“I’m so sorry to bother you, I was just wondering if you had received my last email…”
Hello and welcome to one of the fuck ups that I find myself making on the daily.
Asking a question in the most pathetically insecure way imaginable. In other words: giving the impression that I literally do not have one important thing to say and that I consider myself to be the biggest inconvenience the recipient of that email will ever encounter.
“Hi, did you receive my last email?”
Despite the considerably smaller word count, fabulous lack of preamble and the fact I am well within my rights to ask this question in whatever manner I see fit, I can safely say I would rather choke on my hair for a good few hours than imagine someone opening an email from me that was just so blunt.
So I dance around the point, lightly, carefully, as if I’m tiptoeing over egg shells or balancing on a seesaw, careful not to move to fast, rock the boat, fuck it up.
And in doing so I let the world know I have the self belief of a potato.
The topic of women successfully exerting their presence in the work place is not a new concept, it’s something we’ve been encouraged to practise for years.
You belong here. You know what you are talking about. You are totally within your rights to question authority, push your opinion on people and speak until you are heard.
And yet for many of us, confidence is something that we find incredibly difficult to obtain, even on a subconscious level. We might think we’re killing the game, we might feel like a total girl boss, we might absolutely believe that we are as good as, if not better, than our male colleagues.
But as long as we ‘just wonder’ or ‘just ask’, absolutely no one will believe it.
I first noticed my semantic short comings in a game of tennis about five years ago. Having never been much good at the game, the idea of scoring a point was pretty alien to me, so when I surprised not just myself but everyone on the court by pulling off a spectacular backhand, I found myself apologising profusely to my amused mother who had failed to reach the ball in time.
‘Stop apologising!’ she told me, ‘that was GREAT.’
I couldn’t, I felt terrible, I hadn’t meant to win that point at all!
The more I played tennis, the more I found myself apologising, whether I missed it completely and apologised to no one in particular for time wasting or nailed a return, where I’d tell my competition how it was a total fluke and I was so sorry for ruining the rally.
It became a bit of a joke, not least of all because Alex had now been alerted to my ridiculous habit of apologising constantly.
Being an Irishman, often amused by the awkward politeness of the British, he would tease me mercilessly for this weird tic of mine, laughing that I’d apologise to a chair for walking into it or a mugger for having a broken iPhone that probably isn’t worth much anymore.
It was only when he proof read an email for me last year that he made the observation that my obsession with apologising was starting to impair my work. He patiently went through my essay of an email and removed any scrap of self doubt from it.
The four hours I waited between pressing send and receiving a reply were some of longest of my life.
Please imagine my shock when not only did the world not end, but the male recipient replied as if I had asked him the most normal thing in the world. Which, I suppose, I kind of had.
This ignited a fire of sorts inside of me and I became careful with my profuse apologies. I allowed myself to use one when I’d actually done something wrong or taken a week to get back to someone, but that was it.
It was comparable to promising yourself that you’re only going to drink on the weekends. I needed my fix, but I wasn’t going to bring it into my working life… I was getting too old for the hangovers.
I wasn’t sorry for bothering anyone anymore.
Unfortunately though, I seem to have accidentally swapped one bad habit for another and, after a quick dip into my ‘sent’ folder, realise I’ve been using ‘just’ as a prefix for basically everything.
Although marginally better, (since I am no longer apologising for being alive), this is still a long way from okay. Not least of all because a quick snoop through my inbox has confirmed my suspicions: the men I talk to don’t ‘just’ do anything.
“Just wondering if you’re around later”, “just need to squeeze past you”, “just touching base”, “just popping into to say”, “just wanted to say hi”…
Just pathetic really isn’t it?
Looking at those written down, I realise how guilty I am of this, not just online but IRL too. I totally undermine my authority every time I open my mouth.
And it’s utterly idiotic. I know what I want, I’m driven, I’m passionate, people describe me as ‘ballsy’ quite a lot. But it seems I’m too polite, too afraid to translate my go-getter attitude into anything more than a stuttering request recipients would be well within their rights to dismiss.
This is a crime women are entirely guilty of and not of course, through any fault of their own. We’re empathetic beings, apologetic even and often totally lacking in self confidence when it comes to our abilities. We are culturally conditioned to put the needs of others before ourselves and it’s really showing.
Using the word ‘just’ is not just about being polite though, it’s more too than being sympathetic or just a nice person. What it does is show subordination, defence and ultimately, the belief that we do not believe in what we are saying.
So ladies, I have some homework for you.
I just think….
I THINK, we could all benefit from removing ‘just’ from the vocabulary.