on being gracious and owning your shit

“Own your shit.”

I say that a lot. Usually not in my workplace, but in my professional community.

Every now and then someone will ask me to define it. Catchphrases need that from time to time.  Life has presented me with some good examples recently, and so I’ll use them.

Real Life Version:

Scenario A: You’re organizing a professional development event. You solicit speakers. You accept the speakers. You tell the speakers only a few days before the presentation what the tech setup will be, and it’s non-standard. When the speakers express concern, you apologize for failing to communicate, lacing the email with explanations of how expensive technology is at conferences.

Scenario B: You are a self-proclaimed leader in your field, and are marketing yourself as a professional speaker on new media topics. You post slides to your presentations on a social networking site. Another professional comments on the ill-advisability of one of your slides. Rather than respond, you delete the comment, and then several hours later delete the slide, then scold the commenter for calling you out on it.

Owning Your Shit Version:

Scenario A: You apologize for failing to communicate. Full stop. If applicable, you explain your reasons, but as reasons, not excuses.

Scenario B: You respond to the comment, explaining your position one way or the other, and acting from there, either by agreeing with the criticism and removing the slide, or by sticking by it.

Owning your shit means taking responsibility for your actions, acknowledging their impact on others, and  moving forward without trying to cover your ass.  The fact that the people in each of those scenarios can easily identify themselves will probably mean that this post makes me some enemies, or at least gets me branded a bully or something of that sort. But I think that integrity, civility, and professionalism matter, so I’m not going to hide from true things done by real people.

And I’m not innocent or perfect, either.  Owning your shit, in my world, means that I once sent an email to my direct supervisor apologizing for something I wrote here, revised the post in question, and apologized in person to the colleague I had offended with ill-advised writing.  Without making excuses, because I could see where I was wrong. Did I want to cover my ass, make myself look better? Of course. Did I have reasons for why I wrote what I did? Of course. But they weren’t relevant. I was at fault, and I was as gracious as I knew how to be when I apologized for it, because that was the right thing to do. Owning your shit also means that I was told recently that some librarians find it hard to share my writing with some of their colleagues because those librarians are offended by my use of explicit language. In return I said that I was sorry to hear that, but given my very intentional writing and speaking style, I was then probably not the best person for those people to read. Again, no excuses, but as much grace as I could muster, because I didn’t think I was wrong.

There’s power in acknowledging your mistakes, accepting that you were at fault, and being frank about it. There’s also power in taking a stand because you believe in something.  People respect courage. People do not respect weasels.

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