Morra Aarons-Mele is a pioneer and visionary. She was one the first leaders to recognize the power of women united and bring that into the digital space. She even helped Hillary Clinton log on for her first internet chat. As the founder of the digital agency Women Online, Morra has been working tirelessly to make sure women’s voices are heard and their influence recognized. Through the Women Online, Morra has brought women’s voices to the forefront of presidential campaigns, and into the marketing strategies of large corporations.
Morra’s passion for women extends to create conversations for and about women on topics such as politics, social, change, leadership, work and family life. She recently published Hiding In The Bathroom, The Introvert’s Roadmap To Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home).
Her Agenda recently spoke with Morra about moving past social media envy, how women can find the spaces that are right for them, and how women can navigate past anxiety and fear and into a space of progress.
Her Agenda: What helped you figure out where you need to be?
Morra Aarons-Mele: One of the things that I really try to talk to younger people about is think less about who do I want to be when I grow up and what’s the arc of my career and who would play me in my biopic and more about where do I want to actually be every day?What kind of environment do I want to work in? Am I the kind of person who’s going to be happy in a big corporate office with lots of other people? Do I want a life on the road? Do I want a lot of alone time or do I really need to collaborate? Do I want to work in a big city or do I want to open up the possibility of living some places more rural?
What do you actually want to do? When you sit in your desk chair on Monday morning, imagine how you would feel in your ideal job. [Are you most excited] when you are heading into a meeting or seeing clients, or [spending] all day working on something that really interests you? These are things that actually really matter but they’re not things we were ever taught to think about because we’re taught to really look at achievement and big-picture and the arc of your career. That’s important too don’t get me wrong, but work is something you have to do all day and I think that a lot of us change jobs in hopes that if only we find another job, things will get better but wherever you go, there you are, as my therapist once said.
Her Agenda: We live in the world of social media and it’s very easy to become envious and to think we’re not doing enough, What can we do to combat that achievement addiction?
Morra Aarons-Mele: It’s really hard. And those of us, especially women who [get] good grades, we lead, we do everything right and then we sort of look around and then we’re still not happy and we say why? I’ve done everything right. I got the best grades and I always tried hard and I did all my extracurriculars and my work. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves but I also think that there’s tremendous external pressure. It’s also really important when you’re thinking about what you want to do to understand what motivates you. This is also important when it comes to banning FOMO and feeling good about your choices.
If you know why you’re there and why you’re doing something, if you can tap into the meaning, you’re less likely to feel that shot through the heart when you turn on LinkedIn and see that your ex-college roommate or classmate just got a giant new job or sold her startup.So having a really rooted and clearly articulated reason for why you’re doing what you’re doing is the best medicine.
Her Agenda: You’ve said that feelings are not facts. How do you push back from that or move away from the feelings of the moment into looking at the facts and the big picture?
Morra Aarons-Mele: I did a really lovely podcast with Ashley Ford who said that to me and she said also that anxiety and depression are liars. They lie to you and it is part of your work to understand when they’re lying and to tell them to shut up.
The way to think about it is to build out that infrastructure and professional help, whether that’s therapy, whether that’s meds, whether it’s a cognitive behavioral sort of program, whatever to take it seriously but also to understand that this is a conversation that you might have to have with yourself every single day. You may be in negotiation with your anxiety and/or your depression a lot and you need to learn how to discipline them.
Just because you feel like: you’re a failure and you’re going to go broke and you’re going to end up on the street and you’re going to never make it and everyone is better than you or whatever that tape is that’s running in your head…find a way to stop the tape and get some proof that it’s a lie. Whether that’s calling up your best friend or your significant other or keeping a nice email that your boss sent you, find a way to get out of your head and stop the tape because those of us who are a little bit more prone to stewing and ruminating in anxiety and depression can really get stuck and it’s so imperative that you have a practice to literally just get out of your head and tell it to stop, like stop lying to me.
Her Agenda: How did the Women Online come into existence?
Morra Aarons-Mele: Well, I sort of thought it up one day because I had been working in online community for many years. I started off at iVillage.com back in the late 90s which was for many years the biggest women’s website and an online community and then I shifted into blogging and I just was always amazed at the power of women’s voices online and how true community could be made by women who didn’t know each other. We take that for granted now but it was really revolutionary and then I was a political consultant so I worked in democratic politics and I did online campaigns and sent lots of fundraising emails and actually worked with a lot of bloggers on messaging and persuasion. And I reached a point where I didn’t want to work for a bunch of men anymore and I didn’t want to work on things that I wasn’t passionate about.
I went back to graduate school. I actually wanted to have a totally different life and not be a digital consultant anymore but I had to pay the bills and so I started freelancing. It was when I started freelancing that I realized I loved digital consulting, I loved building online community, I loved creating marketing campaigns that really created content and engaged communities. I just hated how I had to do it. I didn’t like working for other people, I didn’t like having to sit in an office for ten hours a day. I didn’t like working for clients who I thought were sometimes evil and wrong and so I just built a freelance practice and then a couple years later it became a business. So Women Online, we’re basically a digital agency and we create campaigns that mobilize women for good.
Morra Aarons-Mele: I really wanted to speak to people who are not just introverted but who struggle in society. [People] who constantly asks themselves, am I doing the right thing? Is this the right life for me? Have I made the right choices? If I’m doing everything right, why am I so unhappy? How did I get here?
There’s a tribe of us and I wanted to write the book for all of the amazingly, wonderful, ambitious mostly younger people. Although I have older fans as well who know that they are driven to create something great in this world but who cannot see doing it within the current system of work. I think that work is so broken. How we work is so broken, it’s toxic for many of us, and that’s crazy.
I really wanted to create a roadmap for people who are super ambitious but not going to succeed within the current system and need a way to succeed on their own terms. [And so far] it’s been amazing going all over the country and getting letters from all over the world. People find me and they want to tell their story like there’s a nation, there is a Hermit nation out there.
[Editor's note: This interview published on December 11th, 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity.]