Not Too Late and Not About YouJul 27, 2023
I got an email early on a Friday morning from a former client. It had been four years since Ray* and I worked together. That's why I found his message to be a surprise.
In it, he wrote:
"I know it's been some time. I'm hoping to meet with you next week. Pick a time that is convenient. I appreciate how busy you are. I only need 10 minutes."
I have to admit, I was intrigued.
I emailed him back to let him know that next Wednesday was the only day I had available, and that it would have to be early in the morning. We booked a 10-minute meeting at 7:30am. I suggested Zoom.
Ray insisted it be in person.
Ray had been my client for almost 10 years. We had (what I thought) was a great relationship. His wife Mary felt very comfortable with me too. They were hard-working blue collar people who had really made it. Their company was thriving and their son was being groomed to take over when Ray retired. I had always enjoyed our meetings and hearing about Ray's newest projects.
So imagine my surprise when suddenly, four years ago, they just stopped working with me.
And even more upsetting was the way it happened. There was no phone call. No email explanation. I got a generic notification that he was replacing his insurance policies with another company, and moving his investments to a new advisor.
I did not understand Ray's change of heart. I emailed him to ask what was happening.
He never replied.
For a long time (frankly, years) I replayed our meetings and conversations in my head, trying to pinpoint something I had done wrong, something I may have said that upset him, or a recommendation I may have made that had him second-guess our relationship. For years after our "breakup," every time I thought about Ray, I'd get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I never knew what had happened, nor why he changed course. I had no closure.
So when I received Ray's email out of the blue, I was curious enough to meet with him.
At 7:28am he rang the doorbell of my building. I let him in, and he awkwardly entered the lobby. I walked him into my office. We sat across from one another at the conference table. He seemed nervous and uncomfortable.
He said he wanted to skip the small talk and get right to explaining why he was here.
Ray made direct eye contact with me, got a bit choked up, and said he was meeting with me for only one reason: to apologize.
He shared that several years ago, his old friend-- a long-time financial advisor-- started busting him about why he wasn't a client of his. Ray said he felt uncomfortable with the pressure, but also felt obligated to support his buddy. So Ray opted to move his insurance and investments to his friend's firm.
But that still left Ray unsure about what to do with me.
Ray explained, "And then I did something I never do in business. I didn't deal with the situation at all. I ignored it. Actually, I ran from it. Amy, I felt so guilty. You had done such a good job for me and Mary for so many years, yet I never even gave you the courtesy of a phone call."
He paused and wiped his eyes. "I can't tell you how many times I wanted to pick up the phone and call you, or email you an explanation. But I didn't. And the more time had passed, the worse I felt. I'd watch you on social media, and see how well you and your business were doing, and I'd feel like even more of a jerk. Finally I decided last week that you deserved better, and that's when I sent you that email. I wasn't even sure you'd reply... I'm glad you did."
Then he paused. A wave of complete calm came over me. I felt at peace.
"Ray, thank you. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that you took the time to come here and tell me this, especially in person. I've been wondering for 4 years what I had done wrong. It felt like a sudden breakup with no explanation." Ray nodded. "And it says a lot about you as a person, that after all this time, you felt the need to get closure too."
Ray nodded again and then slowly stood up. He explained that he didn't want to take up any more of my time.
"Ray, one more thing. Please consider yourself forgiven. You're not a jerk. I think we can both move on with no ill feelings." He reached out and shook my hand.
"And given the fact that your new financial advisor is probably ten years older than me, let me know when he retires and we can work together again. My door is always open for you."
Ray laughed and said he'd absolutely take me up on my offer.
There was nothing left to say.
I walked him to the door and thanked him again.
As his truck exited my driveway, I thought about how much time I had spent over four years thinking about Ray and second-guessing my own work. Doubting myself. And how much stress the not knowing why was still causing me.
Ray confirmed that it wasn't about me.
And Ray's courage-- albeit four years later-- reminded me that it's never too late to apologize.
Is there a situation you're second guessing? Wondering what you could have done differently? Still stewing about it?
Consider that maybe someone's reaction or decision or choice to move on wasn't about you at all.
More importantly, is there an outstanding apology you need to make? Is there an action or a behavior you're still regretting? Use this story as your inspiration to pick up the phone, or send the email, or write the letter.
Don't let an "I'm sorry" go unsaid.
Take it from Ray: It's never, ever too late to apologize. Will it be awkward? Of course. Will it take something to muster up the courage to say the words, "I'm sorry?" Probably.
Do it anyway. Better yet, do it today.
(*name changed to maintain confidentiality)