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What Would Your Photograph Be?

Basia Skudrzyk

· opportunity,leadership,communication,mentorship,strategic planning

“New beginnings” is  a global statement of optimism and an acknowledgement that so much has changed through this terrible pandemic and peoples’ life experiences. We are all learning how to adapt and disrupt old ways of operating and thinking, and delighting and challenging ourselves through the process.  We have been questioning processes and life that make us turn around and reevaluate everything we think we know – questions that prompt positive change.  Change is not always dispensing the past.  From embracing change we can feel struggles, vulnerability and question our  ways of thinking.  Regardless of political view, gender, race, sex, religion; there is a strong beauty associated with people who show something lasting and classic amid their new beginnings. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, a veteran political communicator, has become the face of the Biden administration since her first press briefing on Inauguration Day.   Jen has been known to “wrestle with alligators” or the people around them, but not by fighting directly; rather by delivering results.  Psaki was up for the press-secretary role twice during the Obama administration, but lost first to Jay Carney and then to Josh Earnest.  She won’t lie, she was absolutely devastated the second time around; however, her response back is, “But that’s also a good life experience for you.” 

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Psaki has been through legislative battles, global crises, bankruptcy, mass shootings, being viewed as a “nice woman,” etc.  These life events have provided her the opportunity to be even more prepared as a communications director at the White House.  She is a strong, calm, persistent and patient woman who knows how to strategically allocate her energy in the right position.  As a spokesperson for the State Department, she had the character-building experience of becoming a subject of Russian propaganda.  She was presented as an airhead with criticism that embarrassed her personally and professionally.  She felt like she was picked apart.  She was devastated. Luckily, a seasoned Russian correspondent approached her one day and explained the dynamic: “This is a badge of honor. This is to tell you that your message is getting through, and they need to discredit you in the public.”  

Her one lesson: “Propaganda is not personal. You just have to “be a big girl.” 

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Carl Sagan, a famous astronomer, reminds us, “the universe will always be much richer than our ability to understand it.”  Rachel Carson, for all her devotion to the poetics of reality we call science, knew this when she insisted that it is not half so important to know as to feel.  E.E. Cummings knew it when, in his impassioned case for the courage to be yourself, he observed that “whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself… the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” 

Results always speak louder than words. What happens when results do not come through? There is a photo in Jen’s office of her standing in a crowd of smiling Democrats: President Obama, HilaryClinton and Susan Rice. It is a photograph taken the evening before the 2016 election.  As you can imagine, everyone was absolutely ecstatic because they thought they were winning the presidential election. Imagine having a photograph like this hung up in your office or home staring at you daily and reminding you of all the emotions you were feeling at that exact precise moment. Can you think of an event or moment in your life where life was absolutely perfect, but in a blink of an eye everything derailed?  

Lesson 2: Things change often times without your control. 

This photograph is a perfect example on how life can change and has no guarantees. As Psaki shares, “there are times where you have to be on the journey and recognize that sometimes you don’t know what the end is going to be, right? Maybe it’s going to be great. And maybe it’s not.” 

Staring at that photo each day gives Jen Psaki the ammunition and grit to show her resilience and results to make the best out of the given situation.  

What would your photograph be? 

Psaki is the Mom of two humans under the age of five and married to Gregory Mecher.  She is the eldest of three daughters and was born in Stamford, Connecticut in 1978.  Her mother, Eileen Medvey was a psychotherapist and father, Dimitrios "James" R. Psaki, a retired real estate developer who grandfather had emigrated from Greece in 1904 and whose grandmother was of Irish descent.  Jen also has Polish ancestry.   Psaki graduated from Greenwich High School in 1996.  In 2000, she graduated from the College of William & Mary with a degree in English and Sociology.  At William & Mary, Psaki was a competitive backstroke swimmer for the William & Mary Tribe athletic team for two years.