What If It IS Your Fault?


Sorry Charlie


Last time we talked about those of us who always feel like whatever’s happened is totally and 100% our fault.

We’re feel like we’re always wrong, so we apologize… for everything. Even for bumping into chairs.

And for those of us in this camp, the task ahead is to ratchet back the use of “sorry” and use it only when we really, really need it.

That advice is for the Apologetics in the crowd.

There’s a whole other crowd for whom sorry is important, too.

They’re the people who never, ever apologize. Never, ever accept responsibility for anything. These are the drama kings and queens who create trouble and then sneak out the side door, or lob responsibility onto bystanders.

You may recognize yourself here.

Or maybe not.

But the key signs that you might be the problem are:

  • you have a strong belief that anyone who says “sorry” is a weak wuss
  • you’re constantly telling yourself that the folks around you are too thin-skinned and/or can’t take a joke
  • things are consistently screwed up and it’s always everyone else’s fault

Any bells ringing yet?

I know it’s not easy to say, “Yep, that’s me all right!” because who wants to think about themselves as wrong, mistaken or – even – as a bully?

Sugar pop, if more than one of the bullets above describes you – it’s very likely that the problem is you.

And when it is you who is wrong, there’s a four-step process you can use. Especially if you’re going to stick around in the situation, and you’re going to stay in relationship with the people in your orbit.

When you have caused pain, you (1) apologize. Do (2) what you can to make it better. (3) Promise not to do it again. And then don’t do it again. Ever (4).

That is all you need to do.

But you have to be self-aware enough to figure out that you are the problem. This kind of self-awareness takes some work, but it really pays off.  Check this article from Forbes.com:

“Leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness,’ which should actually be a top criterion.  Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.  This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen.  These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”  

Being self-aware enough to know when you need to apologize is a sign of strength whether you’re apologizing at home, at work, at the soccer game or at art class. Whether you’re a leader in a big organization or a Girl Scout leader. Or not leading anything at all.

A heartfelt apology is acknowledgement of your respect for the feelings of another human being. It’s a bid toward a closer relationship with another person. 

And, it’s the right thing to do.

If you have caused another person pain, or harmed them in any way, apologize. Do it quickly, openly and sincerely. And go out of your way to never repeat your mistake.

You will be the stronger for it, and you and everyone around you will be much happier, too.

It’s All My Fault



I used to be one of those people who apologized to chairs.

Pink classical style Armchair sofa couch in vintage room

As in, I’d bump into that striped easy chair in the living room and say, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

I’d run into the table and out would pop, “Excuse me!”

Yes, I was one of those women. One of those women whose most-often-uttered-word is an apology.

And it’s a very big club.

At Busch Gardens one time, I saw an elegant older woman driving a bumper car. Every time her car so much as brushed another car, she very clearly said, “Oh, I do beg your pardon.”

She was one of us.

Over time, here’s what I learned: When you start off with “sorry” – when you take credit for everything that’s gone wrong – you’re one-down at the outset of any encounter.

You’re automatically at fault.

And then it becomes that it’s always your fault.

When anyone is in doubt, it’s you who’s always wrong.

Which is one hell of a way to make sure you get all the blame for pretty much everything.

This past week, a client had a difficult situation with herself, a business partner, a client and deliverables that went undelivered. As we talked through it, she kept saying, “It’s all my fault.” As a recovered Aplogetic, I listened with care.

“Are you sure,” I asked, “that you are the single and only reason this happened the way it happened?”

As we explored the matter, it became clear that perhaps office politics were involved, and perhaps communications between the business partner and the client could have been better.

It became clearer and clearer that while my client had some responsibility for the situation, she didn’t bear all the weight for the problems the project had faced.

Why is it that some of us are quick to take responsibility for things that are really other people’s responsibility or completely out of our control?

We say things like:

“I should have been able to make this work.”

“I should have been able to keep this from happening.”

“I should have seen this coming.”

Really? You are so strong, so powerful, so capable that there is nothing in the world you can’t do? Including stopping earthquakes, holding back tsunamis and getting teenagers to clean their room?

My, my. You are something.

So – tell me – why do you apologize all the time?

Honey, there is no way in hell it’s always your fault.

You aren’t that messed up.

You aren’t that powerful, either.

You are you. Darling, dear, goofy, sweet, kind, loving-in-your-own-way you.

And you can’t be in charge of everything. Nor should you be.

That job is way too big for little old you.

You have one job and only one job – and that’s to be the best you possible.

Look at it this way – you and I are fully and totally 100% responsible for the part we play in any situation. But sometimes somebody else is responsible for 95% of the trouble.

So, do this: Only when you know for sure that you have caused harm to another person, do you utter the word “sorry”.

Remember, chairs and tables can’t feel.

And some things are truly other people’s fault. Or just the way things in the world are at that moment.

It’s not your fault.

Save “sorry” for when you really need it. And, when you really and truly mean it.


The Wolf Of Wall Street’s Opposite


Sometimes it seems the advice we’re given for successful living is to wake every day on fire, with the intention of grabbing life by the throat and shaking it until its head rattles.


We’re to be hard-charging, forward-leaning and suck the marrow from the bones of our day. We finally get to declare victory when the sun sets over the crumpled, inferior bodies of our vanquished opponents. We stand then – like mighty Hercules – with a stiff drink in our hands, the world at our feet and big money to burn.

We are all to be Wolves of Wall Street, I gather.

But, you know something? I’m not a wolf, I’m a human. And I work on a road, not a street. And usually all I vanquish in any given day is trouble of my own making.

Yes, as unfashionable as it may be, I will admit that there are some days when I wake with no fire in my belly to conquer any damn thing out there in the world.

OK, many days.

The truth is that at the end of any given day, I’m happy to have simply conquered myself.

Don’t let me mislead you – I like winning. I am actually quite experienced with winning. Winning is a very good thing, I like it very much and it happens for me quite frequently.

Yet, surprisingly, I have found that I win more when I try less. Which is probably the opposite of everything I ever was told about How To Do It.

What I’ve learned is that when I bear down and push, success stays stuck. When I let up and release, success is born.

Sure, sometimes success surprises with an instant, unexpected appearance. Isn’t it fun when that happens? But, day in and day out, I’ve found that success is mostly a waiting game.

Waiting, as you know, is not the sexiest thing ever. Nor does it provoke wolf-like envy.

“Whatcha up to, Michele?”

“Oh, I’m just sitting here doing my thing and figuring it will work someday or I’ll change it and most likely that’ll work. I’m cool with it either way.”

[Honey, even Jennifer Lawrence couldn't make those lines compelling.]

Here’s the thing: Success sneaks up when I simply show up every day, and do what needs doing. And find some fun in the process.

It’s the practice of planting seeds daily with the hopeful optimism that someday, some of them will thrive and grow. And the intention that the someday-harvest will be sweet.

It’s knowing I don’t have to eat what I kill to be the kind of person I want to be.

It’s the awareness that I can just wake up, bring my best self to the day and let the rest take care of itself. More than likely, quite successfully.

When you think about it, you probably know this is true for you, too. When you look at times in your life when great things have happened, I’ll bet you were loose, engaged and happy.

Which may not be the way you are right now. You might be stressed, and rather wolfish. But that’s not who you are when you do your best work, is it?

This week, why not change it up a little? Why not wake up, show up, plant some seeds and then…see what happens?


 [photo: Paramount Pictures]


Are You Confident? Or Arrogant?



Headlines this week led me to consider the difference between confidence and arrogance.

Here’s what I came up with:

Four people walk into a meeting.

The anxious one walks in worried that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and everyone else is going to see it.

The confident one walks in pretty sure she knows what she’s talking about, but imagines she’ll learn something from everyone else in the room.

The arrogant one walks in certain that he knows what he’s talking about, and everyone else better agree.

The narcissistic one walks in sure he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but he’ll bluster and cover so no one else ever sees the deep flaw he keeps hidden.

You’ve been in this meeting, haven’t you?

You know, on one level it can be kind of fun to be arrogant. People might stand up when you walk into the room, and you might get your way, and no one ever talks back to you.

As they say: It’s good to be king.

But this is precisely how 100% of scandals happen. People do what they think they are supposed to be doing even if it’s ethically icky because no one has ever explicitly said, “Don’t do that.” Nothing remotely resembling challenges to the arrogant authority is allowed –  no back talk, remember?

That arrogance of leadership does not build… anything, with the exception of hundreds and hundreds of negative stories, and a ton of unhappiness.

Confidence, however, inspires debate within a team – which provides insight and perspectives to shape a stronger decision or choice.

True confidence engenders the kind of loyalty that is not blind, but is built upon high regard – high mutual regard. That’s the kind of loyalty which lasts.

And it’s the kind of loyalty which weeds out arrogant bad actors on the team. Quickly.

It’s the kind of confidence born of a leader’s willingness be known as a person, and to ask questions – sometimes, hard questions – and to keep an open mind. It’s born of realizing that each of us brings something to the table, and it’s worth knowing what that something is.

Confidence is also found in a willingness to be wrong, and an awareness that we’ve been through hard things before and we will likely face hard things again.

And it all will be OK.

Now, let me ask you – if you walked into the meeting, who would you be?

Is that who you want to be?

If not, there’s one thing you can start doing to edge toward confidence and away from those destructive roles. Just one thing. One little thing.

When you find yourself in that meeting, ask a question. And ask it with an open heart and an open mind. Then you’ll be the confident one.

[And if  you don't think of yourself as a "leader", feel free to substitute the word "parent", or "neighbor", or "human", as you see fit. You'll find it still works.]


When Words Matter


It was early Friday morning last week. I was at my desk when it came through, completely unexpected. Totally out of the blue.

Ding! I had a message.


It popped up. <click> I read.

The writer just wanted me to know that she was thinking of me. That she appreciated me. That she values the work I do in the world. She cited a specific example of something she’d observed, and told me the impact it made on her.

It took me a minute to realize that this wasn’t the usual spam solicitation or unwelcome sales message. Rather, it was a lovely, eloquent reminder of who I am and what I do in the world.

I was bowled over, deeply appreciative and hugely validated. What an unexpected, lovely gift!

Now, as we move from one year to the next, you’ll hear many authorities say that this is the time to plan. To organize. To shed. To resolve. And that’s certainly a fine thing to do.

But there’s another wonderful something you could do… why not take a minute and write a note to someone and tell them how much you appreciate them?

Tell them how they have impacted your life.

Tell them you are glad they are here.

Tell them that they are appreciated, valued and seen.

Give them a specific example of when you’ve seen them at their best, and the difference it’s made or is making for you and for others.

Do it by email. Do it with fancy stationery and a fine pen. Do it on the back of a receipt with a crayon. Do it however you can given what you’ve got.

The how if it is less important than the done of it.

You don’t need to anguish about your eloquence or strive to say whatever needs saying perfectly. All you need to do is take a moment to use words which give another human being a sense of meaningful accomplishment, and the keen awareness that they matter.

Because they do. And we all have the power to remind someone – and ourselves – of that, today.