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Be Accountable But Don’t Apologize for Yourself

Since having a baby a year ago, the words “I’m sorry” have taken over my life. “I’m sorry I missed your birthday.” “I’m sorry I’m delayed in replying.” “I’m sorry I missed your call.” “I’m sorry it took me four months to send you a thank you card.” These two words come out of my mouth so often that they’ve taken over my vocabulary.take resposibility

I’m a big fan of taking responsibility and personal accountability. I think being accountable is easier than passing the buck. When I’m accountable, I have more power and control. When someone else is accountable, I have neither. But there’s a difference between being accountable and apologizing for yourself. Of late, I’ve been apologizing for myself, and it’s demoralizing.

Even telling you this, my clients, feels risky. Don’t worry. I arrived at every speaking engagement this year early and got great feedback. But anyone who knows me well knows I’m working on all the things I write about.

Last week I vowed to stop saying, “I’m sorry.” And yet, the next words out of my mouth were apologetic.  Apologizing for oneself is so natural, it’s pervasive, aka, a hard habit to break.

Below are a few strategies for being accountable but not apologetic:

  1. Be accountable: Establish clear priorities and boundaries.  When I had a baby, I set very clear guidelines for myself on work hours and travel practices. And I stick to those 99% of the time. Having clearly established boundaries makes decision making easy.
  2. Be accountable: Only commit to things you know you will do. For personal situations, only commit to things you genuinely want to do.
  3. Be accountable: Tell the truth. If you don’t plan to do something, say so, without apology. “Thank you but no” has a lot of power.
  4. Be accountable: Know your limits and what you need to be healthy and functioning at an optimum level. If you need eight hours of sleep, structure your life to get it. If you need weekends focused on your family, do that. If a trip home over the holidays feels like too much, don’t go. Taking care of yourself enables you to take care of others.
  5. Be accountable: Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize something you agreed to isn’t feasible or in your best interest, renegotiate versus suffer through it. Or, keep your commitment, but don’t recommit the next time a similar opportunity or request comes around.
  6. Be accountable: Don’t sweat the small stuff. I love you all and you will never get a printed holiday card from me. Ever. I want to send you one. I really do. Just pretend you got it and it has a really cute picture of me and the baby on it.
  7. Be accountable: Give yourself a break. You’re doing the best you can. You’re a human like everyone else. We’re all doing the best we can.

Being accountable isn’t being perfect. It’s being human with points for effort. Be yourself. Take care of yourself. And do your best, unapologetically.





Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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4 Responses to “Be Accountable But Don’t Apologize for Yourself”

  1. Becca Johnson says:

    Thank you Shari. This is exactly what I needed to hear today!
    I had twins 3 months ago today, and just today mailed about a 1/3 of the thank you cards out. (2/3rds more to still write) I came back to work last week, and I’m really trying to not apologize for having to go pump every 3 hours.
    I like your “thank you but no” recommendation. Very useful. And I don’t plan on sending a Christmas card either. Your Tip#6 makes me feel better about that decision too. I’m just doing the best I can and taking care of myself 1 day at a time.

  2. Lisa H says:

    Great message today! On the scale of rough mornings, this one takes the cake! My 3rd little one is 3 months old today and this is my 2nd week back to work. After a half hour of loading all three littles in the car and getting to daycare, I realized no bottles! Who does that? I’ve found myself apologizing to all for not having it all together; no Christmas presents yet, mother-in-law coming in two days for vacation, and thoughts of hosting Christmas dinner with boxed spaghetti and frozen meatballs in a new home where basement boxes still await to be unpacked. The mom guilt can creep in any moment… NO apologies today! Time to forge on!
    THANK YOU, SHARI for the great reminder that we can only do what we can do, and knowing it will be just fine. Merry Christmas, all!

  3. Kyle Anne Poland says:

    Wow, this really hits home around the holidays. I’m in that boat and find myself apologizing for things I have no control over. Be accountable and speak the truth. I think over apologizing lets some take advantage of you and can make you appear weak.

  4. Lori says:

    Thank you Shari. I feel you speak to me with every blog I read. Have a very Merry Christmas and please keep doing what you are doing. It really does make a difference.

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