January 4, 2014

Stop Apologizing for Not Being Perfect.

I know you want to lose weight and start volunteering.

I know you want to write your first novel and go to yoga every single day and maybe you want to eat Paleo or go vegan or save enough money to have some sort of procedure done to yourself that will make you more beautiful.

Perhaps it’s your house. You want to get a bigger one or a cleaner one or fix everything in the one you already have that you’ve been putting off forever so that you can finally throw the very fancy dinner parties you think you ought to be hosting. Gluten-free, vegan, Paleo dinner parties for people on juice fasts. This is just the sort of nonsense that we think about when December’s tinsel-glittering hedonism finally ends, leaving us exhausted, over-indulged and totally guilt-ridden.

I love the idea of new beginnings—that symbolically we get a fresh year spread out before us, pristine as a morning meadow after a heavy snow before we’ve stomped all over it and the dogs have peed on it and before the world has turned it into a messy pile of grey slush. Clean slates are a wonderful concept. Embrace your fresh start this January, but don’t use it as an excuse to beat the hell out of yourself for no good reason.

I’m uncomfortable with the self-loathing that accompanies so many of our New Year’s resolutions. Healthy self-improvement and goal setting, those are great, great things. Each year I hope to be a little better off than the year before: a little healthier, a little happier, a little closer on my journey towards enlightenment. But like most of us, I find myself taking it too far. Often, what begins as a desire to better ourselves turns into low self-esteem’s free-for-all, end of the old year, start of the new, blowout bash.

Can we please stop with all the I’m-not-good-enoughs? This year, beginning now, let’s end the incessant auditing of our flaws and broadcasting them to everyone we know.

There is only one resolution we need to make this year:

Stop apologizing for not being perfect.

Of all our bad habits, this is one of the most insidious awful vices we have. It’s so ingrained, so automatic, so expected that most of us probably don’t even realize how much we do it or that we’re doing it at all.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?

A friend visits and before they get in the door you’re already talking about how messy your house is.

In response to a compliment on your new outfit, your immediate comeback is “This thing? I just got it at the Goodwill. It was only 99 cents. I think it makes my butt look like the back end of a semi truck.”

I am so guilty of this.

I caught myself at dinner recently. I had met some girlfriends out at a restaurant and the first thing I did, before I even sat down, was apologize to my friends for looking a sight after they had both just told me how pretty I looked.

“Oh gosh, I’m a mess. Sorry, I just threw my hair into a pony tail,” I said.

Then I complimented one friend on her appearance.

“Ugh, I have a cold. My nose is bright red and my lips are chapped. Can you see this massive zit on my forehead?”

Then she complimented our third friend on both her new outfit and her new promotion. She too downplayed her looks and her accomplishments.

“Thanks, but I’ve gained seven pounds and I’m about to bust out of it and I think they only gave me the job because the guy they really wanted moved to L.A.,” she sighed.

When I made a point of noticing, I realized that everyone everywhere was constantly apologizing for not being perfect.

Before a spectacular meal at a friend’s house, my hostess apologized in advance. She couldn’t decide on a recipe. It didn’t turn out the way she wanted. The main course was dry. It probably wasn’t very good. Did I mention that the meal was spectacular?

After yoga, I hear my fellow yogis heading to the showers, defeated sometimes, discussing the shortcomings of their practice. I am one of them.

We apologize and announce our imperfections for several reasons.

Part of it is preemptive.

Because we are so accustomed to cataloging everything we believe is wrong with us, naturally we assume that everyone else is scrutinizing us equally (they aren’t). In response to this imagined judgment, we begin to feel self-conscious, then guilty, believing that we’ve done something wrong. We’re compelled to apologize then for not being perfect.

Our apologies are also defenses. Again, because we believe others are nitpicking us the way we nitpick ourselves, we insult ourselves before anyone else has the chance. I do this with my weight.

I’ve gained some weight in the past year and it’s all in the belly. I hate my belly fat and I feel like everywhere I go people are looking at it. In my mind, this belly fat is the elephant in the room and I feel like people are looking at me and judging my flabby mid-section and I can’t bear to imagine what they might silently be thinking, so I immediately acknowledge the fat before they have a chance to, admitting my shame because God forbid I’d have the nerve to gain a few pounds and not be ashamed of myself. I’m apologetic even for making others have to look at a chubbier me.

In a culture of self-deprecation, it’s easy to confuse shame and humility. They aren’t the same thing. To be humble is good, but to hate yourself isn’t. In many cases, we may apologize for our successes because we don’t want to seem like we’re bragging or full of ourselves, or worse because we feel we don’t deserve them in the first place.

Make the new year gracious. Give yourself permission to be proud, to be imperfect, to be exactly as you are right now. Let your resolutions focus on kindness and loving what you have rather than criticizing yourself for what you think you lack.

Resolve to stop apologizing for being who you are. Welcome your friends into your too small, messy house without the remodeled kitchen you wish you had. Wear the dress you love, rock your pony tail and if someone gives you a compliment, don’t try to talk them out of it. All you have to do is smile and say “Thank you.”

You deserve every compliment and every success in your life. You are fine exactly as you are and you know what? You’re going to have a great year.


Relephant reads:

How to Love Ourselves as Imperfect People. 

Quotable Insights: Perfectly Imperfect

I Am Enough.


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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: elephant journal archives

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