This week, Off-Kilter continues our ongoing series of conversations with social justice leaders digging into why, in the famous words of Audre Lorde, self-care is political warfare—and the role radical self-care plays in their own lives to sustain them in this work. And this week, Rebecca sat down with Julie Kashen, a friend and a colleague at The Century Foundation who’s a leading voice in the movement to bring policies like universal paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and child care to the United States, and a senior fellow and the director of women’s economic justice at TCF. She’s the mother of an almost-nine-year-old, a board member of an organization called Vote Mama Lobby, a certified life coach, and someone who calls herself a “practical idealist” in how she approaches her work.
They had a far-ranging conversation about how the lack of paid leave and other holes in America’s social contract show up as some of the biggest structural barriers to self-care and basic dignity in U.S. society, particularly for parents and caregivers; how self-care shows up in her own life as a mom who’s also a leader on care policy; what she’s learned about self-care and listening to her intuition from her work as a life coach; how she came to host Full Moon circles as a self-care practice that’s also building power within the women’s community; how a book called Rise Sister Rise has influenced how she understands and approaches her work and what it means to be a woman leader in the modern world; and more.
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REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off-Kilter, a podcast about the fight for economic liberation and what it will take to set us all free, powered by The Century Foundation. I’m Rebecca Vallas, and every week I talk with visionary leaders working to disrupt the off-kilter imbalance of power in the U.S. to build a society where everyone can thrive and experience the shared abundance we all deserve. And this week, we’re continuing Off-Kilter’s ongoing series of conversations with social justice leaders digging into why, in the famous words of Audre Lorde, self-care is political warfare, and the role radical self-care plays in their own lives to sustain them in this work.
And I had so much fun sitting down with our next guest in this series, who’s a friend and a colleague at The Century Foundation and a leading voice in the movement to bring policies like universal paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, and child care to the U.S. And that’s Julie Kashen. Julie’s a senior fellow and the director of women’s economic justice at The Century Foundation. She’s also the mother of an almost-nine-year-old, a board member of an organization called Vote Mama Lobby, a certified life coach, and someone who calls herself a practical idealist in how she approaches her work. Julie’s also someone whose approach to her own work is premised on the worldview we’ve been exploring throughout this series, that social justice work is itself self-care from the perspective of caring for the larger collective organism or big-S “self,” of which we’re all part.
Some of the conversations I’ve most enjoyed having with Julie off the air have been about what it looks like to restore and uplift the divine feminine within public policy and social justice work and what it looks like to integrate our spiritual selves into how we show up in this work. Because in Julie’s words, “We’re either whole human beings, or we’re cogs in the wheel.” So, I really, really, really enjoyed getting to bring some of those off-air conversation threads into the conversation we had for this week’s podcast. We had a far-ranging conversation about how the lack of paid leave and other holes in America’s social contract show up as some of the biggest structural barriers to self-care and basic dignity in U.S. society, particularly for parents and caregivers; how self-care shows up in her own life as a mom who’s also a leader on care policy; what she’s learned about self-care and listening to her intuition from her work as a life coach; how she came to host full moon circles as a self-care practice that’s also building power within the women’s community; how a book called Rise Sister Rise has influenced how she understands and approaches her work and what it means to be a woman leader in the modern world; and lots more. So, without further ado, my conversation with Julie Kashen. Let’s take a listen. [upbeat music break]
Julie, it is so fun to get to be back in conversation with you, and not just generally, but for Off-Kilter. It’s been a minute since you were on the show, and the last time that I had you on, we were talking about child care in the Build Back Better era. We thought that big things were about to happen. We’re in a little bit of a different moment now, but it is no less fun to get to be back in conversation with you. And thank you for taking the time to come on the podcast.
JULIE KASHEN: Thanks, Rebecca. It’s great to be here.
VALLAS: So, before we get too far into talking about how the care conversation shows up in the context of a conversation about self-care, I’d love to give you the chance to reintroduce yourself to Off-Kilter’s listeners. Folks should definitely go back and listen to the earlier episode in 2021, actually, it was with Julie, and we’ll link it in show notes. But Julie, how do you come to this work? Tell whatever story you want to there.
KASHEN: Sounds great. I have spent my whole career trying to make it easier to work and have a life, to work and have a family, to show up in all realms of your life as all of yourself and the person that you want to be. And so, I’ve had a chance to do this as someone working on Capitol Hill for the late Senator Kennedy at the Senate Health Committee, where I got to help introduce the first national paid sick days legislation, which has been really exciting to see to grow into a whole movement of paid sick days policies in states and localities. I had the chance to then go work with Governor Corzine in New Jersey in the governor’s office where New Jersey became the second state to pass paid family and medical leave. I went to a non-profit after that where I really got to work the nexus of helping people directly to access all the different supports that they need in their lives and how that kind of connected to the policy solutions that we were fighting for, at Single Stop USA. And along the way, also got certified as a life coach through the Co-Active Training Institute. So, launched my own consulting and coaching business and then made my way to The Century Foundation. And so, I’ve worked on these issues from all different angles, and I try to bring all of that different perspective to the work.
VALLAS: And I have the great pleasure of getting to work with you at The Century Foundation. You’re a fellow senior fellow there, as the saying goes. And I’m really, really excited to bring in some of your expertise as a coach, among other things, so I know that’s part of where this conversation is gonna go. But it feels like the right place to start here, and a big part of why I’ve been excited to bring you into this ongoing stream of conversations about self-care and what does it look like to deeply engage with Audre Lorde’s words of self-care being political warfare, is because you are really one of the nation’s leading experts when it comes to our care policies, and in many cases, our lack thereof in the United States.
And it’s hard to really have a rigorous conversation or a rigorous series of conversations about self-care in an economic policy context, as we have been doing on this show, without really bridging the micro and the macro, right? We’ve been trying not to have the conversations about self-care being bubble baths, and no shame or shade to bubble baths, right? But that’s kind of not what we’re doing here. We’ve been trying to go a little deeper and keep these conversations in the spirit that Audre Lorde really intended. And to do that, we have to be thinking not just about what does it look like to show up for ourselves, but how can we show up for ourselves in a way that allows us to continue to show up for social justice work and to show up for other people in a variety of different ways? And to do that, it’s really important to acknowledge and to dig into the structural and policy barriers that so many people face to self-care. And so, that’s a little bit of why I’ve been so excited to bring you into this series of conversations.
And I’ll note we’ve started to scratch the surface of some of what these structural and policy barriers are just glancingly in a handful of the conversations that we’ve been having where we’ve talked about, for example, rest and radical pacing and how those are not equitably accessible practices in the United States of America in 2023. And so, I feel like the right place to start this conversation with you is to really elevate and kind of uplift that one of the biggest barriers to self-care in the United States, the way that our economy is currently set up, is that we don’t have universal paid family and medical leave. And huge numbers of people in this country as a result don’t have access to leave or even to paid sick days, right, which is a parallel but related policy. So, again, it’s come up just here and there throughout this series, but Julie, help us understand how is it that we as a country don’t have something as basic as paid family and medical leave when pretty much every other peer nation in the world already does?
KASHEN: That’s a great question. And as we think about self-care and family care, they’re so interconnected, right? If we are, if everyone is working all the time, and then they’re not caring for their families and they’re not caring for themselves. And so, I think of it as we’re either whole human beings who have all these different needs, or we’re cogs in a wheel. And so often, our societal norms, our workplace policies, our workplace norms are just treating us as engines of production, right? It’s a means to an end. And that leads to this kind of grind life where work is primary. Everything else comes second. But we know for most people, family comes first. And not to say that people don’t like to work or don’t want to work or, you know. I mean, I think of myself as someone who’s found my passion. I’m thrilled every day that I get paid to do this work. But that doesn’t mean that work has to be first all the time. And so, thinking about how do we, I don’t like the words “balance work and family.” I think of it as managing work and family, right? That is what we need to do. We need to manage our work and family and manage our work and personal lives.
But what’s happened is that our workplaces and our public policies were really built for this norm that men would be working, and women would be home, or that there would be underpaid Black, brown, and immigrant women providing care for children, providing supportive services for older adults and disabled people. So, we’ve set up this system where the assumption is that is all taken care of. That kind of has long been the invisible work. And while it’s been invisible, it’s also been the structures that have supported everything else to happen. As Ai-jen Poo says, “The care work is the work that makes all other work possible.” And the consequences of this are completely inhumane, right? So, you’ve got moms going back to work two weeks after giving birth, right? And that’s because they can’t afford to stay home. They’re gonna lose their job. They’re gonna lose their health insurance if they don’t go back right away. You have people who are staying in the workplace when they have the flu, right? I mean, during COVID, this was really, really obvious that there was an incentive to not be in the workplace together if possible, so we weren’t spreading disease. It shouldn’t just be about that, but it did remind us how interconnected we all are and how my well-being actually does affect your well-being.
VALLAS: Yeah, I love that. I love that. And I feel like you’ve just started to open the door to a big part of this conversation as well, and a big part of why I’ve been excited to have you as part of this series of guests really sharing wisdom about what it looks like to remove some of these barriers to self-care. Because as you started to reference, this conversation is also gonna be about self-care for caregivers, right, and the barriers that caregivers in particular face to caring for themselves so that they can show up for other people, right? The two being very interlinked. And I’ll note that our national care conversation has, in the past few years, really been dialed up in ways that we haven’t seen in a long time, which has been really positive, to see those as front-page conversations, metaphorically speaking, that has been catalyzed, as you noted, in a really big way by a pandemic that meant that we had a whole ton of kids all of a sudden at home, doing remote school, right? All these changes to how families were managing, to use your verb there, your verb of choice.
And so, I feel like another place that is really important to take this conversation as we start to uplift and make visible what are the policy failures and structural barriers that stand in the way of self-care or that make care not something that’s equitably accessible either for oneself or for the others in one’s life are we don’t have universal child care, right? That is not a policy that we have universally available in this country either. And it also feels to me that it’s really important to talk as well about the situation for care workers. But I feel like let’s start with the child care piece. This is an issue that you have done a tremendous amount of work on over the years. And I mentioned before, it was actually the subject of the last time you were on Off-Kilter talking about some historic opportunities when we were trying to get a law, when we were trying to get a bill called Build Back Better into law. And that didn’t happen. Maybe tell a little bit of the story of what the picture looks like when it comes to child care and why that’s such a barrier to self-care, especially for parents as well.
KASHEN: Yeah, the United States built a child care system only once, and it was in World War II because the men were all fighting the war, and they wanted women to go into the factories to make all the war equipment. And so, they actually had a federal child care system that was available. And when the war ended, they ended the program, and they said, “Great. Now we need the jobs for the men. Women need to go back home.” And that’s the last time, right? So, that’s what, 80 years ago? I’m not doing my math well, but I think that’s right. So, now—
VALLAS: It’s good enough for government work, I think.
VALLAS: We’ll take it. [laughs]
KASHEN: All right. Cool. So now, we just had our next big opportunity since the 1970s to pass historic, transformative child care. And what that means is that you need to make sure you have a system that really uplifts the early educators and care staff that are working with children. Right now, they’re paid about $13 an hour. They’re really undervalued for the complex work that they do, and that comes out of our history of racism and sexism. And we don’t value care in general because of that and because of these structural barriers. And so, we need to uplift them. We need to make sure that parents’ needs are met, that they’re able to find a place that they have the peace of mind that their child is in a safe and nurturing space, that their child is going to be well cared for. And for society, it’s better, too, ‘cause we know that kids’ brains are developing in their early years as fast as they’ll ever develop in their entire lives. So, we wanna be investing in those brains. We want those brains to be really well cared for, from a cognitive level, from a social-emotional level, and ultimately, an academic one too. And so, we need to invest in this.
But right now, we have piecemeal options where it’s either unaffordable for families, and they have to figure it out themselves and kind of make this all work. The emotional labor of that is really intense, too. And so, when you look at the numbers and you say, oh, wow, we didn’t have child care, but women were still working. Moms of young children were still working. How does that work if we don’t have a child care system in place? The answer is moms are suffering, right?! Like, it’s their mental health that is what’s at stake here. And that ultimately translates to their kids, too. So, what we’re doing is we’re not building a care system that will benefit everybody, including employers who want their employees to come to work and be able to be as productive as possible, which is still a value here. It’s just not the only value. It’s not the most important value. And so, how do we ultimately build the system?
So, we got close. As I said, in November of 2021, House of Representatives passed this bill that would’ve done all of those different pieces, and then the Senate didn’t. And quite frankly, the powers against it, the way I see it, is like it actually was a naked power grab and see this on top of the abortion conversation and Dobbs, right? There is clearly a concerted effort to make it harder for women to have autonomy, to have wealth, and to have agency. And so, what this does is when you don’t have these policies in place, that means that moms and caregivers and women in general are crushed under the weight of having to do it all, right? We’re parenting, we’re food shopping, we’re managing child care and school, putting meals on the table. That leaves no time or energy to run for office or participate in civic life. And I mean, women do it anyway all the time, but at what cost? And so, on the flip side of that is if we invest in this care infrastructure, we change the paradigm. We actually can give women, moms, caregivers a pathway to power, resources, and wealth that could really be a game changer.
VALLAS: Yeah, I love that. I love that. And I also, I appreciate that you started to talk about the interconnectedness not just of self-care and family care, but also ‘cause you really can’t pull these issues apart, right, especially for people who have families, who are a part of families. But there’s also the interconnectedness of how much we pay care workers and what the quality of those jobs are and the sustainability and strength of the infrastructure that is our care workforce. One of the concepts that really started to take shape and gain life in significant ways, especially during that time where we were all talking about Build Back Better, was the notion of human infrastructure, right? And it was this really powerful idea that because we were talking simultaneously about roads and bridges, but also about things like paid leave and child care, it was a recognition that maybe it’s a little late, but better late than never, that our public policy fabric and our social insurance system and all of these different parts of how we’ve set our society up, they’re infrastructure too. But they’re often infrastructure that is, it might not be asphalt and concrete and cement. It might be human beings kind of standing arm in arm in different ways. And that human infrastructure concept was incredibly powerful, and it’s one that I hope we don’t lose as we continue to talk about these issues. Talk a little bit about the picture for care workers and how that fits in as well, not just as part of why we don’t have a solid care infrastructure that allows for self-care to be equitably accessible, but also, that puts self-care out of reach for a lot of the care workers that we’re talking about, too.
KASHEN: Yeah, I think that it’s clear in our society that we do not value care work. And one event that I went to early on in my engagement on child care especially was with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. And I was talking to a domestic worker who was part of this conference and looked at me and said, you know, “I did not know that I had value as a human being until I came to this conference.” So beautiful and heartbreaking, right? And to think that there are millions of caregivers out there who haven’t yet been organized, who haven’t yet been able to see how much value they have as a human being? And that is because of this horrible treatment, and it’s because they’re not valued, because they’re not paid well enough, because they don’t have health insurance, they don’t have retirement benefits, right? They are…. We as a country are not investing everything we can into this workforce, which is largely Black and brown and immigrant, which is mostly women, right? And so, that means that the starting point of self-worth and self-value and self-compassion is, that’s kind of the place to start, I guess. And then all of those other pieces, the actual economic resources to support their families, that’s part two. And then if we’re investing in people in those ways, both the value and dignity and respect and the wages, then they’re able to live lives that are secure and stable and able to show up and provide the care they wanna provide.
I recently heard from one of the women who was part of the early education team that my son went to preschool in. And she said, “I love this work. I have a master’s in early education. I can’t do it anymore ‘cause I do not make enough money to live my life. I wanna have a family one day. I can’t afford it.” And she was asking, “How do I get to be part of the solution, and how do I advocate for this? Because this is not sustainable. I love children. I’ve trained to do this work. I’m going to have to get another job.” And we hear this all the time across the board in care work.
VALLAS: And I feel like the comparisons that sometimes get made and that sometimes show up in press coverage—I know this was definitely getting a lot more attention when we were, when the Senate and the House were actually actively debating care legislation—what you described before was, for example, people saying that they had a side job. So, care workers who also had side jobs as, say, being a Starbucks barista, and they were getting paid more as a barista than they were to care for children or to care for people with disabilities or to care for seniors or whatever dimension of the care infrastructure they were a human part of. That always stuck with me thinking about the $12 an hour or whatever a Starbucks barista is getting paid in a local market. That’s, you know, how much are we valuing people doing some of the most important work in this society, right? At least my opinion would be that this is some of the most important work in our society. We certainly don’t show up that way, the way that we make choices from a policy standpoint.
But Julie, you’re not just a leading policy expert on these issues and advocate, you’re also a parent. And that makes for a lot of your, it brings a whole other set of expertise and perspective that you bring to the passion that you show up with on these issues. I’m curious how you think about self-care in your own life. And I feel like this is gonna segue us into the next part of the conversation where we get maybe a little more personal, and we build on some of that policy foundation and some of the policy history. How does self-care show up in your own life as you, I was gonna say balance, but now I’m gonna say manage, your roles as a caregiver, but also as a leader in this very care debate that we’re talking about right now?
KASHEN: That is a great question. I wanna go back for one second just to note that the comparison of the care policies and the Starbucks worker, Starbucks makes a profit. The care sector needs public investment in order, right? Because we wanna pay early educators more. We wanna pay home health care aides more. But that can’t be on the family’s backs. And so, it has to have a public component to it. So, I just needed to say that before we move on from that part of the conversation. [laughs]
VALLAS: I so appreciate you bringing that in, no. And that’s why you are a policy expert in addition to being the parent who brings the lived experience! No, but take us take us there to that personal place with that very important caveat.
KASHEN: Yes. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about boundaries and what I have a full-body yes to and what I have a no to. And I think a lot of people, and especially women, are really trained to be people pleasers and to be aware of what does everyone else want from me, and how can I show up as that? And so, the work I’ve done a lot is what do I want, and how do I show up for that? And it’s not a selfishness, because what this is, is kind of a shedding of the societal expectations which go hand-in-hand with—all right, we’re gonna go there, Rebecca—with the inner critic or the saboteur, right? So, this is like the personal, you know, everyone has this personal saboteur/inner critic that is kind of in your mind all day long being like, “You should do this! You should do that! You’re not doing this well enough. You’re not good enough!!! This is another way you’re not good enough,” right? So, that voice goes on in all of our brains to various degrees. I’m still figuring out what it sounds like for narcissists, but in general, that is a thing. And so, the work has been to figure out how do we notice that that’s happening, get clear that that’s not truth, that’s not our authentic selves, and then tap into those authentic selves? So, the work is to figure out, what does my authentic self want, and how do I say yes to that? And one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that almost every time I have an “I don’t know,” it’s a “no” that’s afraid to be a “no.” [laughs]
VALLAS: Mm. Oh, I love that! The concept of the no that’s afraid to be a no. Yes.
KASHEN: Yes. [laughs]
KASHEN: And so, that helps a lot because that way, I am looking at what’s right for me. And my values say being there for my kid is right for me. Being there to have dinner with my husband almost every night, that matters to me. And so, that kind of, but, you know, understanding, like, I understand I have a lot of privilege to be able to say no, right? That’s, that is, you know, it’s a privilege of having done a lot of this work, but it’s also a privilege of knowing that I’m gonna be economically secure if I say no, recognizing that a lot of people don’t have that. And so, I think then the answer is doing the internal work regardless to let go of the shoulds, to let go of the guilt. Because most of us are just doing everything we can to get along, to support our families, to provide for our families, to be there and show up for our families, to be there for work. And we’re all living in the society that is not the society that I dream of and that I think you dream of, right? So, we have to go along to get along where we are today. But I think doing the internal work to understand we don’t have to feel bad about it. We can accept that we’re doing the best we can and feel good about that.
VALLAS: And for folks who want an entire introduction to the concept of boundaries, if this is something you’ve not engaged with deeply, I will put in a shameless plug for the conversation I had with Vilissa Thompson. She is the Patron Saint of Boundaries, as she is widely known in the disability community and also in other sectors as well, and for good reason. So, give a listen to Vilissa on boundaries too. But Julie, do you have any tips for folks who might not be super in touch with what their inner yes and their inner no feel like? That might sound like a weird question to some people, but I’m gonna guess there are some people listening who are like, “Thank you for asking that,” because that’s a question I get a lot from folks that I mentor or just know in the field at whatever stage of their work, particularly for women and for people who identify as women or femme. As you said, we can get so deeply conditioned to not ask the question, “What’s actually in service to me,” but only to ask the question, “what’s in service to the other person,” that we end up having that conditioning bypass and sort of color over what the inner yes even feels like. Do you have any tips, now that I’m bringing you in as a life coach as well, for folks who are looking to get in touch with what that inner yes and inner no feel like?
KASHEN: I’d say there are two major things. One is starting to understand and notice the saboteur, right? Notice that there’s this voice that, in every way it can, is going to say you’re not good enough or “I’m not good enough.” And it’s going to do it really creatively. It’s so smart, right? So, the minute you’re like, “Oh, no! I am good enough because I did it this way,” that voice is like, “Yeah, but this person didn’t think so.” And then it moves you to the next place. So, you really need to start to get clear that that’s not truth. That’s a voice. That’s one thought that’s in your head. And meditation can really help with that if you’re able to start to meditate because it can help to kind of slow your thoughts and be able to see, like create space and that thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not truth. They’re not reality. That’s one.
Okay. Another is the body and really tapping into your body. A lot of times you’ll know that it’s a no because you feel those body, that knot in your stomach. The knot in your stomach says something’s not right here, and intuition is telling you that. And it’s important to notice that. Or the excitement in your skin, right? The excitement in your skin is often telling you like, “Ooh, there’s something here for me!” And that’s kind of bigger than your head and bigger than those voices and bigger than the inner critic that you can really find some answers in yourself.
That being said, I will share a story about how I was trying to make a really big decision, and I went to a really peaceful place, a garden. And I sat, and I breathed in deep, and I breathed out. I was like, “Okay, what do I wanna do?” And in my head, I said, “I wanna say no.” And then I got on the phone, and I said, “Yes!” [laughs]
VALLAS: Oh, no! [laughs] Although I have been there so many times. I am so appreciating this story.
KASHEN: [laughs] It turned out the yes actually was a great decision. And I think that’s another thing, just in decision making. In life, there’s generally no right answer. [laughs] And so, sometimes it’s okay to experiment. Sometimes it’s okay to say yes and feel it out. And this was a low stakes decision, so it wasn’t, you know, I think your body tells you when it’s a high stakes decision and it’s a no. But sometimes it’s okay to play, too.
VALLAS: I love the honesty, too, in sharing that story, right? I feel like the more personal we can make this, the more accessible these kinds of ideas are. I wanna keep life coach Julie here for a minute since we have her. And I wanna ask if you’ve got any particular ways that you’re aware or that you’ve reflected that being a life coach and that becoming a life coach in addition to being a policy advocate has influenced or shaped or changed how you understand and how you show up for the social justice work that you do. I’m curious, are there any particular learnings or things that you’ve actually taken away from coaching others or from the training itself that you went through to become certified that feel like they’ve actually shaped how you do the systems work?
KASHEN: I love that question. I will answer it, but I’m gonna start [laughs] by just sharing about my friend Josie Kalipeni, because I’ve known Josie for a long time, and I watched her grow in her leadership. And when she became the executive director of Family Values @ Work, where she currently is, she really committed to doing things differently, right? So, Family Values @ Work is a network of organizations across states, a national organization that is working to push paid family and medical leave and paid sick days and child care policies. And they care deeply about that mission. They really do. But when she became the executive director, she started to say no to the urgency, right? We’re all, in policy advocacy world, we’re all in urgency. We have to be in every meeting. We have to get it done yesterday! It all has to happen. And when we say yes to the urgency, we’re saying yes to being a big shot and doing all the, right, getting it done, and making members of Congress happy. But we’re saying no to ourselves. We’re saying no to self-care. We’re saying no to each other.
KASHEN: And so, she started to instead, centered her yes on the needs of Black and brown, and the white women on her team saying yes to put rest on par with productivity, and acknowledge that productivity without rest is simply like playing into all the things we don’t like. So, she, like, I think of it as almost like unplugging from the matrix, right? She came away. And what that looks like practically is sometimes they work 4-day workweeks. When they wanna take vacation, they shut down the whole office, so there’s no work to go to, right? They’re on vacation so that they can rejuvenate and actually…. And, you know, they can heal from trauma, right? They can be a person, they can sleep, and they can stop relying on coffee as their motivator and actually have deep rest to keep them going for the long haul. Because the thing is, this is a long haul, you know? I thought we were gonna pass child care in November of ‘21. It’s not gonna happen anytime soon!
KASHEN: So, if I burn myself out now, where am I gonna be? I’m not gonna be here to help. I’m not gonna be here to be part of the movement. The work I wanna do now as coach and policy guru, turning it back around, right, is to use all the things that I’ve learned in my career and help teach other people. I want to inspire and educate and prepare with the right tools that I’ve learned about the next generation. And I want them to teach me and prepare me because they have a lot more energy, a lot different perspective. And so, I think, you know, and some of that comes with a vulnerability, right? Some of that comes with, at least the way I think of it is like, I don’t always bring my authentic self to work because I have a policy persona. And my policy persona is very serious and is very intense and urgent. And I do a lot of work to be like, okay! [laughs] let’s reign it back in, policy persona. And where’s the real person? You know when you get into the office, and you’re like, you send the email, and you’re like, “Where, what’s the status of this?!” And then you’re like, oh my God, I’m a person!
KASHEN: Like, I forgot to be a person! And then you stop and you back up and you’re like, “Hey, how are you?”
VALLAS: I love you for saying that. And I actually often, as a check on myself in that very regard, will start phone conversations with work people by saying, “All right, before we get into work, can we be humans for like two minutes?”
KASHEN: I love that.
VALLAS: Just to do a human check-in ‘cause it’s so easy just to get right into, “Okay, the bill’s getting introduced” or, “Oh, we got the press conference.” And it’s like, actually, can we just be humans for like a minute and then get into the work? So, that’s one of my favorite practices that also helps me feel much more authentically in relationship with the people that I have the privilege of getting to work with. Because it’s so easy to get into a transactional relationship with folks who you really love and really wanna be in a heart-connected place with. But that isn’t the culture of the water we often swim in. So, I love you for sharing that.
And just keeping you in this life coach stream—and I have all the love for Josie Kalipeni and love her coming up as someone who’s really modeling what it looks like to make different choices and more sustainable choices for a workplace and the people who are not just cogs in a wheel there, but who are humans who need supportive choices made by leadership to be able to create a container that folks can thrive in sustainably—I’m curious if there are other practices that have come forth from your life coaching training or other experiences that you’ve had, or maybe things you’ve learned from coaching others that you feel like you wanna bring in as well.
KASHEN: I think that it often really goes down to those basics of the inner critic and the authentic self, because I think that’s so much… You know, when my inner critic is talking to your inner critic, we’re not having a very real conversation, and it’s not the most productive we can be. But when my authentic self is talking to your authentic self, like, wow! That’s where the magic happens, right? That’s where the power is. That’s where we can get from like, here’s a very serious thought to like, oh! There’s play here, too. There’s fun here, too. And I think, again, because the work, I guess another way I think about it is that there’s the work of the immediate where we have to work in the systems that we have. But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming up the world we want to build. And so, how do we really think about bridging those things and understanding that, on a day-to-day basis, I have to get funded, so I have to do things a certain way and talk up my own work in a way that I don’t feel comfortable doing because I need the funders to know that I’m doing that work, right? But at the same time, I can lift up other people’s work, and I can bring new people into the fold who maybe aren’t the most politically influential, but who have a story to tell because it was their experience and their life. And so, how do we start to bridge more into that and then bridge into like, wait. What if we just kind of play more and have more joy and have more rest, right? What does that look like? It takes us out of the system we’re in, but what if it allows us to build the world that we’re trying to build?
VALLAS: Mmhmm. I appreciate all of that so much. And I also love that you are so aware of your work persona and the policy persona that you bring in and that you brought that forward as well. And since you’re using archetypes like the inner critic and the saboteur and others, Jung would be so proud of you right now to be engaging with archetypes in this conversation. I know folks who do that type of work and folks who think in those terms often name those personas. And I’m just curious, does your work persona have a name? Do you think of her as having a name?
KASHEN: [boisterous laughs] She doesn’t right now, but maybe I’ll name her!
VALLAS: I kind of feel like she needs a name!
VALLAS: Because you’re so aware of when you’re in that place, right, in that frequency. So, I don’t know.
KASHEN: We’ll work on that. [laughs]
VALLAS: No pressure unless it feels right, but I kind of feel like she needs a name.
So, Julie, one of the things that you and I have talked about off the air, and one of the things I’ve really loved having kind of side conversations at The Century Foundation with you about as someone who is on a very similar wavelength to how I feel I approach this work in ways that are coming out into this conversation and also ways that are about to come into this conversation as well, you and I both think about the social justice work that we are engaged in as actually self-care itself. And that might sound a little bit meta, but what I mean by that is really, self-care from the perspective of caring for the larger collective organism that we’re all part of, that larger interconnected whole that we know we’re all part of. And so, you can think of that as like the larger Self the big, capital-S “Self,” right? And we have our individual self that’s part of that. How does that view shape your approach to the social justice work that you do?
KASHEN: I think that sometimes I think about the fact that my title is director of women’s economic justice. And so, I am centering women in my work, and I mean that in a very expansive way. But what I’m also trying to do is center what we’ve talked about before, like the divine feminine, and that’s a little bit different. And I know it’s a little new-agey for policy types, but what that means is like intuition and a connectedness and an interconnectedness. So, it means that vulnerability that often, you know, it’s in many ways the opposite of toxic masculinity, right? And so, when you think about all the ways toxic masculinity plays into our work, that’s what I’m fighting against. I’m fighting so that we can truly end gun violence against children, so that we can stop practices of child labor or. I mean, there’s so many things that are happening in our world right now that are devastating. And so, to me, the opposite of that is like the coming together with our inner knowing and connecting.
And there’s also a part of that that’s climate change related because it’s really like reconnecting with the Earth, that there’s this way in which human beings are interconnected with each other and are all related to each other and connected to the earth. And if we could start to see that more, if that wasn’t such a woo-woo concept, if we actually just acknowledge that that’s just true, then I think we could really flip the way the world is working right now and start to build toward what we’re looking at.
VALLAS: And it felt in some ways like we started to inch closer to that with the pandemic, not to ever try to say there were silver linings. I really hate that way of thinking about it and that type of languaging. But certainly, a consequence of the pandemic that was not a negative consequence was, or at least felt to be, a greater awareness that we’re all connected, right? Because nothing quite like a global pandemic that starts in one place and spreads all over to really show us that we actually are all connected, whether or not we appreciate that every single day. I’m curious how you’re feeling now as we’re in a place where, just about a week ago, the president declared the pandemic over and ended the public health emergency. I will say from the standpoint of the Disability Economic Justice Team at The Century Foundation, we are not necessarily feeling as though the pandemic is over. But setting that aside and not turning this conversation into that one, do you feel like we’ve made it closer to there being broader collective consciousness around our interconnectedness? How does that feel to you in this moment?
KASHEN: I do feel that we have. And I feel like one of the ways I know that we have is how hard those who wanna keep the status quo are fighting to keep the status quo, right? And I think about Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier, and he had a quote about how the plane, the cockpit shakes the most when you’re closest to breaking the sound barrier. And so, if we think about our work like that, right, that things feel really bad right now in so many ways, but it’s because there’s so much fear that, quite frankly, that love will overcome, right?! There’s so much fear that we’re going to stop being a fear-based society and come together and see ourselves as humans and as fellow humans.
One of the things that came up during the pandemic were mutual aid groups. And I think that’s a really nice example of wait. What happens when you don’t have top-down leadership? What happens when people in a community come together and say, “This is a need, and we’re going to help each other to fill that need?” And I think those still exist post-pandemic, right? I think there is definitely progress. I also think the ways in which we think about and talk about care. The fact that yesterday I was able to be at the White House where President Biden signed an executive order that was about child care, about family care, about long-term supports and services, right? It was about care in all its forms, care cut across silos, right? And think about everyone who thinks of themselves as a caregiver, which is most of us, right? Everyone’s going to either need care, be cared for, or care for someone else at some point in their lives. So, if we think about the interconnectedness of that, that way, and we think about the fact that the White House just brought that together and kind of created this national focal point, I think that’s something really powerful in the air that will come from all of that.
VALLAS: I love that. And as you were speaking and as you were sharing the quote about the sound barrier, what was coming through for me is a concept that has been incredibly powerful for me as an advocate that I was actually sharing with law students at Georgetown just the other week, which is the Greeks, the ancient Greeks actually, had two concepts for time and two different words for time. And one was “Kairos,” and one was “Chronos.” Chronos time is what we think of as clock time. It’s the thing that we’re most familiar with when we think about time today and in our modern Western society. But you can think about words like “chronological,” right, or “chronic” or lots that comes etymologically from the concept of Chronos. But Kairos time is more like the right moment. The moment you can just feel that it’s like, oh, this is the right moment. And it’s a little more like thinking about the opening in, say, the armor, right? Where maybe the arrow can be pulled back in the bow and can hit and can actually break through. It’s also very similar to the Latin root for our word “opportunity,” which actually is similar to the word “portal,” right? So, it’s like a portal is open is kind of what Kairos time is like.
So, with that as enough of Greek etymology, my reason for sharing that is because to live in a Kairos moment, which is very much what it feels like we’re living in right now, it’s kind of like collectively, we feel like we’re all being pushed through a birth canal. And it’s like we can feel the pressure. And anyone alive at this moment in human history feels that pressure, and the pandemic has been just part of it. It’s happening on every level of society. We can feel that we’re in the middle of a slow-motion paradigm shift, right? And what do we do with that, right? And so, that’s some of what was coming through as you were describing the cockpit shaking. And it’s like we’re in the cockpit and we’re feeling it shake, right?! But scary and even terrifying as that can feel, it’s because we’re really close to that breakthrough that can come when you’re in the birth canal that you’re in the process of moving through that tension. So, that’s some of what was coming through for me as you were—
KASHEN: I love that you just moved the cockpit analogy into a birthing analogy.
KASHEN: I mean, the other thing that’s beautiful about that, right, is like, okay, once you’ve gotten through the sound barrier, we’ve gotten through the sound barrier, now what, right? But once you’ve come through the birth canal, you’re alive! You’ve created something! So, I think I’ll start using that from now on. Thank you. [laughs]
VALLAS: Please take it. Please take it. And you know, I’m always here for your Greek etymology, right? Where you wanna get a little nerdy, that’s what I do in my spare time.
But I actually feel like this is a great segue way into talking a little bit about a book that I know has been really influential for you, and it’s a book by a woman named Rebecca Campbell, who is a mystic, who is a speaker, who is many things. The book is called Rise Sister Rise. We’ve got a link to it in show notes. The author herself describes the book as, “A guide to co-creating a whole new archetype for women in these awakening times.” Again, sort of a reference to that Kairos moment that we’re in. I’ll continue with her description of the book. She says, “That new archetype would be a woman who does not keep herself small in order to make others feel more comfortable, who understands the true meaning of sisterhood, and that alone, we are strong, but together we are fierce.” And I feel like that also comes back to the interconnectedness theme that we’ve been talking about. And I’m actually getting chills while I’m reading those words because they’re so extremely powerful. How has this book, Rise Sister Rise, shaped how you think about your work, and how has it actually shaped how you do this work? And I know this’ll connect as well to the divine feminine that you were talking about just a moment ago.
KASHEN: Yeah, I think this book came into my life at a time when I’d read a lot of other things that I allowed it to build on, right? So, just Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth has really been influential for me. Also, Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem, especially Revolution from Within, where she really talks about the self and how that makes a difference in the world. And even Michelle Obama’s new book, The Light We Carry, these are all books that have variations of this theme. But one of the things that Rise Sister Rise does is it’s kind of connected even deeper to help imagine what a more balanced feminine/masculine world could look like. And when I knew we might talk about this, I looked up what my notes, you know, from when I read it and all the things I highlighted, and there were way too many. But I just will share one, which is, “So many of us have learned to use fear as our driver to be motivated by what we want to avoid rather than what we would be delighted to create.”
VALLAS: Oh, I love that. I love that. Which also connects back to your point about are we a fear-based society, or are we a love-based society? Which again, potentially risks sounding a little too new-agey for a podcast that mostly is about public policy, but we’ve been getting a little woo on Off-Kilter lately, so I’m…. And you know I’m very there. How does this connect to the conversation we were just having about the inner yes and the inner no? I mean, I feel like what we’re sort of scratching the surface of, but we should maybe be explicit about, is intuition, right, and being in touch with our intuition. And how does that show up for you, not just as a life coach or as a mom or as a human, but actually in doing policy work?
KASHEN: Yeah, I feel like one thing I learned about leadership over time was that being able to just make a decision was a sign of a good leader, right? That there are leaders who won’t make decisions, and that actually makes it really hard. And so, making decisions as a leader requires a lot of intuition and a lot of trust, right? It’s like being willing to be wrong. Or again, I don’t actually think there’s a right and wrong. Being willing to fail, being willing to not be perfect, right? That’s a pretty big one for me too, right? Policy persona and perfectionist persona are really good friends in my life. So, how can we get past that? So, I think really tapping in, you know, and so more and more recently, instead of using my brain, which I use a lot to be like pros, cons, yes, no, I need to talk to a few people and just get a sense of where people are. And then I just make a decision, and I’m just like, “Okay!” And I really try to let go of second guessing. I’m good at second guessing. But I really am just like, “Okay, decision made. We’re moving forward. We’re trusting the universe. It will happen,” right? So, it’s like it’s a much more flowy way of being. And it’s been nice getting rid of the pro/con lists. It feels really just freeing. Okay. And then I will read another quote from her because it’s so relevant here.
KASHEN: Which is, she says, “Put time aside for an unattached nothingness, creating, playing, relaxing, not for the outcome of where it will get you or what it will give you, but for the pure pleasure of it. Don’t fall back into the patriarchal, linear thinking that in order to be productive, you need to be active at all times. When you play or commune with nature, you fall back into the flow with life.”
VALLAS: Oh, I love that. I love that. And we could probably do another hour of this conversation just talking about Rise Sister Rise.
VALLAS: And maybe we actually should do that.
KASHEN: I love it!
VALLAS: Maybe we need to do a follow-up.
KASHEN: Or bring Rebecca Campbell on.
VALLAS: Well…. All right, I’ll take that pitch. I’ll take that pitch.
VALLAS: See if Rebecca Campbell is interested. If you’re listening, Rebecca Campbell, we’d like to have you on. We will find your press people and send an email to make that happen while we also trust the universe to hopefully send you to us.
But, Julie, before we wrap and run out of time, I would be remiss if I didn’t find some space to actually close on the note of one of my absolute favorite self-care practices that you do that I happen to know that you do. And it will not be a surprise to anyone who knows me that this is something that I love as much as I do when I learned that this is something that you do. You host full moon circles, and you get friends and colleagues, all women, together for a gathering, either every full moon or a lot of the time when there’s a full moon. How did you get into doing these, what’s the story behind this, and how does that show up as a self-care practice for you and for the folks that you gather?
KASHEN: I had been thinking a lot about how I wanted to nurture my more spiritual side and how I needed to create more space and time for that. And I was in conversation with someone in a very professional work conversation setting, and I just threw it out there. We were talking about building women in power and how we could do it. And I was sort of like, I’m just tired of talking about getting more women into public office. It’s really important, really, really. I’m on the board of Obama. It’s really important, right? But I feel like there’s something else, too. I said, “What if we just got together at the full moon and just connected and spent time feeling good about ourselves, practicing feeling good about ourselves, and supporting each other to feel good about each other?” And so, it started there.
The full moon part kind of came in even, it was there, and it just sort of came out of my mouth. And then I started to really look into what that meant! And it does, you know, during a full moon, a person’s intuition is supposedly heightened, and it’s a good time to reflect on personal growth. It’s also like the end of a cycle, and so it’s time, a good time to let go of things and commit to what you want next. And so, we’ve been doing this, I think, just a few times so far, but it’s been so powerful and magical, just the ability to come together and just practice being in touch with our authentic selves and each other’s authentic selves. The energy that comes from that is really, really inspiring and uplifting. And I just have faith that there is magic that’s going to come from them.
VALLAS: Are these circles open, in case listeners are wondering if they can join? [laughs]
KASHEN: Not yet! But perhaps there could be at some later date. [laughs]
VALLAS: Well, we’ll see. We’ll see if you get inquiries. I suspect there are people who are hearing this and going, “I love this! I wanna be part of this.”
We’re gonna run out of time, Julie, which breaks my heart because this has been such a fun conversation for me. And also, just I love that you’re another person in my work circles who is so intentional about tapping into your spiritual side and not having that be separate from your work. We often get taught that we have to compartmentalize and be different people. But as you started this conversation, and it’s probably the right note to end on, we are our whole selves when we are at our best. And that means breaking through those compartmentalizations and breaking through those walls. And so, that’s part of why I love starting this conversation talking about paid family leave and policy and ending it with full moon circles ‘cause it’s all you. It’s all the same person. It’s all the same Julie Kashen, and it’s part of what makes you such an amazing leader in this movement. So, Julie, thank you so much for taking the time for this and for sharing all of your wisdom. And for folks who wanna connect with Julie, we’ve got info on her in show notes, so go find more about her work and go check her out. She’s amazing. Julie, thank you so much for taking the time.
KASHEN: Thank you. And thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone to have this conversation publicly. I’m excited and energized.
VALLAS: My absolute pleasure. Come out of the broom closet with me!
KASHEN: [huge belly laugh]
VALLAS: It’s time for all of us!
KASHEN: The coven. [chuckles]
VALLAS: Julie, [sings] the coven begins!!! [regular voice] And there’s no better note to end. Julie Kashen is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. She’s the director of women’s economic justice at TCF, and she’s also on the board of Vote Mama Lobby. And like I said, lots more about her in show notes. Julie, take good care and I’ll see you soon.
KASHEN: Thank you.
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And that does it for this week’s show. Off-Kilter is powered by The Century Foundation and produced by We Act Radio, with a special shoutout to executive producer Troy Miller and his merry band of farm animals, and the phenomenal Kings Floyd, who keeps us all in line week to week. Transcripts, which help us make the show accessible, are courtesy of Cheryl Green and her fabulous feline coworker RouRou. Find us every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. And if you like what we do with the podcast, send us some love by hitting the subscribe button and rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcasts to help other folks find the pod. It really does help. Thanks again for listening and see you next week.