Comment: Don't let pressure overwhelm you

Co-founder of creative agency Female Narratives, Tijana Tamburic on why asking for help isn’t a sign of failure.

On her podcast How’s Work, the psychotherapist Esther Perel talks about if you were raised for autonomy or loyalty. Are you a do-it-all-yourself kind of person, or a rely-on-others kind of person? I’m definitely the former. I run a female creative agency and collective, and sometimes I find myself consciously or unconsciously taking work away from my co-founder, mostly against her will, and making it my problem.

When the WHO first declared the pandemic (which seems like ages ago now, right?), I was on set with a client and freaked out. I felt an overwhelming amount of pressure and responsibility to get it all right, to be ahead of the curve and ahead of client expectation, to keep it all together, to pivot and galvanise. I felt the pressure to somehow keep going, to finish our existing projects and bring in new ones. I had to keep afloat, to be an example of stability and sanity for others on our team.

I was scared to tell our client that what we had planned to film would no longer be possible. I ran our finance numbers and I ran them again. I put on a brave face and I switched into the mode I always do: autonomy. But soon it was too much and I finally said the words: I need help.

This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was monumental to me. The client was happy to switch tacks and we began working on a project filmed entirely in isolation, via video submissions from dozens of women who were all excited to get on board. My co-founder took over the running of our Zoom calls and a team member took the initiative to ramp up our newsletter. As I watched our sisterhood come together, I was reminded about the word I don’t focus on much when talking about my collective – and, ironically, that would be ‘collective’.

Now was our opportunity to re-focus on this word. We don’t need to have all the answers as directors or founders or managers – we need to be better listeners to our customers and communities. And then, together, find ways to go virtual.

'Asking for help for an autonomous person like me isn’t easy. It feels like a failure.'

Tech Open Air – an interdisciplinary festival I’ve both attended and spoken at in Berlin – isn’t happening this summer. But they quickly shifted to creating digital conferences and hosted some of the best conversations I’ve attended during this time. I’ve seen gal-dem magazine create a membership scheme to keep their writers employed and their offering digital. Even things I didn’t think could go digital have done so successfully. From Zoom styling sessions and YouTube haircut tutorials to virtual ‘hair wash day’ that saw hundreds of women deep-condition their hair together.

Asking for help for an autonomous person like me isn’t easy. It feels like a failure, a last resort – but perhaps a silver lining of this experience was learning that all of life’s blessings are on the other side of that phrase. What I, and so many others, are being greeted with is incredible. It reminded me I need to get out of my own head – problems can seem much bigger there – and workshop thoughts with others. More often than not, people are willing to shift things to make things happen for you, to jump on board, to show support. You just have to ask for help.

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