May 25, 2016
Lena Dunham is unapologetically done with apologizing… and I’m with her. Whether you love, or love-to-hate, the lauded “voice” of the millennial generation, it’s hard to deny that her recent LinkedIn post about apology addictions is likely to strike a chord with many in the professional world (and beyond). It certainly did for me.
Dunham likens apologizing to the modern plague, a highly contagious disease that ensures emotions are “contained and packaged neatly. Sorry is the wrapping paper and the bow.” Women are more susceptible to catching a case of the “sorries” and the epidemic presents itself in a variety of ways — from apologizing when interrupted, apologizing when a dinner-mate arrives late or apologizing when someone else crowds personal space on the street.
While this is all based on Dunham’s personal experience, I couldn’t help but utter a “hells to the yes!” upon finishing her post. Sure, it has a “Who run the world? Girls!” vibe to it… but it also sheds light on, and sparks discussion around, self-destructive behavior that’s pervasive in the professional world. We can – and should – find a way to diagnose and cure ourselves of “sorries” that aren’t a real apology – those “sorries” inhibit growth, undermine credibility, prevent us from being our authentic selves and, ultimately, prevent the vulnerability required for healthy, open relationships.
And it isn’t just specific to an apology. The plague and its effects present in a number of different words and phrases from “My apologies” to “This might be a dumb idea, but…” and everything in between.
I’m guilty of it, too; guilty of saying all of those things in my work and personal life, which doesn’t make sense because I’m not acting recklessly; nor tweeting obscene rants about Kanye; nor intentionally being a neglectful and bad friend, girlfriend, daughter and sister, nor suggesting a Beyoncé idea for every brand I work on (although that would be kinda cool, right?!). I’m a creative, intelligent, curious woman who is sometimes right, sometimes wrong, sometimes stretched too thin (self-inflicted or otherwise), but somehow unable to not say “sorry” at every turn.
Dunham’s post – and my experience over the last year and a half, as I’ve been shifting my career path and focus at Fast Horse – made this all the more clear to me. It has been a learning experience for me to own my power as someone coming up in this industry, and to do so without coming across as being bitchy or bossy or emotional. All of those things may be true at some time or another, but those words are thrown around far too often and lead to a dangerous mix of growing confidence and insecurities, which begets couching ideas and feelings and personalities with apologies and feeling so sorry.
So, I’m going to challenge myself – much like Dunham’s father challenged her – to let go of fake apologies and other inauthentic phrases for the next month. I’m going to recognize and own my vulnerability and grow from it instead of reacting and apologizing for it. No more fake apologies, no more couching ideas in a brainstorm and no more self-inflicted guilt. It’s time to replace those feelings and actions with actual expressions – straightforward, kind and authentic – that will allow for more sincere interactions and personal growth. It’s tough to admit that I have and contribute to the problem, but it’s even tougher to imagine that my actions could cultivate a place where that behavior is seen as normal. Much like Dunham, “I’m just sorry it took me so long.”