The Day I Learned to Stop Saying “I’m Sorry”

It was my first job.

Looking back, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I was greeting people at the door of a chain restaurant, asking a simple question, and ushering them to their seats with the appropriate number of menus. But for me, at seventeen years old, this was more than just a job. This was me, becoming an adult. This was the big bad world.

Actually, this was my neighborhood Applebees. But that’s beside the point.

I worked hard to be good at my job, to make people like me.

I learned quickly to seat the big parties in Tony’s section, because he loved to entertain, and to keep the two-tops for Michelle, because she liked to keep things low key.

I learned never to seat Nicolas after 8:30pm, when the crowd started to die down, because he liked to go home early.

I learned Stephen was moody, and never to bother him when he was busy.

And one day, after I had been working there for a few months, I learned something about myself, too.

sorry

I was cleaning tables in Della’s section, the way I did for servers I liked. The faster her tables were clean, the more customers I could seat, and the more money she made, so I worked quickly and diligently for her. I hoped she would think I was cool, and that one day I could be like her—full of pizzazz, with a little grit and a lot of energy.

I finished cleaning her section and hurried down the small set of stairs that led to the kitchen. That’s when Della walked up the same set of stairs in my direction.

With my hands full of dishes I saw her coming and backed away so she could come through.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

She stopped, looked at me, and said, very seriously: “Don’t say you’re sorry. Say, ‘excuse me Della! I’m coming through!’”

At the time, I laughed nervously, but I’ve never forgotten that moment—mostly because I’ve been reminded of it at so many other more moments of my life. I find myself saying I’m sorry often—all the time, in fact—not necessarily when I have something to be sorry for, but simply when I feel like I”m in the way.

It makes me wonder: do I say I’m sorry too often?

Obviously, being able to say “I’m sorry” is really important, especially when you really have something to be sorry for. It can be one of the most diffusing things in a conflict; and also the mark of a great leader.

It takes a strong person to be able to take responsibility.

But there’s a difference between a genuine apology and simply saying “I’m sorry” because we feel like we’re in the way. And what I noticed, after that day with Della, was that most of the time I said “I’m sorry,” I was doing it the second way.

I’m constantly afraid to take up too much space.

I’m scared to step in front of someone, to cut someone off, to raise my voice, to speak up at all—even when I have something to say. I’m scared to have an opinion (heaven forbid it be the wrong one) to start a conflict, to hurt feelings, to take up resources, to get in the way.

I’m scared to want things, to ask for things, to admit my hurting, to need help, to accept gifts, to make a path for myself.

I want to be the girl who says, “excuse me, coming through!”

But instead I’m the one who says, “I’m sorry,” and backs away.

It’s been more than ten years since I got that advice from Della, and I would love to say I’ve mastered it. I wish I never said “I’m sorry” when I didn’t mean it, or that I didn’t still worry I was stepping on toes or getting in the way. But of course, none of that would be true.

What is true is that I think about Della’s advice all the time and I’m still working to be the kind of person who doesn’t feel the need to apologize for her existence.

And more than ever, lately, I find myself making room for myself, speaking my mind, asking for what I need and ultimately, like Della suggested, avoiding the apology and just saying, “excuse me, I’m coming through!”

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Allison Fallon

21 thoughts on “The Day I Learned to Stop Saying “I’m Sorry””

  1. This is EXACTLY how I feel in my life. I always feel like I am in the way or inconveniencing someone, or taking up too much of someone else’s time or space or effort. I am ALWAYS apologizing to people, and I’ve always liked to blame it on the fact that I am Canadian (haha), but I seriously feel like it’s a problem. I am tired of feeling like I am just in people’s way, I also want to be the girl that says “excuse me, I’m coming through”, with assertion and confidence. I don’t want to feel like I’m walking on eggshells, and wonder every minute if I am in someone’s way. I even feel bad when I have to turn right when I’m driving and the person behind me doesn’t and has to wait until I turn. That’s how bad it is. Not to say that I’m happy that someone else struggles with this, but it is nice to know that I’m not alone. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Allison, I can relate to this for sure. I’ve been the young girl and woman who has always felt like my existence and everything I embody is somehow an inconvenience. This past Friday I was chatting with a friend who reminded me that I keep making concessions for my traits. She noted that I try to minimize myself and apologize for who I am.

    Like you said, it’s taking time to grow out of those habits. Something that’s been helping is seeing myself the way God sees me. The Creator made me so it only makes sense to look to Him as my reference point. God delights in who we are. He wants us to be secure and confident about how we were made. And yes, I even believe He’s totally okay with us being the kind of people who don’t have to apologize for our existence but can boldly declare, “Excuse me, I’m coming through.”

    SH.

    1. Wow, I feel that way when I am driving, too. I also feel bad when I walk in a crosswalk and a car has to stop for me. I thought I was the only one.

  3. There are people like this, who are always thinking they are in the way & then there are people at the extreme opposite, who always think everyone is in their way, the egomaniacs. I have a sister like that. They are the worst. At least those who think they are always in the way usually have some hope of recovering from that syndrome if they gain some self confidence as they grow & mature. I don’t think the egomaniacs ever change. It’s difficult for them to ever see that they need to change because they think so highly of themselves. I started out life as the shy, timid type person who always thought I was in everyone’s way. I was child #7 out of 11. Once I escaped from that brood, I learned a lot about myself & who I could be alone in this world. Thank goodness! We can all change! It just takes time, a lot of work & a lot of patience!!!

  4. I identify with this SO MUCH so, that this very topic came up in my last review period at work. During a 360 degree review there was a comment from a team member that said “Heather apologizes too much, and I fear people see this as a sign of weakness – and Heather isn’t weak.” I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and I still do it – but it’s so good to read this and get a new perspective. “Excuse me, I’m coming through!”

  5. This resonated with me in a big way — especially after an interaction I had with a co-worker recently. When others have a louder voice and often steam roll over everyone in their way in order to get something done, it’s easy to be the one to throw your hands up and say “I’m Sorry” for being in their way (whether you actually are or if you just feel like you are.) In order to be who God really made us to be, and to be confident in that fact, we need to shift and say “watch out — coming through” and not apologize for that confidence in ourselves — whether it’s newly discovered or not. Thanks, Allison!

  6. Thanks Allison! I’m a dude, but have the same issue. I’m working on being more assertive, without being “that guy.”

    I just finished Packing Light. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more of your writing. I find your writing wise and inspirational.

    Mike

  7. Frank Anguiano

    I can assure you plenty of guys have the same issue, and it can be very bad since its less socially acceptable for us. I have periods where I am constantly apologizing to people and 90 percent of it is to stop people for being mad at me. I’m placating yet placating is so against who I am! It is still a constant struggle for me at 27…

  8. I know a girl just like this who I have gotten onto for years to quit apologizing for things that don’t need an apology. I completely value an apology in conflict but there is no need for it when you are just feeling insecure/unwanted/in the way. The rest of us need to speak worth and value into the people who feel like they need to apologize all the time. Glad your co-worker did that for you.

  9. This is exactly how I have felt most of my life…exactly. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been living. The only thing I can say that helped me be less this way is age and experience, and realizing that what I have to say does indeed have great value. I realized that people actually come to me for sound advice – wow, imagine that. We are all “coming through” this life, but it is our choice to come through authentically or as a shadow of who we were created to be, which isn’t the way God wants us back. Thank you Allison for your beautiful, heartfelt honesty…I will join you in remembering Della’s good advice.

  10. OH..MY… GOSH!!! You have no idea how much I needed this. There are no coincidences!! I was one of your followers this was meant for. I only wish I’d read it a day or so ago when I felt led to read it. But I read it today and I can move forward with this knowledge. Thank you.

  11. Kristin Russell

    I so can relate!!!! I love Della’s advice!!! I think I’ll start practicing that statement now, ” Excuse me, I’m coming through!!!!”

  12. Wow! This hits home in so many ways! Favorite line: I’m scared to want things, to ask for things, to admit my hurting, to need help, to accept gifts, to make a path for myself. So painful to admit, but so healing to finally accept!
    Thank you!

  13. Oh, Allison…this poignant post spoke volumes to me. You simply have no idea (well, actually, it appears that you DO!) Years ago someone in my life raised a big red flag for me, pointing out my quickness to spew unnecessary “sorries” all over the place. That person did me a huge favor which I am still grateful for to this day. Although I do still struggle now & then to be aware of when I am apologizing for something, the realization that my constant apologizing painted me as someone who was actually apologizing for my overall existence – as if I just wasn’t worthy – hit me with hard. I mean-WOW…light bulb moment, for sure! Since then I’ve done so much work to uplevel my mindset and reframe the thoughts & beliefs that were the root cause of my “sorries.” Thank you for being so open and sharing your lovely vulnerability with us, Allison! Beautiful.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing this as I am most definitely the “I’m sorry” girl. I never realized until today, reading your piece, that I in fact want to be the girl who announces her presence and lets it be known to the world that I am here and I am coming through.
    Having survived so much in my life sometimes keeps me in the shadows out of fear of ever returning to the dark place I once lived in. But today, I must say thank you for allowing me to realize that those dark places are what can now give me the courage to say “watch out world” because there is nothing that can be done to me that I haven’t already been through.
    I am an overcomer. I am coming through.

  15. Hi Allison, I am so very happy I discovered your blog. Over the past few months, I’ve been working on NOT saying “I’m sorry” for every little thing. I have always been a polite person and I didn’t realize how often I say I’m sorry until a friend of mine pointed it out. Like you, if I feel like I am in someone’s way, whether it be in the supermarket aisle or on the subway, my immediate reaction is to say I’m sorry.
    If I get into an argument with someone, I find myself apologizing throughout the argument. When I think about it, that’s a bit silly considering I am simply sharing my feelings with the other person.
    Now, I only say sorry for things I actually have a reason to be sorry for, like if I say something hurtful to someone and regret saying it.

    Thanks for sharing!

  16. I think a lot of women (myself included) do this because we are sort of bred to. I have been reading quite a bit about why we think and act the way we do and a lot of it is learned sunconsciously through our parents. We tend to carry issues that happened generations back. While my parents where nowhere near abusive, my mom’s were…as we’re her mom’s and so on. Women only existed to serve their men (or so they thought) and if they didnt, they’d be punished. At least in my family..but I think most other families too. I hope I can break the cycle if I have a little girl, it is a tough burden to have.

  17. I don’t want to say who I am but I’m only 15 and I started a small fast food job about a year ago. This is exactly what I do and I wish to be the person who can say ‘excuse me, I’m coming though!’. I cried so much because it’s so accurate to how I feel being a younger and inexperienced member at work !!
    Thank you so much xx

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