I recently swore off apologizing. Not all apologies. Sometimes I can be kind of a jerk (usually to the people I love the most), and I find that the practice of offering and receiving earnest apologies is one of the greatest strengths in those valued relationships. Those apologies stay. It’s the senseless apologies – the ones that are essentially disclaimers for anything that I am not proud of – those apologies go.
My husband and I recently crammed nearly every major life change that we could think of into a three month window. We moved to a new city, we had a baby, I quit my job, my husband started his own business, and we broke ground on a remodel. If any of this sounds exciting or remotely glamorous to you, you’re mostly wrong about that. To be more specific about all of these life changes: we had to short-sell the Santa Barbara condo that we poured tens of thousands of dollars and years of time into; I quit the job that had marked the worst year of my professional career because the thought of surviving another stress-induced cystic acne outbreak while adjusting to life with a baby nearly made me suicidal; my husband decided – against my worry-wart admonitions – to start his own construction business in the worst economy of our lifetime in a city where he had no professional experience; and we moved into a 950 square foot rental house that my parents have owned since the 1970’s, which was also the last time that anything beyond a lightbulb change had been done in the way of home improvements. And as much as I would have liked to think that my true identity was rooted much deeper than any of these tangible changes, I was left feeling somewhat….lost.
While all of these changes were made intentionally and thoughtfully, and many resulted in great outcomes (a baby! living closer to family and friends!), all of the sudden my story changed. I used to be “successful.” Now, I am “figuring some things out.”
The insecurity about my new place in life became most noticeable when friends began lining up to drop by the house we’d lived in for two months to come meet my new baby. Friends who owned beautiful homes, friends who were successfully juggling careers and children, friends who had had the foresight to carefully orchestrate their careers so that they’d have the option of doing freelance work after they became moms themselves.
Over and over as I opened my door to greet them and their lovingly prepared lasagnas, I found myself apologizing. ‘I’m sorry there’s not much room in here.’ ‘I’m sorry the place is still getting fixed up.’ ‘I’m sorry I’m such a slob in these frumpy sweats.’ ‘I’m sorry the neighborhood is a little sketchy.’ I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Mostly I was just self-conscious. What if they thought I was a fool to quit my job in this economy? What if they looked at our tiny, dated rental house and thought about how they could never live here? What if they judged me for how much lasagna I ate while simultaneously complaining about how long it was taking to lose the baby weight?
As the dust has settled and this new life has become more familiar, I have stumbled upon the most basic of revelations: this new life is my life. Some of it is unexpected and requires some getting used to. A few parts are exactly as I hoped they would be. All of it, however, is mine for the living, one way or another.
I began to notice the confused looks on my friends’ faces when my apologetic rants got the better of me. They could care less about my house, my employment status, my jean size, my “plan.” The looks on their faces as they dismissed my anxious disclaimers made me realize that I was the only one who cared, and what I really cared most about was what other people thought of me. So I chose to stop caring about that. I chose to stop apologizing as a means to explain the imperfect aspects of my life. I chose instead to make an honest evaluation about what I thought about my new life. And when I really think about it – when I relax on my couch with my baby or sit at the dinner table with my husband – I am happy in this life. And there are no apologies necessary for that.
Written by Anna Quinlan