A conversation with filmmaker Tricia Brouk and thought-leader Jenn Lederer on the eve of the premiere of their documentary about women empowering other women to accomplish their dreams.
Jenn (left) and Tricia (right) say they aren’t sure what’s possible and sometimes, if they give it over, then the “what’s possible” becomes possible.
Photo Courtesy of Grace Loretta
Tricia: Talk to me about that moment that you agreed to let me shoot a doc about you.
Jenn: The moment ... It's funny. The moment I agreed for you to shoot a doc happened once I walked out of the bar. After we had spent the time together, and I really learned what it felt like to be held by you, to be inside of your space, even though it was super casual, and we were at a bar, and it was like two girlfriends hanging out, talking about a possibility. I really felt your leadership. When I left the bar and started walking back to the subway, I felt so much excitement and so much fear. I knew that if I was going to do this, I would need to hand the reins over to you.
Tricia: And what gave you permission to even consider doing that?
Jenn: Well, I think the fact that you and I had collaborated in little, kind of bite-sized collaborations, up to that point. I had seen you in motion but, what really allowed me to trust you was that feeling I had when we were sitting there together and I said, "This woman gets it." Beyond me, there was already a sense of, "I think there's something bigger here that maybe she is tuned into and I'm not." But, it's almost like I relinquished it over from myself, and I don't know if it was even given to you. It was just given up from me, which felt really good to finally be in a space where someone, without saying it, told me, "You know, you can put this down. You could not carry this on your own. What might that feel like?"
Tricia: Do you think it's important, as entrepreneurs, as leaders, as women who are generally in charge of everything, do you think it's important to acknowledge that sometimes it's important to give over, or to let go, or to put it down and let somebody else carry it?
Jenn: It is non-negotiable. We aren't the be all end all of what we can create in this world because no matter how big our thoughts are, no matter how big my vision is, I don't have access to what is truly possible.
The only way I get access to what is truly possible is when I admit I can't do this alone.
Tricia: Let me take you back to September 26. You sent me an email, and this is when you wanted to share a song that inspired you that day, “The Weight of it All” by Kaleigh Baker, a song we ended up using in Just Enough. And your email says, "It came blaring through my speakers as I was writing my morning pages and exploring what's possible."
We aren't sure what's possible and sometimes, if we give it over, then the “what's possible” becomes possible.
Jenn: And it becomes a collaboration with that intangible source that we all come in contact with from time to time, and sometimes we say, "Oh that was a coincidence. Oh, that was a one-time thing. Oh, that's not really who I am. That's not the norm." But the truth is, every time I give up my control and get curious about that question, what is possible here?, I'm blown away. Sometimes, being blown away, starts with stripping away. That's when it gets really scary because, in order for the new, big, and huge possibilities to come in, somethings got to give. That's where you, Tricia, and your safety, and how much I trusted you, helped me to let go.
Tricia: Yeah. It's difficult to acknowledge all the different ways of being. I think that when you can become comfortable with all the versions of yourself, and trust that that makes you up as a whole, then I think you can drop in and ground into the who you are, and into the what's possible.
Let’s jump ahead a little bit to September 30th.
You had a lot of fear around the project and you were trying to talk yourself out of it while talking yourself into it. So, what was it for you Jenn, that turned from excitement into panic and fear, and almost paralysis?
Jenn: The thing that brought me to the excitement is the same exact thing that brought me to the paralysis, which is the “What is possible?”, question. The truth is when I let, my imagination grab hold of something that isn't complete yet, I'm really good at bracing myself for the worst case scenario. We'll get only so close to what you want. Then, it will implode
Every cell of my body was saying “Yes! Do this!” but, my mind, the proof of past experiences, started to poison all of the excitement of the possibility and flipped it on it’s ear, and said, "But, look at all this stuff that could happen.
Look at how people might judge you. Look at how the story might be told differently than what you want. Look at how ... What are you going to look like on camera, Jenn? Are you in shape the way you want to be? What's your skin going to be like that week? All of the things that started to convince me, "Maybe not right now. You know what? Maybe we should just keep talking about this and really hammer it out." And, that is normally when I back out of big, exciting projects like this one.
Tricia: So, what changed your mind?
Jenn: When I sat with it I couldn't deny the truth. I've gotten very good at filtering through my fears and finding the nugget of truth. The truth was, it was time. The truth was, all of the other fears and, misconceptions, and past experiences were the lies. So, in that response to you when I declared “Yes!”, it was not so much me declaring yes to the project, as it was me declaring yes to a new way of moving toward my dream. Where the fears and the old way, the old way of thinking was no longer going to be mine.
"The truth was, it was time. The truth was, all of the other fears and, misconceptions, and past experiences were the lies." Photo Courtesy of Grace Loretta
"When you get clear about the bigger why, and it’s the exact sensation I talked about when I realized it was a yes for you and I, of tapping into this is bigger than me." Photo Courtesy of Grace Loretta
Tricia: How do we own our power and walk through the world fully lit up?
Jenn: Yeah. Well, the first step is always permission and curiosity. Permission to admit that you do have power, permission to know that it's already inside of you. Then, get comfortable with the practice of seeking people, places, and experiences that mirror that permission back to you. Where you walk in and they say, "We see you. We see your power. You are powerful and, come in here and practice being that power."
Tricia: I think also when you understand that you've got power and intelligence and success, and strength, and all these things that many people, many women, are afraid to own, it's also important to own mistakes, fuck-ups, things that aren't going perfectly. It's about not worrying whether somebody is going to judge you, not worrying about whether or not you're going to fail. Because yes, everyone else in the world is going to judge you. I say this all the time, stop judging yourself, let everybody else do it.
"It’s difficult to acknowledge all the different ways of being. I think that when you can become comfortable with all the versions of yourself, and trust that that makes you up as a whole, then I think you can drop in and ground into the who you are, and into the what’s possible." Photo Courtesy of John DeMato
Jenn: When you get clear about the bigger why, and it's the exact sensation I talked about when I realized it was a yes for you and I, of tapping into this is bigger than me. This message chose my voice, my timing, my experience, to come through.
So, if we can realize that it's not as personal as our ego wants to make it out to be, that can give you permission to relax and trust. Knowing that bigger purpose and knowing that you are a part of something bigger takes the pressure off of your shoulders and you're no longer proving it. You are a part of it.
Tricia: What do you think being just enough has to do with transformation?
Jenn: It has everything to do with transformation because being just enough is, to me, knowing that there is no finish line. You never actually get there. You never actually get to the point where you say, "Aha! I've done it. I have no more transformation to be had. No more lessons to learn." As long as I am on this earth, the concept of being just enough means that, in the same breath, I can be a hot mess and the world's biggest inspiration.
Tricia: I feel like we are in the business of helping other people transform. If Just Enough, the doc, can give people the permission the integrate, then we've done our job.
Jenn: Yeah. And from what I've seen, that's what it's doing.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."