Center for Teaching, Learning & Engagement

@ Glendale Community College, Glendale, Arizona, USA

I’m Not Perfect, And I Don’t Need to Apologize for It

There is a beautiful children’s song by The Laurie Berkner Band called I’m Not Perfect. In one of the verses, Berkner sings:

I’m not perfect, no I’m not
I’m not perfect, but I’ve got what I’ve got
I do my very best, I do my very best
I do my very best each day
But I’m not perfect
And I hope you like me that way

When reflecting on the song, Berkner writes, “I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok to be exactly what I am… not perfect. This song helps a lot. It would have been nice to realize it when I was a lot younger.”

Berkner’s song is a response to the pressure to be perfect that we often place upon one another and ourselves. Recently, I have felt that this pressure to be perfect has manifested itself in an increase of apologizing when no apology is needed: I am sorry to be bothering someone by asking a question. I am sorry if I don’t reply to an email or complete a task right away. I am sorry if I don’t understand. I am sorry if I want to speak in a meeting. I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry.

I am all for apologizing when it’s needed. If I realize I’ve done something that caused harm – intentionally or not – I do my best to provide a heartfelt and authentic apology. I believe it is a sign of strength to let others know that I recognize my error and will seek to be better in the future.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

But, a quick search of my email since August 2020 revealed 325 conversation threads – approximately 10 per week – where someone was sorry or apologized. Do we really need to be sorry that often?

During the last year, there has been a focus on giving one another grace, but we don’t seem to be giving that same grace to ourselves. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that the pressure of being perfect is not healthy, especially in an environment that is already filled with a myriad of challenges.

I may not be able to control the pressures of the world right now, but I can control how often I say I am sorry. I am trying to stop and think every time I am about to say or write that automatic “sorry.” If I get stuck on what to say instead, I can turn to resources like the Forbes Coaches Council article, Stop Apologizing: 10 Alternative Approaches To ‘I’m Sorry’. One of my favorite suggestions is to find a way to say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.”

I have found it incredibly freeing to not be sorry all the time. I invite you to join me in being mindful about apologizing, or not apologizing, as the case may be.

The side effect of noticing my use of sorry has been that I notice others’ use as well. Changing my use of sorry has allowed me to model this behavior for others. If I don’t believe others should be sorry, I need to demonstrate that in my own behavior. In addition, I have started actively explaining to colleagues and students (who especially need to hear this I think) why they don’t need to apologize either.

In a later verse of her song, Berkner shifts from “I” to “we”:

We’re not perfect, no we’re not
We’re not perfect, but we’ve got what we’ve got
We do our very best, we do our very best
We do our very best each day
But we’re not perfect
And we hope you like us that way

Wouldn’t it be a relief if we all were equally imperfect and didn’t need to apologize for it? I think so, and I hope you agree.

If not, I am sorry for bothering you thank you for still taking the time to read this message.

When I shared this post, my friend Tara responded with a – dare I say – perfect response for coaching others. If someone apologizes unnecessarily, she replies, “No need to be sorry! You were just ______.” If she is not sure what to put in the blank, she adds “existing in the world.”

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