personalKoh Kim

Being grateful, not sorry

personalKoh Kim
Being grateful, not sorry
I can’t be that friend you’re asking for

This post has taken me a long time to write. Never have I fathomed that I would be breaking up with a friend, especially one where you traveled to some of the most beautiful places on Earth. On paper, it had the promising elements of what could have been a beautiful, lasting friendship. Two fearless, ambitious women with big dreams ready to face whatever the world throws at them.

Who is the woman in question? Ann is a highly accomplished, intelligent woman who established herself as growth and analytics expert in the tech startup world. My respect and admiration for Ann runs deep, especially knowing the hardships (see here) she faced in the past.

Our relationship was a wild, intense emotional rollercoaster. Both Ann and I experienced drastic transitions in our personal and professional career. We both quit our respective jobs and chose to pursue uncharted paths. Ann supported my decision to start a company , as I supported her decision to establish her own consultancy. She graciously offered her apartment to store some of our inventory and product samples. There were countless late nights where we would share stories and provide emotional support if one is going through a tough time with countless Snaps and iMessages in between.

Eventually, those never ending Snaps and verbose iMessages turned into curt one-word responses. Replies that would be within minutes turned to days. As she was traveling abroad for business meetings, we agreed to touch base in Los Angeles the following week. Unfortunately, I found out through her social media that she changed her travel plans and casually forgot to mention it to me.

Upon landing in San Francisco, I went straight to Ann’s apartment from the airport. Although her brother and friend were in her apartment, I asked that we chat in private. We went to her building’s rooftop, and I confronted her about her behavior over the past few weeks.

For a couple hours, I listened to her talk about how she felt our friendship was one-dimensional. She noted multiple instances where I didn’t act or respond appropriately and how one particular event from a few weeks back triggered her to re-evaluate our friendship. This took me by surprise. She provided little or no feedback or indication about her feelings, so I probed further.

Me: “I’m sorry if my actions made you feel that way. That was not my intention. Why did you wait until now to tell me?”

Ann: “I don’t want to tell my friends every little thing that I want or need. Then it feels like a transaction.”

Me: “My friends and I are comfortable and trust each other; thus, we communicate our needs and wants no matter how small or big they are. What are your expectations for friendship?”

Ann: “I expect my friends to act in a way without me having to ask them to do it.”

Me: “I can’t be that friend you’re asking for.”

I know that I’m not perfect. During times of extreme stress, I become self-absorbed and resort to my rational side to the point that I come off as cool or aloof. However, my friends know that they can ask or tell me anything without judgment. In turn, I can do the same because we feel comfortable to be vulnerable and open with each other. Unfortunately, Ann and I had fundamentally different expectations on this subject. Apologizing didn’t seem like the right response because that would question the foundation of my closest relationships. I took a few seconds before responding.

Me: “Ann, thank you for what you have done up until this point. I’ve learned a lot from getting to know you. Even though we can no longer be friends as before, I will still respect and support you as a fellow woman in tech. I hope you can forgive and love yourself a little more, and I’m sure you’ll accomplish a lot more in your lifetime. I wish you the best of luck.”

I used to say, “I’m sorry” whenever something went wrong. I said it habitually—even when I did nothing wrong or didn’t feel true remorse. Ann and I simply had different expectations about friendship, and we didn’t have to be sorry about our beliefs. At that moment, I decided to say something different. I decided to be thankful and not sorry. By saying “thank you”, I am identifying the other person and recognizing their contribution. I gave up assuming blame or insinuating wrongdoing for simply living my life and being who I am. Time and attention are the most precious gifts anyone can give, and I wanted to clearly communicate that as parting words.

My New Year’s resolution is to say “Thank you” instead of “I’m sorry”. I want to praise what others have done for me. As the new year approaches, I am giving myself a head start.

Thank you to friends and colleagues, new and old, that have checked in and supported my journey up until this point.

Thank you James and Victoria for letting me be your honorary roommate in LA. 

Thank you Jess for being a great travel buddy, providing the logical perspective to life and never letting me settle for less.

Thank you Dana for inspiring me to make the jump to SoCal and choosing the path less expected.

Thank you Matt for being an amazing host in Seoul and beta-testing my product samples.

Thank you Fabien for your French hospitality and meaningful conversations about careers and life.

Thank you Sloane for your exuberant goofiness and optimism that always brought a smile to my face.

Thank you Curtis for always being just a phone call away and listening to my ridiculous stories.

Thank you Mom and Dad for supporting my entrepreneurial path even if you secretly wished I went back to a more stable career.

Thank you Jason for being a soundboard even when you’re on the other side of the world.

Thank you Andrew for helping me pack all of those orders and get the skincare business off the ground.

Thank you Jen for being the younger sister I’ve never had and reminding me that I’m not alone.

Thank you Alexander for pointing out that I say sorry more than a Canadian (note: he’s Canadian) and making me feel beautiful about my vulnerability.

2017 didn’t really go the way I expected. Everything that I planned for ended up being thrown out of the window. For the first time in a long time, I’m frightened and excited for what 2018 holds, and I’m thankful for that :)