“It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.”
This is just one of the pieces of wisdom making its round on social media from Amy Poehler’s new book Yes Please, which was released just a few weeks ago. Maybe it’s the people and networks I follow, but the fact that this particular quote kept popping up felt like a personalized and much-needed reminder from the universe.
I turned 29 earlier this week and in the build-up to my birthday I was having more self-critical moments than normal. Mostly: What have I done in the last 29 years?
On particularly down days I sill look at my life as if it’s broken down into “right” or “wrong.” This is a black-and-white way of looking at the world and it’s downright toxic. If I start to focus too long on the wrong, I start to feel sorry. Sorry that I’m not married, or pregnant, or a homeowner, or using the master’s degree I will be paying for until I enter my grave. It’s easy to let those thoughts spiral out of control, especially as I rapidly approach my third decade on the planet and find myself searching for my place in the world, something a younger version of me assumed I would have alllllllll sorted out by now (Spoiler alert: This search for purpose is on par with hunting for unicorns).
Amy’s quote reminded me of all of the personal growth I have made in the last 29 years, especially those things I no longer apologize or feel sorry for. Here’s a few:
My face without makeup
When I was little my brother’s friend told him I looked like a baby raccoon, which my brother then told to me, which then gave me a long-standing complex about the dark circles under my eyes. I spent a lot of time at department store makeup counters during high school asking for samples of different under-eye concealer creams, gels, and powders. I researched natural remedies, visited ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialists, and stopped touching the skin around my eyes in any scenario other than applying layers of makeup.
As it turns out, a combination of bad allergies and deep-set eyes means I will always have dark circles. I like to think that my big brown eyes and welcoming smile detract attention from my under-eye circles, but I also don’t care anymore. I woke up like this… with dark circles, blackheads, and short eyelashes. I’m finally as comfortable and confident heading out the door to run errands without makeup as I am heading out in full makeup.
From friends, from lovers, from family members, from jobs. Sometimes the only way to grow is to create space or move away entirely. There is no one missing in my life who still belongs in it, and everyone I love is a plane, train, automobile, arm’s reach, or phone call away.
Street harassment has come into the spotlight recently more than ever before and some people, men and women, have expressed that they’re either tired of hearing about it or don’t think it’s actually “that bad.” Up until the last, few years there was still a part of me that mechanically smiled when someone on the street asked me to. I no longer feel bad for not smiling and I definitely don’t do it on command.
Intervening in situations that “Aren’t my business”
For several years in my early twenties I was in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship, a fact that some friends and former friends still can’t or won’t believe. About a year after that relationship ended, I was at a bar with a group of friends when I saw a girl pinned against a wall in a dark corner by her boyfriend. He was jabbing a pointed finger at her face and growling something at her. I had been that girl — chastised for something small and stupid, just far enough out of sight that no one believed me when I tried to tell them that abuse had happened and they had been there for it without knowing.
I walked over to the couple and put my body between them. I told him to walk away. Two people yelled at me that night — the finger-pointing guy and one of my closest friends. “It’s not your business” is what both of them told me. I am not sorry for defending that woman and I am never sorry for stepping up in situations where it would be easiest to turn the other way.
Talking “too much”
To be fair, I’m still working on this. Somewhere along the way in life, I started to believe that what I had to say was less important than what everyone else had to say. Often I found myself following up any speech longer than three or four sentences with an apology for talking so much, even when it was a friend or loved one, and especially when it was a new acquaintance. I’ve had to work very hard to remember that my voice and opinion matter and there is no reason to be sorry for what I am knowledgeable, curious, or interested about.
It is never my goal to write unkindly about others, but it is also no longer something I hold myself back from if it’s part of the story.
Where I come from
Not just the state (New York) or city (Buffalo), but the household I grew up in and the experiences that have shaped who I am. I didn’t grow up wealthy, but that instilled a good work ethic and respect for people from all walks of life in me. When I’m traveling out of town or out of the country, I’m proud of the individual experiences and perspectives I bring with me.
I still catch myself starting to say “Sorry” more often than I would like. Whether it’s an American thing, a female thing, or a human thing, it’s worth considering how often we apologize for things that don’t require expressing regret. As I finish out my twenties, I’m happy to feel emotions like thankful, happy, experienced, and thoughtful way more than I feel sorry.