or for sending a classmate notes an hour later than promised.
I would get frustrated with mistakes at work. I would cry over what I thought people thought of me; I thought people blamed me for editing mistakes at work. After stepping back and taking inventory of the situation, I realized I was caring too much and taking too much responsibility.
Another harmful outcome of over-apologizing is that sincere apologies become watered-down. If every other person says, “I’m sorry,” for squeezing past someone in a crowded grocery aisle or moving out of the way on a bike path, don’t true apologies lose their meaning?
Finding new ways to solve problems or fix errors is a somewhat exciting challenge now. Changing my rhetoric to “Thanks for bringing that to my attention” and “I’ll fix that as soon as possible” takes the pressure off my shoulders and leaves the acknowledgement ambiguous, not attributing blame to anyone. And I think this system works.
Lately, I have come into my true unrepentant form and it’s great. I’m not feeling as guilty over inconsequential mistakes, which makes me feel more confident in my ability to succeed as an editor and student.
I’ve also started focusing on understanding my mental health and finding productive ways of dealing with the anxiety I’ve felt for years. Changing one seemingly insignificant action may be a small step, but it has helped me not worry about minute details in life.
Focusing on my opinion of myself is more important than how people perceive me at the moment. Consciously and immediately forgiving myself over everyday mistakes is a way to improve my state of mind by taking back some control over my actions.
Maybe this new system of decreasing my apologies will make me appear unapologetically ruthless, uptight or unwilling to accept faults. But right now, I’m not really concerned with what others think of me.
Assistant news editor