#notsorry: How Shonda Rhimes Taught Me to Say “Thank You” Instead of “I’m Sorry”

Last June I saw this article on Facebook about why women apologize. To be honest, I saw the title of this article. I had just given birth and wasn’t really in a place to be reading anything. Somehow, though, in my sleep deprived and addled brain, the seed of the idea was planted. It wasn’t until I went back to work that I really started thinking about this idea of apologizing for things that I have no reason to be sorry for. “I’m sorry, but I can’t schedule a meeting for noon because I have to pump.” “I’m sorry, I need to take a half day because my son is sick.” “I’m sorry I’m crying, but I’ve only been back at work for three weeks and I’m so overwhelmed that if I don’t just cry right now I may collapse under the weight of my tears.” Looking back, I don’t know why I was apologizing. I was a full time working mom who needed to supply breastmilk for my new baby. Nourishing new life trumps meeting. My son started daycare and seemed to have a permanent cough. Personal days are meant for situations like that. Finally, and this is the one that really gets me, why do I need to apologize for showing emotion? Whenever I cry it always comes with “I’m sorry.” Am I sorry for being upset? I don’t feel sorry, I feel sad. I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t feel sorry.

Apologizing diminishes me. It’s my attempt to make the other person feel better about how they’re feeling. You feel awkward that I’m upset? I’m sorry. You feel like I’m asking for too much? I’m sorry. It makes them feel better by making my feelings less important. The turning point for me, of course, has to do with being a mom and standing up for Asher instead of myself. We had to confront our son’s daycare about them lying to us about feeding Asher. In my past life, I may have apologized for being “difficult” or “pushy,” but in this situation, I didn’t. I wasn’t sorry and if I had apologized, I would have been letting them off the hook and making them feel like LYING ABOUT FEEDING A BABY just wasn’t that big of a deal. I would have been allowing them to share the blame with me. The blame was not mine, and I wanted no part of it.

My (Our, women’s) constant apologizing goes hand in hand with my (our, women’s) inability to take a compliment. In Shonda Rhimes’s book, The Year of Yes, she challenged herself to say yes to everything she would have said no to in the past, such as public speaking, losing weight, and playing with her kids instead of working over time. The essay that resonated with me the most is called, “Yes, Thank You.” She writes about being at an event celebrating women in TV and watching as the amazingly accomplished women around her, herself included, dodged compliments thrown at them. They looked away, or deferred to others, or referred to themselves as simply “lucky.” She started forcing herself to start taking compliments simply by saying “Thank you.” Two simple words (kind of like, “I’m sorry.”) that have the power to change the whole conversation.

I’ve been trying to put this into practice in my own life, not necessarily when people speak to me, but when I speak to myself (not like that…). I’m in the midst of starting my own small business which will be the culmination of all of the work I have ever done in my career. In getting this off the ground, I’ve had to really look at my accomplishments as mine. Of course it’s true that I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have amazing people around me supporting me, but I was there too. I can’t give everyone else all the credit all the time. I have to say “Thank you” to myself for working as hard as I did to get where I am today. I can’t apologize for taking the credit. If I’m going to run my own business I need to believe in myself so that my future clients have no choice but to believe in me as well.

So do you have this problem? What’s the last thing you unnecessarily apologized for? And what is this new business I’m working on? You should follow me to find out. All you need to do is put in your email address, and I’m sure you’ve got one of those! (no need to apologize if you don’t!)

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