When I teach writing workshops and people share their drafts with the rest of the class for critique, I have a strict rule: you’re not allowed to apologize for your writing.
This rule drives some people crazy. They want to make an excuse for why they wrote it or sneak a “I know this is really rough” in there. (Of course it’s rough. If it were finished and perfect, why would we be workshopping it?!)
I set the rule for a couple of reasons. I want the class to evaluate the work without being swayed by an opinion up front. I also want people to get used to the idea that they’re allowed to create, and they’re even allowed to create something imperfect. (This is also one of the reasons why I do WIP Wednesdays, like we’re going to do tomorrow!)
I think there are a few reasons we apologize for our writing. Sometimes it can be an implicit request for encouragement and support — a cue for someone to say, “No, it’s really pretty good!” Even more often, it’s out of pride. We want everyone to understand that we know what excellent work is, even if we haven’t produced it in this particular instance.
Lots of us don’t just do this with our work. We do it with ourselves, too, at our jobs and in our personal life. In so many situations, we make self-deprecating comments when they’re unnecessary, and even when they’re clearly untrue. It’s a subtle way that we say no to ourselves, and just to be clear, I do it myself all the time.
I’m really awkward.
This might be a dumb idea, but…
I’m such a flake.
I’m a terrible mom.
(I’ve heard every mom I know say that last thing exactly, by the way, and they’re all good moms. It’s absolutely bizarre.) In general, why are we saying so many mean things about ourselves? and especially, why do we spread mean flat-out lies about ourselves?
Again, I think it’s often an indirect request for support. We’re hoping people will chime in and say, “No, that’s a good idea.” Or at least, we’re hoping they’ll think to themselves, “Aww, I don’t think he’s awkward. He’s charming!”
And again, it can be a way of expressing that we have really high standards for ourselves. “Wow, if she thinks letting her kid watch TV for a few hours makes her a bad mom, she must actually be an amazing, dedicated mom!”
Friends. This strategy is backfiring on you, and here’s why.
A lot of people don’t have much time to think about you, because they have a busy schedule of thinking nonstop about themselves. People are incredibly likely to take what you tell them about yourself at face value. If you say before your presentation, “I’m not the best presenter,” they will register this as fact before zoning out and thinking about themselves during your actual talk.
And here’s the other thing. You, also, are likely to believe all the crappy things you say about yourself. Think about it. You’re right there, after all, hearing that negative stuff, all the time. Of course it’s going to have an effect.
The fact that people believe what you tell them about yourself is actually good news. You say in two different meetings, “I love reading about the latest tech,” and boom, you’ve got a reputation in the office as someone who stays current on the latest technology… and on your lunch hour you’re lingering over TechCrunch instead of Facebook, because you went and convinced yourself, too.
You tell a couple of friends, “I love exercising in the morning,” and the next thing you know, you just woke up at five-thirty in the morning and your brain is saying, “Hey, you know what’s awesome? Exercising.” Now before, maybe your brain was saying, “You know what’s awesome? Sleeping in and then eating a pile of bacon.” But you threw your brain off of its usual game.
If you’re saying something bad about yourself in order to ask for encouragement, try this one weird trick instead: ask for encouragement. Like this!
Please tell me I’m a good mom because I’m not feeling it right now.
I feel this close to giving up painting entirely. I could use an encouraging word.
I think you’ll find that plenty of people are happy to oblige.
People believe what you tell them. You believe what you tell them. We’re all a bunch of gullible hamsters. So try not to say such bad things about yourself. Maybe even say something good.