Ask Why Before How

Over the last month, I've been all over the place—not just geographically, but also intellectually, emotionally, professionally. From Calgary Alberta to New Orleans Louisiana; from management to peer, from a dear, dear, dear friend's father dying to celebrating newborn life from afar, everything has been intensely important, and intensely challenging. In the constant reprioritization that is required during a month like this, my guiding light has been to ask myself "why" before I ask myself "how" and inevitably, it's led me to the right approach. 

Two books have been helpful along the way, Designing Your Life: How to Live A Well-Lived, Joyful Life, and Radical CandorBoth center questions of authenticity, urging readers to know ourselves, to understand our motivations, to unlearn and relearn what's important to us and how we function in relationship to power so that we might be better friends, peers, bosses, and parents.

My biggest takeaways are:

  • Do your best to be honest with yourself. If you're ashamed of something that is intrinsic to your being, start there. Work on it. Understand it. Transform it. Positive energy comes from intentional unlearning.
  • You have a responsibility to others to get appropriate support. Are you in a leadership position that feels like it lacks any formal or institutional support? Build structures for yourself. Prioritize this task. 
  • Do it, own it. And be kind to yourself. I cannot stand people who are unable to be accountable to themselves and others. Ask yourself where and how you have opened yourself up to constructive feedback and where you are shutting out opportunities to improve. If you're like me, you are a very, very tough self-critic. Some of that is warranted, keep it. Learn from it. Let go of what is not. 
  • Ask difficult questions. How are you ever going to get to build something better if you aren't curious enough about what's possible to be willing to blow open the conversation? 
  • Do the thing that matters most, first. This month I was asked to write two recommendations for people I admire enormously. I had so many competing priorities that other, much larger projects have been bumped in timeline. Still—if you can—drop everything to put a 15 minute recommendation into the world. Share what you see in people in writing. 

I have been, for six years, committed to developing the resources and structures of a feminist media organization. Visioning what is possible for our work, in a hostile environment for media, let alone independent feminist media, has required all of my being to be present, alert, creative, and constantly evolving.

Still, I remind myself almost daily that it is a privilege to be stressed about the things I am stressed about. When I arrived at Bitch in 2012, success meant shifting our financial model towards sustainable growth and developing a staff and staff structure that reflected our mission and values. By the end of 2016, we'd shifted the financial model and put in place the beginnings of a new staff and structure—not perfect, but evolving in the right direction. And along the way, the most important prompt has continued to be: Ask why before how. 

kate lesniak