I just got home from my favorite conference, The Granger Leadership Academy. Every year, The Harry Potter Alliance uses GLA to engage youth (and adults) in advocacy and activism by using books and pop culture to teach about real world social justice issues. Fan activism is effective. It's an accessible way to learn about activism for all ages, and it reminds me that storytelling and personal narrative can be a catalyst for momentous social change.
This year I had the pleasure of opening the conference with a short speech about imposter syndrome and accepting compliments. At the request of some attendees, I am posting the speech here.
Sorry, Not Sorry, Thank You
Three years ago I was out grocery shopping when I had a horrible realization that would change my life. I was in the condiment aisle when a young mom and her toddler in their cart glided past me, then abruptly stopped. The mother began to profusely apologize to me for... almost bumping into me?
"Sorry, I'm so sorry, sorry about that."
"You're fine.." I said, perplexed. It was strange because she hadn't actually bumped into me, she had simply moved past me at a normal pace with a completely appropriate amount of space between us. And yet she felt the need to STOP and APOLOGIZE. TO. ME.
And that is when I realized that wow, women apologize a lot for merely taking up space.
Unfortunately once you realize this, it is impossible to unsee. Suddenly I was surrounded by shame and imposter syndrome thestrals I hadn't noticed before. I understood the secret shadow language of the constant apology.
So I decided to pay attention to semantics. People like to say "let's not get caught up in semantics" but the language we use - the little phrases that keep us small - it's incredibly important. I started to replace the word "sorry" with more specific terms.
When I need to move past someone on the sidewalk I say "pardon me".
When I need to ask a question or interrupt I say "excuse me".
When I take up time venting to a friend I say "Thank you for listening".
But more than anything, I have learned to challenge my own friends and their apologies to me. I've made the habit of saying "You have nothing to apologize for" when I hear an unnecessary apology (which happens abut 15 times a day). When I am feeling really spicy I will stop you in your tracks and ask you, "for what? I need you to explain to me what you are apologizing for."
Spoiler alert, you can't explain it.
Nowhere is this instinct to apologize for taking up space more present than at the Granger Leadership Academy. Every year I am in a room of brave, intelligent, world-changing activists who say "I'm sorry" in almost every conversation we have. Here is a working list of things people in this room have apologized to me for in the past year:
Taking 24 hours to respond to an email.
Taking 2 hours to respond to a text.
Walking past me.
Taking 6 hours to respond to an email.
Sending me a handwritten letter "late".
Earlier today, two amazing friends got stranded in Phoenix and asked if my road trip buddy Daniel and I could pick them up on our way to GLA. Thrilled with the idea of a wizard activist party bus, Daniel and I said, "HELL YES, WHAT'S YOUR ADDRESS, WE'LL COME GET YOU BOTH NOW!"
I immediately got a message back saying, "before I say how much we love you, there are two of us, I just want to make sure it's not an imposition..."
This list is not meant to call anyone out but rather encourage each of you to take up space. You're here for a reason: in this room, and on the planet. And the greatest gift you can give is showing up at your full power and OWNING the space you take up.
And I know, this takes reprogramming. Each of us in this room has been made to feel ashamed- for our bodies, our voices, our opinions - for being too big, too much, inappropriate for public consumption. Unlearning the constant apology takes awareness and intention. I want each of you to notice if you say "I'm sorry" when you mean to say "Thank you."
And I am going to give you a challenge: This weekend you'll make new friends, share your story, and sharpen your skills. I want each of you to make a point of sincerely complimenting each other.
Pay attention to each other's strengths, and recognize them. Build each other up. Celebrate brilliance. And when you receive a compliment, I want you to reply "Thank you, it's true."
It will feel silly and conceited at first, but we are safe within the container of this conference to play with this challenge. And I promise you that by the end of this weekend you will be owning your power a little more.
(At this point in the talk, I shouted out compliments to friends and staff members to which they replied, bashfully, "Thank you, it's true.")
GLA, you all chose to spend your weekend educating yourself to create a better world. You are heroes.
GLA attendees: "Thank you, it's true."
Thank you to Matt Maggiacomo and Janae Phillips for encouraging me to write this speech. Feeling seen and valued as a leader has been hugely important in my own journey to step into my personal power. And thank you to my beautiful friend, the musician Francine Saltares, who first taught our girl gang to say "Thank you, it's true."