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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.