Not Sorry Anymore

Lately people have been telling me to stop apologizing.A quote that reads "Embrace who you are and don't make any apologies for being yourself."

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.

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Of Human Kindness

A long time ago, I decided to aspire to be kind.

I don’t remember why I felt I needed this in my life but I do remember who and the circumstances that inspired it.

Several years ago (I don’t remember exactly when), I was speaking to my mother on the phone and she was telling me about a particularly difficult experience she had been having recently. She had discovered that a beloved friend was going through some serious personal troubles, and when things came to a head for this person, professionally and personally, my mother put in a great deal of effort to try to help. She cleaned their house, cooked their meals and tried to offer what support she could to a person who was, unfortunately, not ready to accept that help and support.

(To protect the privacy of those involved, I won’t provide specifics of this situation.)

Although my mother’s emotions during this time were complicated, I remember my reaction quite well because it suddenly struck me: my mother is an extraordinarily kind person.

Growing up, I had taken this quality for granted. I saw her extend an offer of help before it was asked, prepare meals for people who were ill, send flowers to those who were grieving, give her time to her church and other community groups, and put in extra effort to make family occasions memorable.

But until this conversation, this difficult time that my mother was experiencing, I didn’t realize that not everyone does these things. Not everyone thinks of how they can help others when they most need it. Not everyone gives a little extra effort to make sure their loved ones feel treasured and valued.

I am an inherently selfish person but when it dawned on me that one of the things I respected most about my mother was her kindness towards others, I decided that I needed to be that way as well.

It didn’t happen overnight but I started consciously choosing to be kinder towards people. When I thought negatively about others, I tried to put myself in their shoes. When people needed help, I tried to offer a hand (even when I really didn’t want to). I frequently told myself and others that if I could one day be as kind as my mother, then I would consider my life well-lived.

I set being kind as a goal, and I worked toward it.

Kindness is under-valued in today’s world. I’m not sure why but I suspect it’s because it’s misconstrued as weakness. Our society respects toughness and sometimes, it’s difficult to reconcile kindness with the fortitude necessary to get ahead. A kind nature, it seems, can be easily taken advantage of and a person who exudes compassion may have their sympathies manipulated by the less well-intentioned.

Perhaps it’s for reasons like these that there is not enough kindness in the world.

But my mother is no pushover, and neither am I. Neither of us are easily manipulated, and I think we’re both strong people. Based on this evidence alone, I suggest that kindness does not equal weakness. Rather, I think it’s an indication of the respect we hold for others and the empathy we have for the human condition.

Like many things in life, I think being kind can be a choice.

We can choose to think of others, to lend a hand, to empathize with difficult times. We may not always want to but we can decide when and where to be kind, and everyone – including ourselves – will be a little better off as a result.

One thing that I’ve learned in my life is that everyone is struggling – at all times. So if a little kindness towards your best friend or the person you meet on the street will make their day even the slightest bit easier, why on earth would you not want to do that?

Today, I’m a kinder person than I was 10 years ago. I forgive people easier, I hold fewer grudges, I empathize more with other peoples’ struggles, I value the people in my life more, and I try to show this with my words and actions.

I’m no saint and I’m still an inherently selfish person with a lot to learn. But I’ve cultivated kindness as a habit and I hope it’s becoming part of who I am and the image I project to the world.

Maybe one day I’ll inspire someone to do the same, the way my mother inspired me.

Fragile vs. Vulnerable

A little while ago, shortly after writing The Post That Started It All, someone commented that it, combined with a text message I had sent, made me seem fragile.

At the time, I responded with “I suppose I felt fragile when I wrote it,” but ever since I’ve been thinking about the concept of fragility and trying to figure out what bugged me about this conversation.

The truth is that when I wrote that Facebook post, I wasn’t in a fragile state, although I can see why it may have appeared that way. In fact, I was motivated, inspired and looking forward. I was scared to open myself up with personal details about my life but choosing to do so also made me feel brave and confident.

Likewise, the text I sent to this person wasn’t a symptom of insecurity or weakness. Rather, I was attempting to establish boundaries and let him/her know the ways in which I expect to be treated. I was standing up for myself, demonstrating self-respect and refusing to accept less than I deserve.

I could see where this person was coming from when he/she used the word “fragile” but the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth.*

I think there is a difference between being fragile and choosing to be vulnerable.

“Fragile” means easily broken or damaged. It means something isn’t strong or that it’s delicate.

“Vulnerable” means capable of being damaged. In the case of a person, it means someone can be physically or emotionally wounded, and choosing to be vulnerable means knowingly risking harm.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that vulnerability isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’m not the type to wear my heart on my sleeve and I don’t spill my secrets soon after meeting someone new.

For years, I cultivated a tough persona, not letting on how deeply and easily I could be hurt by others. Perhaps as a result of that, people were sometimes careless with my emotions or took advantage of what seemed to be an easy-going nature. That’s the price I paid for adopting an image that wasn’t entirely true to who I am. I didn’t trust people enough to show them the real me and as a result, they weren’t always gentle when I needed them to be.

Choosing to be vulnerable is hard because it takes strength and it means giving some of your power to others. You’re willfully GIVING people ammunition to hurt you but you’re TRUSTING them not to do so. It’s scary as hell.

So why on earth would someone do it?

We do it because vulnerability – letting people to see the real you and trusting them to love you anyway – results in (get this!) real, authentic relationships that develop mutual respect, foster intimacy and cultivate generosity.

And guess what? It gets easier! The things that hurt you so easily before lose their power to sting. It’s as if by letting people see your cracks, they help fill them with love, friendship and respect.

Choosing to be vulnerable is tough because there’s a risk of harm. But there’s also the chance of real relationships.

I’m going to keep working on the latter.

* Note: The person on the other end of this exchange didn’t do anything to prompt defensiveness on my part, nor was he or she in need of a lesson in respect. What I’m relaying here is simply one tiny aspect of a larger conversation, the context of which isn’t pertinent to this post.