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Sorry, not sorry

March 8The American Socialist Party organized the first Women’s Day in 1909, but it was in Soviet Russian that March 8 became a national holiday after women gained suffrage there in 1917. After that, it was celebrated mostly in communist countries and by the socialist movement until it was adopted by the feminist movement in 1967. It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations celebrated March 8 as International Women’s Day.

My father was an early adopter: having been among the few Cold War-era American graduate students who studied in the USSR, he brought the holiday home with him and never missed it—there was always a card and often flowers for my mother on March 8.

Completely as an aside, I think after years of being associated with the Evil Empire, my father had a good chuckle over Bernie Sanders’s rise in politics in his adopted home state of Vermont—he was pretty proud to live in the state where a democratic socialist became the mayor of its largest city. He lived long enough to see Sanders reach the US House of Representatives, but not long enough to see him become a US Senator and presidential candidate.

So International Women’s Day often brings with it memories of my father as much as it reminds me to celebrate women, recognize how far we’ve come, and recommit to empowering ourselves.

lean into language

Women’s empowerment is a huge focus in my individual coaching practice, and I’m constantly looking for resources to add to my clients’ “toolboxes.”

Empowerment is an inside job that starts with shifting our mindset: believe you’re a victim and you’ll find evidence to support that and create a narrative that perpetuates it; believe you’ve got power and you’ll find evidence to support that and take steps toward greater power.

Our thoughts become real when we put them into words, and the effect of these thoughts expressed—silently or out loud—can be as evident as physical impacts on and in our bodies, so I’m always encouraging clients to mind their language.

Swapping “I have to” out for “I get to”, “I should” for “I choose to,” “and” for “but” seem to be silly exercises at first—and there’s evidence that our language can, in time and with practice, rewire our brains.

Simply bringing attention to these choices teaches us that we do have choices, and that can restore a sense of agency in our lives—not necessarily control, but at least agency.

please don’t apologize

I was happy to encounter this piece about apologizing on the TED website and because it came across my radar so close to International Women’s Day, I was especially intrigued by the comments about how we as women tend to apologize much more than men.

Apologies have become our habitual way of communicating
~Maja Jovanovic

not sorryBest of all, I appreciated that the article provides suggestions for how to be considerate rather than apologetic:

  • Step into your power (I have an idea)—instead of minimizing yourself (Sorry to disagree).
  • Give a reason (I was held up in traffic, and so I’m late)—not an apology (Sorry for being late).
  • Express gratitude (Thank you for listening)—rather than apologizing (Sorry for venting).

make the connection

I like Jovanovic’s idea of observing when and how often others apologize although she takes it a step further:

I have been interrupting these apologies for three years now. I’ll do it everywhere. I’ll do it in the parking lot, I’ll do it to total strangers at the grocery store, in line somewhere. One hundred percent of the time when I interrupt another woman and I say, “Why did you just say sorry for that?” she’ll say to me, “I don’t know.”

I’m not so into the idea of this type of intervention—and (not but) I prefer to recognize the observation is perhaps a first step toward catching the tendency in ourselves and then taking steps to reduce it.

Drop me a comment and let me know, when have you observed women apologizing unnecessarily and in a disempowering fashion? How often do you give your power away through unnecessary apologies?

5 thoughts on “Sorry, not sorry

  1. Have been on the language kick for a while myself. All that I learned about the brain being wired different depending on the language you speak, really got me. I love language though and it’s one of the things that I feel is really important about “I’m sorry”. It’s like another 4 letter word that we hurt ourselves with. I have learned that changing the sorry is a process, a slow one at that. I catch myself and I have come up with some other ways of saying things. Just like the and – but. It’s good stuff!

  2. We so often do it without thinking too. It’s become a habit that belittles instead of empowers. I was once told that if I kept apologizing for everything, I might as well apologize for existing. I now have to consciously catch myself before it slips out and figure out how to reframe it before speaking. I liked your suggestions, will definitely check out the Ted site.

  3. So true. Why do we do this? Why do we apologize constantly? I hadn’t realized I did this until somebody once told me that if I keep apologizing, I might as well apologize for existing. I now have to consciously catch myself before doing so and restructure what comes out of my mouth. Loved Ted site/suggestions.

    1. Like with so many habits in our lives—awareness of them leads to choice leads to practice…and more practice.

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