I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now.
My mom called me in the middle of writing the other day, and although I was in the zone, I picked up. There was no emergency. There was no “need” other than to just talk to me. She was driving, and sometimes it’s just nice to hear the voice of those you love, rather than music or a podcast.
I told her I couldn’t talk at the moment, and asked if I could call her later. I apologized again. It was probably the third time within 30 seconds. She said it wasn’t a problem, said, “I love you,” and then we hung up.
And then I immediately felt bad.
My mom wanted to talk, and I kept writing. Uh oh.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the conversation that transpired. Writing is my job, and although it might be in my home or a workspace or unconventional for people who don’t know how to think outside the box, it’s my job. And I have to do my job.
Let’s be clear here — my mother had zero qualms about me not talking. Zero. In fact, she was delighted to hear that I was writing. She’s quite the champion of my words and work. I just felt bad. My husband says that’s my default setting — to feel bad.
Remorse is an important, beautiful, and essential part of living and growing — but I feel bad about things that are absolutely out of my control. Things that are very clearly not my fault. Things that are very obviously not something to apologize for — like a bad day at work, like the traffic, like not dropping everything immediately when someone needs something because I have to keep working.
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve rightfully said,“I’m sorry,” I’d be a millionaire. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “I’m sorry,” when there was absolutely no reason for me to apologize, I’d a billionaire.
I apologize when people are hurting even when I didn’t hurt them, I apologize when I can’t be in two places at once, I apologize when I can’t do 10 things at once, I apologize when I have the courage to say “no” to something, even though it’s the better decision.
“Sorry” slips through my lips as easily as air.
I don’t know when or why I started apologizing as a reaction to everyone and everything. I never felt unloved as a kid. I don’t feel unloved as an adult. But I do and always have felt the need to take people’s pain away, to make life easier for those around me.
And while that’s a beautiful thing — to want to help, to heal, and to fix—I’m learning how to balance that with standing still for a moment.
Not everything is your fault, and not everything needs your apology.
Sometimes it’s more impactful to listen before “sorry” slips through one’s lips.
Here’s to learning how to listen.