Lately people have been telling me to stop apologizing.
It’s happened so often in a short period of time that it’s caused me to wonder: what exactly am I apologizing for?
Invariably, it comes down to one thing: I apologize when I’m not at my best.
Example #1: I apologized for not having the in-depth knowledge in a discussion about current events. I felt guilty for not being as informed as I feel I should be as a reasonably intelligent, aware and concerned adult in today’s world, particularly one who has always had an interest in the world to the extent that I spent a few years as a journalist simply because I want to know what’s going on around me.
In this instance, I was apologizing for not being the best version of myself, which I envision as a person who has informed opinions about the world around her.
Example #2: I offered excuses for, um, a romantic indiscretion of the drunken variety, the kind that causes one to cringe a little in hindsight.
Here I was apologizing for not exercising good judgment and therefore, not being at my best as a person who is always in control of their actions and decisions.
Clearly there’s a theme here. At some point I became fixated on showing my best self, and only my best self, to others. When that doesn’t happen, I feel ashamed.
I don’t know when or why this happened but it’s so ingrained in me that it’s become a fundamental part of my nature.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. As a young girl and teenager, I had a healthy streak of an over-achieving perfectionism but heavy course-loads in university and a fast-paced career in journalism quickly taught me that done is sometimes better than perfect.
It took me awhile to feel comfortable with not always exerting my best effort but eventually I got there and accepted its necessity – or at least, I thought I did.
Once I started paying attention, I realized that I apologize for a lot of things. I apologize for not reading books that I feel I should; being tired; not feeling sociable; forgetting things; saying “no” to requests to be involved in various community organizations; my messy house; my spoiled dogs; not walking the dogs every day; my filthy car … the list could go on.
What all of these things have in common is that they are things that I feel I should be doing and which the successful, over-achieving, perfect version of myself would have no trouble fitting into her schedule. To be honest, sometimes I feel that I let that person down, and I apologize to her too.
There’s another side to this, however, one which to me is a little more insidious.
I apologize when I think I’m not meeting people’s expectations, when I feel that I’m not doing what others think I should be doing. I feel like not only am I letting myself down but I’m letting the people in my life down as well, simply for not being able to do all things at all times in the best way possible.
I suspect this has played a big role in the anxiety I carried for many years as I pressured myself to meet those perceived expectations and inevitably, fell short.
The truth is that I will never be that person. Perfect Susan is a figment of my imagination. She doesn’t exist. Real me makes mistakes, falls down, does stupid shit, doesn’t always make good decisions and doesn’t always try my best.
Perfect is exhausting and I just don’t need it in my life.
It’s time to remind myself that the things I think I should be doing aren’t being done for a reason, and that reason is that they’re usually not a priority for me. Maybe a clean car is a priority for someone else but it isn’t for me and frankly, if you’re going to judge me for the muddy paw prints on my backseat, well, that’s just not my problem.
The things that are important to me – my friends and family, my physical and mental health, my personal growth, my dogs – are things that make me happy and help me feel fulfilled. And those are being taken care of as well as I am able.
I’m not perfect, and I don’t need to be perfect for anyone else either. I know that and I’m OK with it. But it doesn’t hurt to remind myself that the person I am is pretty decent anyway, in spite of all my flaws.
I’m not going to apologize for that.