Experience means ultimately taking ownership of your own story. And I’ve chosen today’s Drift to do just that.
The narrative I’ve owned for the past 25 years has me taking risks, working hard, building a business from scratch and generating new ideas – the classic tale of the entrepreneur. Along the way I’ve taken socially progressive and supportive positions, have donated to charity and written blog posts about diversity and inclusion. All good, no?
But now I’ve got to take ownership of a more complicated version of that story. The #MeToo era and now the demonstrations for social justice in the wake of the George Floyd killing have made that clear. The more truthful story is one of subtle yet sustained privilege. Being male, I never had to second guess the tone of my voice or whether I was being too strident in my opinions. Being white, it never occurred to me that the doors I was walking through would never have been open at all if I were black or brown. As a white man, I might worry about getting a speeding ticket.... but never considered dying by the side of the road.
I do not know what it’s like to navigate life and business as a woman or an African American or an immigrant. I never will. I probably can’t ever really understand the micro-aggressions – the small acts of humiliation – that people who don’t look like me suffer every week. But I can and must take account of the micro-opportunities that have been there for me all along.
So, my story has gotten more complicated… but also richer and deeper. Taking full account of it perhaps helps me be a better person. But only if I act on it, personally and consistently. Along with all the other things I don’t know, I’m sure I don’t know the right words or the right course of action. But not knowing what to do or what to say are the excuses of a coward. Too often, because we don’t have the right words, we choose silence.
I do know this: The next chapter of my story will be one of humility, gratitude and empathy. These are the only logical emotions for one who’s enjoyed so much privilege, so unknowingly, for so long. I’m also going to personally commit to trying to change the makeup of management teams and advisory boards by coaching and mentoring rising African American executives in our too-white industry at my own expense.
I’m sure I will learn more than I teach.