Episode 50! I’m So Sorry for Being Sorry. Why are We Always Apologizing?, by Pat Zietlow Miller
Welcome to episode 50 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Usually, this podcast features an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday).
In this episode, Pat Zietlow Miller reads her essay, “I’m So Sorry for Being Sorry. Why are We Always Apologizing?”. You can read Pat’s essay below.
Pat Zietlow Miller is not the least bit sorry to say that she has sold 17 picture books – eight of which are available now. BE KIND (illustrated by Jen Hill) was on the New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks, and SOPHIE’S SQUASH (illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf) won a Charlotte Zolotow Honor, an Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor and a Golden Kite Award. Pat has also won three Crystal Kite Awards. Pat has two books coming out in 2019 – REMARKABLY YOU (illustrated by Patrice Barton) on Feb. 5 and WHEN YOU ARE BRAVE (illustrated by Eliza Wheeler) on March 5. You can find her at www.patzietlowmiller.com or on Twitter at @PatZMiller.
I’ve been thinking about apologies lately.
It all started when I encountered some complications after a relatively minor surgery and ended up spending seven hours in the emergency room.
I’ll just say it. I was a mess.
I was in pain. I was nauseous. I hadn’t showered. Parts of me were oozing. I couldn’t walk without help. None of this was my fault, yet I found myself apologizing to the emergency room staff.
“I’m sorry. I’m normally more pulled together than this.”
Looking back, this was a weird thing to say. I think it’s safe to assume most emergency room patients aren’t perfectly coiffed, well-dressed and their very best selves.
I originally put my apology down to the pain meds I was taking. But then, once I’d fully recovered, I noticed a trend. A trend of smart, talented, thoroughly admirable people apologizing needlessly.
These were speakers. Talking to pretty large audiences at several different events. They were speaking because they are awesome at something. Some were accepting awards for those awesome things.
In every case, a substantial number of people had chosen to come and listen to these speakers because of their awesomeness. And yet … here’s how these wonderful people – all of them women – started their presentations:
“I’m sorry I’m so nervous.”
“I’m sorry I brought my notes.”
“I’m sorry you have to hear me before you get to so-and-so.”
“I’m sorry the introduction that person did for me was so long.”
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Some people’s apologies were brief. Other folks went on and on.
I’m not judging. I apologized to a nurse for being sick, after all. And I know public speaking is something that makes many people deeply uncomfortable.
I raise the apology issue because I hope calling attention to it will make other people think about whether they do the same thing and, if so, ask themselves if it’s truly necessary. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)
Some people point out apologizing could be a bit of an ice-breaker or conversation-starter to get the audience on the speaker’s side. That’s possible.
But I’d argue you can do that without apologizing. If you are nervous, you could say: “Wow! I’m nervous. But I’m so happy to be here today.” Or, “This is a bigger crowd than I usually speak to. Thank you for coming to see me!”
Most other things I heard people apologize for don’t need to be mentioned at all.
You brought your notes? No problem! A lot of speakers do. No one will notice.
The person introducing you listed everything you’ve done since sophomore year of high school? That’s cool. You earned those accomplishments.
There’s a better-known speaker after you? It doesn’t matter. People are there listening to YOU. If they didn’t want to hear you, they could be getting a snack or taking a last-minute restroom break. Plus, I once went to a concert just to see the warm-up band then left before the headliner. And I promise you, the warm-up band didn’t apologize for existing at all.
I think fear of not belonging is what drives most needless apologies. The, “Who would really want to listen to me?” worry. Because even if someone invited you to speak or gave you an award, it’s easy to think that maybe it was all a big mistake and once you start talking people will see how undeserving you really are.
Ignore those thoughts. There’s that old saying that being brave doesn’t mean not being scared. It means being scared and moving forward anyway. To which I’d add – without apologizing or explaining.
Remember. You are the expert on your accomplishments. Who better to talk about the book you wrote or the art you drew or the project you developed?
And, full disclosure: Despite fully believing everything I just typed, I caught myself apologizing again recently. And I wasn’t even taking pain meds.
I was at a training seminar meeting new people. A friend of mine mentioned that I had a picture book on the New York Times bestseller list. This was undeniably true. Yet when the person I had just met started gushing about how awesome that was, I demurred, saying:
“It’s not as cool as most people think.”
OK. I didn’t use the words, “I’m sorry,” but I was still definitely apologizing. For doing something noteworthy. For defying the norm.
What I meant was: I don’t live on a yacht.
What I meant was: Please don’t think I’m arrogant and boastful.
What I meant was: You probably don’t expect a NYT bestselling author to be a sort of frumpy, middle-aged, Midwestern woman who has a day job at an insurance company.
But I should never have said it.
I should have said: “Thank you! It’s pretty awesome, and I’m thrilled.”
Because it is. And I am.
So let’s make a pact. The next time we have to give a speech or accept an award or even accept a compliment, we’ll think before we talk. We’ll be gracious. We’ll be pleasant. We’ll even be humble.
But we will never, ever, apologize for being our own awesome selves.