Julie Kohler has had an inspiring career. She’s a writer, the co-creator and host of a new Wonder Media Network podcast, White Picket Fence, and currently serves as a fellow in residence at the National Women’s Law Center and a senior advisor to the Democracy Alliance, a progressive donor network. Her work attempts to rebalance power, supporting individuals whose voices have often been excluded from politics and policymaking, and to build a fair and inclusive democracy. As the year comes to a close, I sat down with Julie to discuss her career, the motivation behind her work, and lessons the Thrive Global community can take away from her journey. Here’s what she had to share.
What inspired you to pursue a career focused on philanthropy and gender justice?
I don’t think there was one thing that inspired me to pursue my professional path. It was, in some ways, a logical outgrowth of growing up in my family. My father spent 13 years in a Catholic religious order before leaving to marry my mom. And although most of my family had grown pretty disenchanted with the Catholic church, social justice remained a strong guiding force. My mom was a biology and women’s studies professor, so gender justice was always at the forefront of family conversations. My parents didn’t push me in a particular career direction. But from them, I absorbed the belief that what you do for a living is an extension of your values. And I’ve sought out professional opportunities that allowed me to live mine.
Much of your writing focuses on women, politics, and families; how does your own motherhood impact this?
I’ve always cared deeply about issues affecting women, children, and families – that didn’t start when I became a parent. But as a mother of a young child, I have experienced firsthand how devalued caregiving is in our society. The ever-elusive “work-life” balance is only possible when there are actual investments in caregiving – when workplaces provide flexibility to their employees who have caregiving responsibilities and policymakers invest in the kinds of supports – paid family leave, high-quality universal child care – that that enable parents to do their jobs and care for their children and other family members. I’m fortunate in that I enjoy a level of flexibility that many working parents lack. But even still, I am constantly scrambling to get it all done, and more than once throughout the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve felt like I’ve hit my breaking point. Mothers and other caregivers are managing impossible workloads in the midst of this crisis, and it shouldn’t be this hard. Our nation must begin recognizing how essential caregiving is to the well-being of children and other vulnerable family members – and to a strong economy. We all benefit from public investments in care.
How do you find meaning and purpose in your work?
I am very fortunate to have built a career that provides me with a sense of purpose and meaning. I get to think and write about the issues that I’m most curious about, and I get to help support inspiring organizations and leaders who are working to make our nation more equitable and just. I never forget what a privilege it is to be able to do work that is so personally meaningful.
How do you balance your professional and personal duties and what advice do you have to Thrive Global readers balancing work and family?
There are some things that we can do as individuals to help with the juggle. For my mental health, I make sure that I exercise every day. I make time every week to see friends – in person and now in a COVID era, virtually. But we must also reject the notion that we can life-hack our way to “balance.” The incredible stress that parents and caregivers are experiencing right now is not a result of poor time management; it is the result of poor policy decisions and a flawed set of cultural norms that have long told us that families, and especially women, can do it all without public support. My advice is actually to liberate ourselves from the unrealistic expectations that have been placed on us and to demand different – and better – public solutions. Get political! Owning our public voice is the best way to improve quality of life for ourselves and for millions of others.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Without a doubt, it’s the people. I have been fortunate to work with some of the most impressive leaders in politics and the progressive movement, and I have learned so much from their vision, ideas, and passion. This fall, I launched a new podcast with Wonder Media Network called White Picket Fence that explores white women’s identities and politics and how we can better own our stake in fighting for justice. One of the things I love most about hosting a podcast is that it gives me the opportunity to talk with people who I admire and respect – activists, scholars, elected officials. Each one of these conversations makes me smarter and expands how I think.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career, how did you work to overcome it, and what tips do you have for Thrive Global readers in the face of obstacles?
One thing that I’m not terribly good at is handling uncertainty – and in a COVID era, uncertainty abounds! Like many people – and women, especially – I can have moments in which I become besieged with self-doubt. And yet it is in these moments of uncertainty – when I haven’t been sure what’s next – when I’ve felt my most creative. So my advice, which I’m trying to follow myself, is to trust the process. To allow myself space and time to explore. To believe that opportunities will present themselves when I stay true to myself and focus on the things that I enjoy doing the most.
What are you looking forward to most in 2021?
Having a glass of wine at a bar with good friends. Traveling. Spending time – in-person – with family members and friends that I haven’t seen in a year. Trying new things. Knowing that, based on 2020, we are all so much stronger than we ever knew we were. And that, going forward, we can use that strength to move mountains – and to build the kind of just world we’ve only begun to envision.