I learned at a very young age to prioritize being pleasant, polite and likable. I was raised in a traditional Chinese household, and the concept of “face”(miàn z) – one’s own sense of self image and prestige in social contexts, was a significant part of our culture. It was normal to “save face” – which was to act in a way to preserve social status and ensure that one is not thought badly of by peers.
In my family it was best to not cause a stir, to avoid confrontation and minimize family tension at all costs – even if we had to lie. Harmony > honesty. This cultural upbringing coupled with climbing the corporate ladder in male-dominated industries, reinforced my approach of being pleasant and likable, god forbid I was ever perceived as a bitch. I’m also Canadian, and “I’m sorry” is sorta engrained in our lexicon.
For the majority of my life, I played nicely in this paradigm. I did things out of obligation – including going to weddings I had ZERO belief in, tolerating bad behavior from colleagues, romantic partners and friends, and always being careful to not offend. If I felt anger I would repress it, or turn it into sadness, as sadness is much more socially acceptable for girls. The parts of me that felt violated or wronged would be silenced, and the sides of me that weren’t socially acceptable were suppressed, neatly put in a box that would be tucked away. However, as I started to become more comfortable in my own skin, and more aligned in my values, I realized that I value being authentic more than being liked. And actually, I’m not sorry.
I’m not sorry for stating my boundaries and being firm in where I stand. I’m not sorry for demanding I get paid what I’m worth. I’m not sorry that I didn’t go to your baby shower because my heart wasn’t in it. I’m not sorry that I put the lifemask on myself first before tending to your needs. I’m not sorry that I changed my mind. I’m not sorry for my emotions. I’m not sorry for being sexy even if you find it threatening. I’m not sorry that you wanted something and I chose not to give it you (an invite, my time, a connection, my energy). I’m not sorry that I don’t spend time with you because I feel bad around you. I’m not sorry that I don’t like you. I’m not sorry that you think I’m intense. I’m not sorry that I didn’t put up with your bullshit and called you out on it.
Through my work building Renew, I witness countless women, who are so strong, but somewhere along the way, just like me, got entangled in this powerless stance of being sorry for who they are and how they are. At Renew we encourage these women to stop apologizing for who they are – starting from the language they use, to loving the parts of themselves that they have felt shame around their entire lives. We empower them to embrace all of their sides – including the imperfect, raw, parts they thought were unlovable. To be proud of all of who they are – not apologetic.
We inspire them to speak up, to raise their standards, to be firm in their boundaries and soft in their hearts, and dare dream big and reach for what they want. We motivate them to be a lot less sorry and a lot more powerful. It’s through witnessing the courage of these women who claim their voices and authentic selves, that I’ve felt inspired to follow suit.
I’m finally daring to be more authentic and to stop being so fucking apologetic about my emotions, my needs, my methods that go against the status quo, and my values-based life. Choosing authenticity as a guiding value means you stop faking and bullshitting – it means the root of your behavior comes from a place of truth, not obligation or a fear of being disliked. I don’t identify with being nice (externally motivated), I identify with being kind (internally motivated). On this path, I’ve had confrontations, brutally honest conversations and have offended people along the way. I accept that people won’t like me, and that’s okay. In fact, letting go of needing to be liked or accepted is incredibly empowering and invigorating.
This intentional way of living is new to me, and I admit, it’s not the easy path. Avoidance is much easier than confrontation. Being nice is much easier than risking being rejected and disliked. But I don’t think anyone who ever changed the world apologized their way to the top. Their energy is spent creating, not pleasing.
Photo credit: Marvin Meyer