Being the diligent reporter that I was, my ninth-grade self was running late to my interview. Trotting down the steps that led to the Marshall Pool, chastising myself for losing track of time yet again, I stumbled in front of a closed gate. I grimaced as I gently opened the door to the tennis court, and took a tentative step inside.
“Sorry!” I squeaked to the startled coach and the pair of athletes inside. “Do you mind if I just squeeze by to get to the pool? I’m so sorry!”
The coach set his racket down and stared at me.
“Don’t you ever say that again,” he called out in a stern voice. But he was smiling. “Don’t say sorry! I have two daughters, and I tell them everyday to stop feeling the need to apologize. Girls do it all the time without thinking about it!” He then pointed to the pool. “And don’t worry about passing through – it’s not a problem at all!”
The thing is though, it is a problem. It’s telling that somebody I didn’t know could easily pinpoint one of my greatest weaknesses: my apologetic nature. And it’s rather disconcerting that it took a complete stranger’s observation to prompt me to realize that I tend to say sorry when it’s not necessary.
Though it doesn’t excuse my behavior, it’s not surprising as to why I’ve cultivated this habit. Besides the whole gender aspect (I think it’s a given that girls generally apologize more than guys), I was raised in a culture where humility and graciousness were the most important virtues. Whereas other families don’t think twice about their body language or accepting compliments, it becomes a whole ordeal for mine.
Whenever someone in my family compliments anything that belongs to someone else (and I mean anything: a necklace, a jacket, a potted plant), my relative will immediately offer to give up that object. Everyone in my family practices this almost unconsciously; it’s not uncommon for my own mother to literally try to give me the shirt of her back because I said it looked “cute.” I have vivid memories of aunts tackling frightened waiters and trying to discreetly slide their credit cards into aprons so they can pay for the table’s dinner before we could. It’s almost expected to say sorry anytime you turn your back on an elder.I’ve essentially been groomed since birth to accommodate other’s needs with or beofer my own, and to profusely apologize when I can’t.
My habit, however, is not just a result of my cultural background. I’ve noticed that I catch myself saying sorry far more than people from other schools. Though Harvard-Westlake certainly has students who are externally and internally confident, the majority of us are either outwardly self-assured yet internally insecure, or the opposite.
In an attempt to make sense of our rigorous and competitive school, most of us partake in the daily ritual of saying we’re not good enough, while hypocritically trying to convince others that they’re being too self-critical.
Sometimes I feel like we’re sorry for everything, literally everything: for not getting perfect grades, for not having enough extracurriculars, for not doing more for the community, for not taking advantage of the resources around us, for not deserving the advantages we’ve been given, for not being nice and smart and good enough. For our very existence, it seems.
You don’t have to have be a girl or come from a Persian family to grow up in an environment where you feel more disposed to self-criticism – you’re already at risk enough attending this school. It’s an ugly truth but one that we need to hear if we want to foster our inner strength.And I would say sorry, I would apologize for taking up some of your time to read this article (which I’m really grateful for, by the way) and forcing you to listen once again to another one of my rants, but the thing is – I’m really not.
It’s time I learned to own my inner confidence on the outside and be unapologetically myself. And it’s time you did too.