Archive for July, 2015

Sorry, but I have to say this…

shutterstock_35944558Queuing behind a business woman in her 30s at a petrol station, I watched as the teenage boy behind the counter asked her the price of the chocolate bar that she was purchasing.

“Sorry!” the woman replied, ducking quickly to the discount stand and back. “Sorry, it’s $1.50.”

At sport the next day, I watched as the coach said to parents on the sidelines, “Sorry, we need someone to score.” Seconds later, a player came up and said “Sorry, I need to sign the sheet.” An umpire on the next court was accidentally struck in the back of the head with a ball and said “Sorry.”

Amy Schumer sent up the ‘sorry’ epidemic in a recent skit, and Pantene produced a viral commercial on the topic last year. Both gave examples of situations where apologies aren’t warranted but are given anyway.

Times when:

  • Someone bumps into us
  • We raise a point or ask a question
  • We send back an uncooked meal
  • We preface an opinion
  • We ask someone to move aside so we can get past

Intellectually, we understand that it makes no sense to apologise for helping someone do their job. Or for filling in required paperwork. Or for the fact that someone has hit us in the head. Yet the apologies keep coming:

Sorry… you knocked over my coffee.
Sorry… I’m here for my medical appointment.
Sorry… you’re not making yourself clear.

Does it matter?



“Sorry” might just be a habit. It might be a device used for politeness or to ease an opinion softly into conversations.

But its overuse has a detrimental impact on how seriously we’re perceived in the workforce (and out of it). Over-apologising (sometimes in what seems like every second sentence in chronic cases) gives the impression that we don’t deserve to be heard. It gives the impression that we believe others’ views are more worthy than our own. That our voices ought to be ushered quietly into a discussion through the back door instead of the main entrance, without making a fuss.

The habit sends a message that we believe we’re taking up space. We’re in the way. Our involvement or contribution is inconvenient. Others have more right to be there, or to speak up.

It gives off a vibe of uncertainty and insecurity. And while that mightn’t matter so much while navigating a full trolley past another in the frozen goods section, it certainly makes a difference in job interviews, meetings and daily professional interactions.

“Sorry” is a beautiful and powerful word when used in situations of genuine error or wrongdoing. It can move mountains between two people.

Can we save it for that purpose?

There IS enough time

shutterstock_58942066I huddled under a blanket on the sidelines of netball on Saturday with the grandmother of one of the girls in my daughter’s team. We got talking, and she said she hadn’t made it to many games because she’s recently taken up drumming and plays in a garage band on Friday nights.

She’s sixty-six and she’s wanted to do this since she was a teenager. She’s having formal lessons and also teaching herself with tutorials from YouTube. She found a band happy to let her jam with them once a week and she’s having the time of her life.

Inspired by this story, a friend told me her nearly 69-year-old mum now spends about 6 months a year teaching English in random countries. She calls it her “retirement career” and has taught in Russia, China, Vietnam, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Ecuador, Japan and Italy (as well as summer schools in the UK and Ireland – she’s in Glasgow now).

Another told me about her grandmother picking up a PhD in her 70s. She also started a modelling career at that age.

When we were in London a few years ago, we came across a festival in a park where you could graffiti your thoughts on a wooden wall. The quote that stood out for me was “I’m a banker, but I want to be a guitarist.”

When we’re ‘in the trenches’ with careers and young families it can feel like there’s no time to feed our passions. There’s always something ‘more important’ to be done.

But life is a whole book, isn’t it? We don’t have to cram all of the action into one chapter…

My friend Rob works in the educational field and has two teenage kids and has always wanted to be in a rock band. He plays in one now, and loves it, and in 2014 they toured to the towns of Tingha and Coonabarabran in NSW where they performed for school kids and community groups and shared their love of music.

  • Another friend has taken up book-binding.
  • Another loves scrap-booking.
  • Another fell in love with salsa dancing.
  • Another is training (from a standing start) for the New York Marathon and recently went sky-diving.
  • Another has started cello lessons.
  • Another is doing karate.
  • I love writing fiction.

And many more are not chasing a passion right now, because it’s not the right time, but it will be…

Perhaps we’ll do something now, or we might do it later. We might have done it when we were teenagers. We might do it in our 70s.

Our timing doesn’t matter, and feeling hideously pressed for time won’t help.

Brian Andreas said, “Everything changed, the moment she realised she had enough time for all the important things in her life.”

And we do. Now. Later. It’s never too late.

I don’t know what to do

shutterstock_59328619A few months ago, I asked for ideas for articles. One of the comments I received was this:

“How do I parent effectively when half the time I feel lost and un-grownup and ineffective myself, when I struggle to have a wide enough perspective and an open enough heart to just ask the right questions, let alone find the right answer. I mean, what do you do when you don’t know what you don’t know? I feel like it’s the blind leading the blind!”

To the person asking, I want to say thank you. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful this question is in making me feel ‘normal’.

This reminded me of a wonderful conversation I had with my sister a few years ago. We admitted we both felt like failures as parents from time to time. We’d yell. We’d feel angry. We’d long for a break. We’d have thoughts flit through our minds that we weren’t proud about.

We compared ourselves, unfavourably, with our own parents, whose endless patience seemed unfathomable to us. Maybe it’s because they had to wait such a long time (nineteen years) for us to come along. Maybe they were just better parents, or more patient people, or superheroes in disguise…

These self-defeating thoughts circled our minds, and then we had a conversation with mum about it. She’s in her eighties now and recalled this:

  • Times when she was so bone-weary and worn out by us that she just stood in the shower and cried.
  • Times when she wouldn’t answer the door because the house was in such a mess.
  • The time our ever-patient Dad had a memorable argument with me as a teenager when he thought he would have a heart attack, he was so furious.

And we were so incredibly relieved to hear this!

One of the most important messages to give our children is ‘I don’t know either’.

  • I don’t know the answer
  • I don’t know what I’m doing
  • I don’t know how to fix that
  • I don’t know how to feel better/different right now
  • I don’t know why
  • I don’t know how
  • I just don’t know!

It’s not about fobbing their questions off, or scaring them with too much parental uncertainty—it’s about bolstering them for life, which is packed full of the unknown, and letting them know it’s not only okay not to have all the answers, it’s impossible to have them all.

It always struck me at work that the most senior people were the ones who asked the most ‘silly questions’. They weren’t ashamed not to know, and wouldn’t scurry around in private trying to figure things out without people noticing their ignorance—they knew the best way to get ahead with something was just to ask.

Modelling how to deal with the scary unknown is a gift for the people around you. There is great comfort in knowing uncertainty is normal, and that there are various ways out of it:

Mummy doesn’t know either, but there are ways to figure things out, and people I can ask…

Phew!

It’s of immense comfort to me as a mum that I kept my teenage diaries, because the passage of time has given me a recollection of our home life as being somewhat ‘idyllic’. It’s given me a recollection of our parents being pretty perfect too. It’s a hard standard to try to live up to.

Reading my diaries I realise they were (and are) seriously wonderful but they were ‘human’ too. Apparently I argued with mum the way my girls and I sometimes argue now. Mum was exasperated about things I’m now exasperated about as well.

They didn’t, as my sister and I previously suspected, waltz straight through parenting like they were writing a textbook about it. They faced decisions and unknowns and the occasional throw-your-arms-up-in-despair moments.

Maybe they still feel like ‘un-grownups’ when my sister and I come to them with serious, grownup issues the like of which they didn’t encounter in their own adults lives. They recently said (in jest, sort of) that we’ve caused them more grey hairs as adults than we ever did as kids. 😉

If they do feel that way, it’s more than okay. It’s hugely reassuring.

I hope that the five kids that my sister and I have between us are watching closely as their parents and grandparents and aunties stumble around searching for answers, getting bits of things wrong and other bits right and generally being ‘flawed’. I think it makes us approachable. And for kids— having someone to go to in your time of need, who will sit with you and help you work things out together is what really, really counts.

Un-grownups Unite!