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?)
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.