I fucked up. I’m sorry
No, this isn’t another apology from a male VC; it’s a woman’s attempt to stop blaming herself and get about the business of change.
Four years ago I appeared on CNN representing BlogHer, and, I suppose, an executive woman’s take on all things women and business. Marissa Mayer had been making sweeping cultural changes at Yahoo. Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, had just come out. I was to address the mixed feelings behind it all. Were we, in fact, turning a corner? Was this really an inflection point for women in business? In the world in general?
“More pressing” news got in the way, and two hours before I was supposed to appear, on my way to the studio, I was told that I would be reacting to other stories — Justin Bieber’s latest arrest being one of them.
The past five years have been missed opportunities and, frankly, opportunities I may not have optimized had they materialized. Why?
Because, even with 5 minutes of a national platform I would question whether it made sense to address the issue of discrimination against female leaders when I still felt the underlying cause was in my inability to get the job done.
If I had performed better, or been more competent, I could stand in front of you all and say, with utter certainty, that there’s a problem with women being embraced in top leadership roles and as entrepreneurs. If I had done a perfect job and still been denied funding or a top role, I would have a leg to stand on.
I have this recurring vision of me on TV speaking my true feelings on why we haven’t reached parity: What I’ve seen, and who I’ve seen affected. And I envision being questioned for proof, and being asked to address my own shortcomings and how they may have contributed to the problem. My questioner? A not unreasonable white man. Well-educated. He’ll invoke his wife and daughters while sharing his views on equality. But, he’d say, he also sticks to the facts, and without facts, how can you really prove what’s wrong?
By facts, he’d be referring to numbers. Performance. And while my personal brand is about starting something from nothing, about high performance, I’ll often look at my past accomplishments and wish I’d done more. Closed more. Blown through more doors.
The TV fear is not unlike what a rape victim might be feeling when she’s confronted with the possibility of testifying against her attacker. Might this never have happened if she hadn’t had three drinks that night? Or not invited him back to her place to talk? Or if she’d been clearer and more direct? Did she remember things exactly as they occurred? The crime gets lost, made irrelevant in her mind, in the wake of her seeming mistakes.
Likewise I have wondered if my mistakes have made me an incapable advocate for women’s equality.
In a current piece in The New York Times some competent women who almost made it to the top role in their company shared similar feelings; they were unsure of themselves. Some almost half-heartedly asserted their competence, as if they were saying, “Hey, I did better than my male counterparts, but if I had just done slightly better this would not have happened.” If I had just gone out for drinks at that offsite, or not missed a number despite overall growth.
She’s bracing for the facts — the facts of what she did not accomplish — to wipe out all that she did do.
In my post-exit life I’ve been exploring. New technologies. New roles. And I’ve been going back to a place I used to go to a lot before I ever co-founded a company and became a “pioneer in the women’s space,” when I felt I had nothing to prove to anyone, but everything to prove to myself. In this space of no relevant accomplishments to fall back on I just did. I just called people, raised money, talked to anyone who wanted to talk about my “project”. I didn’t screw up because I had no point of reference, only a desire to build something for women. I had nothing to lose.
The only way to get back to this place is to forgive myself for all my perceived shortcomings, to go back to when I had nothing to forgive.
It’s only from this place of forgiveness that I can actually get shit done. I suspect that it’s from this place of forgiveness that this is the only way we women will get shit done, and call out what we see. Regardless of our mistakes, which — if we really think about it — were not so big.