Don’t be Sorry

I’m not a very good basketball player. But ever so often I’ll get out there and shoot around a bit. I always feel kind of self-conscious and every time I shoot the ball and miss, I apologize.

Sorry. Sorry, my bad.

A few years ago I was playing with a couple friends, and I noticed that one of the guys kept missing most of his shots. But he never apologized; he just took the ball and shot again. I started to compare my skill level with his- and noticed it wasn’t that different. But his assumption was that he belonged, and my assumption was that I didn’t.

I noticed this phenomenon again when I was in music school. I would be jamming with friends, or in a rehearsal, and when I made a mistake I would constantly apologize and make some sort of disparaging remark. I felt bad, cause it seemed like I was messing up more than the guys. But then I started to notice, the guys made mistakes too. But they didn’t apologize for it. They would just try again, or make someone explain it to them, or ignore their error until it was pointed out.

I’ve thought a lot about this phenomena since then. I see other women do this all the time- apologize, draw attention to mistakes. I’m often jealous of the male ability to plow right through. I realize that in certain situation I carry the underlying belief that I don’t belong – I don’t belong on the basketball court. I don’t belong in this jam session. So when I make a mistake it just reinforces this nagging insecurity. A mistake reinforces my fear.

Over time I’ve realized that there is a cost to this habit. I watch others address a mistake by learning from it. But I’m so self conscious about my mistake and throw so much energy into apologizing for it- I don’t learn and I feel afraid to try. I can’t separate my sense of self confidence from the skill I’m attempting, and it shuts me down.

I thought about this phenomena again as I was  reading good old Sheryl Sandberg’s book – Lean In. She talks about how women often feel like a fraud. Even very successful women will feel like they don’t belong in male dominated work situations. “Multiple studies in multiple industries show that women often judge their own performance as worse than it actually is, while men judge their performance as better than it actually is.”

( Is it me or do Sheryl Sandberg and Tina Fey sort of look related?)

Tina and Sheryl

I would be curious to hear your own experiences with this phenomena. And what’s the solution? I’m pretty deliberate now about not apologizing. I often have an inner chant that says- “Do it like a white guy”  when I head into meetings or rehearsals. And honestly- it helps. But I’m not sure if I always have the courage to learn from mistakes.

And like most things- I wrote a song about it. Here’s my musical take on this phenomena. Its called Push Back. Its a rough recording, but the lyrics are in the video.



3 thoughts on “Don’t be Sorry

  1. Erna – This is very insightful post. It brought to mind 2 things I think about a lot:

    1) In the Jewish community (at least the more liberal end of the spectrum where kids don’t grow up in yeshiva), there is a constant refrain (in our own heads) about not being good enough. I don’t know Hebrew well enough, I am not confident about when I’m suppose to sit, or stand, or bow in a service. I’m observing some custom incorrectly, etc. I’m not sure where this comes from (maybe the gradual “outsourcing” of observances to professional clergy?), or even how we perpetuate it, but it’s a deeply held, subtle and profound thing. Why are we competitive about something that really doesn’t need to be? Like shooting hoops.

    2) I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about criticism vs critique. The former is judgmental. You’re wrong, or not good enough, or are to blame. The latter is a partnership for self-improvement. Help me be my best self. Here’s a tip on your follow through. When we can articulate and feel the difference, perhaps we can be more gentle with ourselves, while still striving for excellence and pursuing a constant path of self improvement.

    Keep shooting. It’s the only way to get better! Forget the white man. Do it like a half-Korean-female-bad-ass that you are!

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