The Luxury of an Apology

I dropped the ball on a project last weekend. It was a tiny thing, unnoticeable by just about everyone except for two people — the person who asked me to do it and me. 

I knew it was there. All weekend, I had this small voice in the back of my head going, “Hey, don’t forget to do that thing you need to do.” But a larger (maybe more selfish?) voice overpowered it with, “It’s the weekend. It’s okay. No one else works on the weekend. They will understand.”

When Monday morning rolled around and I opened Voxer to listen to a message from that person, it wasn’t a timeline update about a larger project we’re working on. It was a confrontation. A “I thought you were going to do this thing. I waited for you to do this thing. How could I have helped you do this thing?”

And I immediately felt ashamed. Why didn’t I just do the thing?

Isn’t it funny how difficult it is to grow out of bad habits? When I need to apologize, I immediately look for a way to defend myself — a way to ease the blame or anger because things were out of my control. Maybe it’s because I’m the youngest child and could blame things on my sister. Or maybe it’s not a unique problem to me. Maybe we all find ways to avoid the shame and guilt of being wrong. Or worse, we find ways to not feel those things at all because it’s not our fault. We tell ourselves we did the best we could. 

There comes a point when that just doesn’t work anymore. We’re no longer young enough or cute enough or insert what word you use enough to skirt the blame. 

So I did the only thing I could do. I shared openly and honestly what was going on. I thanked her for bringing it up and creating an opportunity to talk about it. I tried not to make excuses. Then I apologized. 

I’m sorry that you’re disappointed and frustrated. 

A less mature version of myself would have tacked on a “but” to that apology. Or qualified it with an “I’m sorry if you feel that way…” as if giving them the burden of what they’re feeling eliminates my part in it. 

And when I recorded the message, I felt the ugly feelings and tears rise up the back of my throat threatening to ruin whatever productive energy I had for the rest of my day. 

She responded a few minutes later. “Thank you for your apology. I think we’ll work better now that we are communicating a little bit clearer.” Then she proceeded to offer some advice on being in business. She went from handling a conflict to offering business advice in less than 30 seconds and all was well. 

I started this post in my head with: “I had to say ‘I’m sorry.’ last week.”

But I didn’t have to apologize. I didn’t have to say “I’m sorry.” Apologies are a luxury, and they don’t often get credit for that. The opportunity to acknowledge a mistake or poor judgment helps me refine myself just as much as it smooths the rift in a relationship. 

I was afforded the opportunity to apologize. But more than that, I was afforded an opportunity to learn a little more about myself. 

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