Ah, the inevitable birthday post, listing all the lessons learned. Technically I just turned 31, so I am one year late for this kind of post, but turning 30 was just a blur, and this is the first year I actually have had time to reflect on the past chaotic decade. In case you haven’t noticed, this blog is kind of like free therapy in a public forum. I wish every filmmaker and entrepreneur was able to go to therapy. So yes, I am guilty of indulging in the list-making / self-help mania. Here it is anyway because I like reflecting on things (ruminating, as my dad would say), and processing with others helps me get clarity and see the glass half full instead of constantly aching over the bad stuff. Also, I have not written on this blog since May 8, and I need to get back on it – nothing better than a birthday to stop procrastinating and get on with that to-do list.
1. Things will not go as planned, and that’s okay
I had a plan for so many things, but I now see that it’s the vision, rather than the plans, that mattered. All the very specific plans I had like applying to French broadcaster Canal + or meeting the love of my life did not pan out, and I’m thankful they didn’t. In college I wanted to work in cinema, but studied political science and worked in tech – somehow all those things collided with the making of my first feature film “She Started It“, made with my co-founder Insiyah Saeed, in a way I would never have anticipated. When I first moved from France to San Francisco for an internship at 22 years old, I had an idea of what I wanted to do and went after it very ambitiously, but it’s the jobs I got rejected from and the plans that didn’t work out that gave room for the rest, that space where intuition thrives.
2. Friends make the world go round
That’s literally the name of my blog because I owe everything I have (most importantly, my sanity) to my friends and family. I count family in the friendship circle. So maybe the word I’m looking for is “community”. Over the last decade, I have slept on countless couches on multiple continents, and my friends and family have fed me, listened to me, supported me financially and psychologically through every hurdle. That’s an incredible privilege. They have also been tireless champions of my work and of the film, making introductions, opening doors and cheering us on. Behind every entrepreneur or creative person, there are often countless people who support the dream and actually make it possible. Thinking you can go at it alone is false – no one succeeds alone. I recently read this quote by Brene Brown which resonated deeply: “true belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are – it requires you to be who you are”. When you are given the gift of being loved by people for exactly who you are, you have to honor it, nurture it, and pay it forward.
3. Have compassion for yourself in order to have compassion for others
I was always really hard on myself, and to this day I still think I had to because we were making something that had never been done before that required an incredible amount of work and precision. My co-founder Insiyah Saeed and I were two first-time filmmakers with a lot of passion and not a lot of experience, making the first film on women tech entrepreneurs, and the first film to follow these entrepreneurs over time, filming their journey for 3 years on multiple continents, weaving multiple character-driven story arcs with big-picture experts talking about the broader issues. There’s a reason no one else has done it – coz it’s freaking hard to pull off, and honestly we did.
Sometimes I was tough on the people I worked with or who worked for me. For 5 years, not only did I have a co-founder (which is basically like having a spouse, except maybe harder since you’re bound by your child, which is the creative endeavor, instead of by everlasting love) but we also hired over 50 contractors and part-time employees. I realize that I was tough because I am constantly beating myself up over things that I think I am not doing well enough, and the perfection I was expecting from myself led me to expect it from others at all times. After a lot of trial and error, I now understand that although it’s normal to want great work from others, striving for perfection can be stifling and take the fun out of the process (I am still working on it). I now know that compassion starts with me. I have to break the pattern of negative self talk and have compassion for myself, in order for everyone to enjoy the journey of making something, with all the ups and downs that come with it. (It does not help that in America’s creative industry, which is all I’ve known, competition and consumerism drive everyone to the edge of burnout).
4. You will change your mind about a lot of things
I am the queen of certainty, because it reassures me, I have strong convictions and ideas that I fight for which are like guiding moral principles. Obviously, that’s not how the world works, it’s full of grey areas, which stresses me the F out. I still think that today more than ever, having strong convictions is really important to create the world we want, but I am learning how to welcome grey areas and different opinions and try to hold all those things at once without freaking out. Interestingly enough, our film was full of grey areas and embraced many contradictions. I credit the amazing ladies from our film who welcomed us into their complex lives and taught us how to really see them, beyond the preconceived ideas we may have had about what the film was going to be, which could have been a simple anthem about girl power, and became a much more nuanced take on entrepreneurship and resilience, thanks to them and the risks they took.
5. Once your illusions are shattered, you will be ready to tackle the real world… But it’s your idealism that will make the journey worthwhile.
I started the journey of making She Started It when I was 24, and I was so naive at the time, as a privileged white French girl. I believed the best from people, and from what we now call “conscious capitalism”. Now there are many things I have seen that shattered a lot of my naive illusions about the world of entrepreneurship, business, big companies, corporate feminism, filmmaking, a lot of BS and backstabbing, but I won’t talk about it here (wait for my memoir at 80 years old). Once I realized that, I slowly became more jaded (see the creative breakdown post) but also more radical in my thinking that it will take a lot more to change the world for the better. I want to hold people accountable and call them out on their inaction or lies and not back down. Which requires a lot more energy than I have left at this very moment. But I am just now starting to understand what activists who have done this work for decades know: that IS the work. You will be knocked down and you will rage over injustices (unless you’re a robot) and you will have to get back up, again and again, and find new ways to create change and make things happen and work with people who might be terrible. I am ready for a new form of idealism, less naive but perhaps more effective, and I will hold on to my optimism for dear life, as that’s what keeps us going.