So many of us seek to meaningfully improve our communities and world—but it’s not always clear how we can combine that work with our careers. Seeking answers, we talked to three Antioch alumni who have grappled with this question in their own lives and work. Deb Moy is empowering transit workers in the Bay Area. Max Golding founded a tenant union in Santa Barbara. Isaias Narvaez connects you with resources in Los Angeles. In this conversation, they offer insights and an inspiring look at how three people have made activism an important part of their work.
Visit Antioch’s website to learn more about the MA in Clinical Psychology program at our Los Angeles campus that Isaias attended, the MA in Clinical Psychology program at our Santa Barbara campus that Max attended, and the online Doctor of Education program in which Deb is currently studying.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University
Host: Jasper Nighthawk
Editor: Johanna Case
Digital Design: Mira Mead
Web Content Coordination: Jen Mont
Work-Study Intern: Sierra-Nicole E. DeBinion
Recording Help: Lauren Instenes
A special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland
This episode was recorded on July 7, July 9, and July 13, 2022, via Riverside.FM and released on November 11, 2022.
S4 Episode 6 Transcript
Jasper Nighthawk: This is the Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity.
Jasper: I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk, and today we’re doing something a little bit different. We’re hosting a panel on careers in social justice, talking to three Antioch alums who are working hard to make our world a better place.
I had the idea for this episode when I was talking to one of my colleagues, a fellow Antioch alum, and I asked her what initially brought you to Antioch. She told me about an event she attended on our Los Angeles campus when she wasn’t even thinking about getting a master’s degree. She was just interested to hear various alumni speak about the different activist work they each had undertaken after graduating. But she found that event in these alumni so interesting and inspiring that she became more curious and eventually decided to enroll and become a student herself. And now, as an alum, she works here.
So I was talking to this teammate and I realized that my own story, isn’t that different. My decision to study at Antioch was, in large part, inspired by my teaching mentor. She was an Antioch alum and a devoted activist in our community, specifically bringing poetry lessons to disadvantaged kids. So this realization that I had while talking with my colleague, it helped me see that so many of us come to Antioch because we’re inspired by the activism of specific Antioch alumni.
And I thought I want to bring this to more people. In my role as University Storyteller, I get to talk with alumni who are doing some of the most exciting and interesting work I know of. For this episode, we thought we could bring a few alums together to learn more. I’m looking forward to asking them about how they got into activism, what inspires them, and also hearing about some of the challenges of working long term, trying to improve our world.
Let me introduce these alums. Deb Moy is an alum of our former BA in Labor Studies, and she’s currently studying for a Doctor of Education here at Antioch. She’s been working for decades, empowering working people, and her consulting practice is Balance Point Strategic Services.
Our next guest, Max Golding, is an alum of the MA in Clinical Psychology at our Santa Barbara campus. He currently works as a therapist and co-founded the Santa Barbara Tenant Union. And our final guest is Isaias Narvaez, a graduate of the MA in Clinical Psychology at our Los Angeles campus. He works as a therapist and continues a lifelong devotion to helping kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and connecting them with opportunities to thrive.
Welcome you three to the podcast. I’m really excited to have you here. And I want to start by disclosing positionality. We’re gonna be touching on big issues of injustice in our world, and those of course intersect with privilege. For myself, I would disclose that I’m white. I’m a cisgendered man, and while I’m not straight, I today have a lot of straight privilege because I go through the world, married to a woman I have a college education, I have stable housing, and I have a stable income currently. So I feel like I bring a lot of privilege to this conversation, and as much as I’ve had a career that intersects with social justice, I think I’ve been lucky to not be under the same stresses as many other people in this country and around our world.
Okay. I’ll pass it over to you. Deb. As much as you’re comfortable, what would you like to disclose to people who are listening to this conversation?
Deb Moy: I’m a third generation Chinese-American woman. My grandparents came from China in the late eighteen hundreds. So I’m one of the older, if you will, generations of Chinese in the United States. I am a cisgendered woman. I do have disabilities of various types that I’ve lived with for quite some time now. I do have a partner that I’m living with. I have two children, and I’m extremely grateful to them. I am very fortunate to be housed and I have a steady job. I’ve been homeless before. I don’t have those challenges right now. I’m very grateful for that and I’m very cognizant of what that means to be economically unstable or food insufficient.
Jasper: Okay. Can I pass it over to you, Isaias?
Isaias Narvaez: I’m a Mexican American. I identify as Chicano. I’m stable income. I live in a nice neighborhood. I have a pretty decent job. That wasn’t always the case growing up though. I did grow up in the low SES neighborhoods, at Boyle Heights East Los Angeles. A lot of my mentoring work began at the Hollenbeck Youth Center out there. Before I started getting a paycheck for it. That’s what I did in my free time, especially as I became a parent and so forth.
Jasper: Okay. And Max, as much as you’re comfortable, would you share the position that you come to this conversation from?
Max Golding: Sure. Same as you, that kind of, generic, straight, cis, white guy, et cetera. I’m glad that the class element was brought in there. I grew up in a low-income housing project in the Bay area, like in the peninsula. If we talk about whiteness as a social location thing, growing up as a minority white within a sort of low-income housing project. And then you walk outta the housing project and then, everybody assumes you’re middle class like them, but you’re not, you’re one of the poor people, but you just, if you just wear a button up shirt and stuff and they think that you’re like one of them, but you’re not.
You know, I got the full Pell Grant to get a BA in cultural anthropology at UCSB, and then, you know, I’m still in a lot of loan debt for the master’s degree at Antioch Santa Barbara. But like, I’m living like, I’d say a good middle class, I mean, I don’t even know what middle class is anymore. Maybe lower-middle-class existence now, which is completely not where I came from.
Jasper: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that, Max. Okay. So as we get into these questions, I think it’s useful to know more about what it is that you guys are doing today. So, to start, maybe we could turn to you, Deb. Can you tell me about your career and how you think about making change in the world?
Deb: First of all, it’s hard for me to talk about a career because I have a hard time relating to what a career is, I know you had a question later on about how you combine what you do with what your passion is, and I basically flip the script around is I do what I feel like I’m gonna be most effective at, so my current job title might be something but is that a career? And so if you were gonna look me up on LinkedIn or I’d have to put a title down, I wouldn’t have any idea what you would put.
What I tell people I do is that I listen to what people say and then I do what they want me to do. So that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Throughout my life, I’ve done that in many, many different ways.
Right now, I happen to be doing it through the avenue of workplace education. Technically speaking, I’m self-employed. I have my own small business. I do consulting work for what’s called High Road Training Partnerships. That’s an official, it’s called, it’s called a workforce development policy by the state of California.
And it is saying, take the high road. Employers and unions should work together and figure out, how do you meet industry demand. Worker voice on the job, community involvement, and to which I always add and measurable results because why do all these things if you don’t have any results that come out? And I’m very much about, I wanna see actionable things, right?
Don’t just say, You wanna do this. Actually do the thing. And when you actually do the thing, then maybe I’ll trust you that you actually heard me, but if you say something or nobody does anything, well, you go, Oh, okay, what was the point of that? I’m not gonna say anything anymore. You know? So action has to go with voice.
It’s not a thing that you can just say, Oh, I have a voice because I spoke up. You actually have to have an impact in real life. And I think that piece of it is extremely difficult to do. And that’s basically the ground that I weave through, is to figure out how to make those things happen.
Jasper: So maybe Max, could you tell us what you do as your career today and also kind of your activism work?
Max: Yeah, sure. I see them as mostly completely separate. I’m a licensed marriage family therapist now. Been doing that for seven years for money. You know, and thanks to Antioch for that, right? I didn’t have to have like this insane GPA and the GREs.
And that’s one cool thing about Antioch is you have this goal and you’re like, Oh, okay, I can go here.
Jasper: You want to be a therapist
Max: Yeah, I was like, I wanna be a therapist. Because in my mid-twenties I was running into a lot of mental health issues. Saw a therapist for a while and I was like, this would be a really cool job to go into. This guy, obviously he’s getting paid, and he’s able to do his thing, and I didn’t know what I was gonna do with my BA anyway. So anyway, I did that.
But I guess the activism stuff, the main things I could bring up were most recently co-founding the center of Barbara Tenants Union. Right as Covid started. So I guess to say the day to day, we set up a hotline We did really well at making sure people knew we existed. We got a tenant lawyer from the Legal Aid Foundation and a thing called Legal Help Desk every Thursday, where people would come and ask legal questions. I was going with my bilingual comrade, if I should say that term, to apartment buildings where we could do English, Spanish workshops. Know your rights. And then help them build what’s called tenant associations, which is sort of like a labor union in a workplace, but it’s a tenant union and an apartment complex called tenant associations. So trying to help build the tenant associations, trying to get representatives from the tenant associations to come through the monthly meetings to like build out, keep building out the structure. So it’s a combination of sort of education about your rights with all the education about, like, what’s the limits of our rights, right? Like if you’re gonna say, here’s my rights, and then, and then what? Are you gonna hire a lawyer? Of course. Or you can’t afford to hire some crazy, like, I’m gonna sue you lawyer, right? Like, we’re talking about lower-income people. So what if we fled on the landlord’s phone and just be like, Don’t raise the rent, don’t evict these people. What if we go hold signs out? So we didn’t have that many protests. The biggest one we had was in front of what’s called Sandpiper Property Management. And we just shamed the crap out of the managers there. And all the tenants got their demands met. So, that kind of stuff like fiery stuff like that? Yeah.
Jasper: Yeah, that, that sounds really rewarding. So, Isaias, if we could turn to you, you work at the Children’s Center of Antelope Valley, right?
Jasper: Okay. You have an MA in Clinical Psychology, you’re trained as a therapist. Do you work there specifically giving talk therapy?
Isais: Yeah. I do talk in group. Currently, I do family therapy, individual therapy, and I run domestic violence counseling through the gang program. That, that’s where I’m at so far. Yeah. Yeah.
Jasper: That’s great.
Isais: It’s getting kids and families into treatment, into therapy, into getting help. Because in Lancaster, there’s a big population that just, they don’t know we have all these resources there.
Jasper: Yeah. Thank you. Isaias. Helping connect young people to resources is so important, and I see how it naturally connects with your work as a therapist too. So, Deb, I wanna turn it to you now and ask a little bit more about the path that brought you to your activism. Like how did you get to be doing this work that you’re doing?
Deb: I started in the sixties with the San Francisco State, Third World Strike. Since I grew up in the Bay Area. So that whole struggle for ethnic studies was very close to my heart. So when that started, I was actually still in high school at the time. So we actually had high school rebellions, if you will, concurrent to what was happening at the colleges. That’s really where, to me, this whole question of having your own voice and liberating that voice and empowering that voice comes from my roots. From Ethnic Studies and in particular for Asian American Studies.
So when I was in high school, we had a professor. He was a high school social studies teacher of Japanese American descent who had been in the concentration camps in World War II. And those were all things that we never talked about. We weren’t allowed to talk about any of our histories at that time. So at the encouragement of our teacher, we started exploring those kinds of issues. So, you know, a friend of mine decided, we’ll go explore whether redlining, where you can only live in certain neighborhoods and not others, still exists. And, bam, we got shut down faster than you could ever imagine. Cause it did still exist, and nobody wanted to talk about it.
Right? So when I got to college I became very active in Asian American studies and also in creating Asian women’s courses. Because now it’s very common for people to say, Oh, intersectionality. And, you know, it’s the intersection of race, class, gender, you know, all these things. Well, we didn’t have a fancy name for it at that time. We just knew from our own lived experience what it was like. And I think, like I said, from that experience, for me, that’s basically the path I followed my whole life. That we have a voice. We know it’s legitimate. That doesn’t mean everybody else thinks it’s a legitimate. So how do you actually enter that conversation and create that space?
And that’s where I find myself now, whatever X number of years later, still doing in the context of work of workers at the workplace. Cause most of the workers at the workplace that I work with are BIPOC workers or very working class folks who see these union jobs legitimately as a step up for themselves and for their community. Good wages, good benefits, stable careers, you know, career advancement. Those are the kind of things that the typical jobs like I used to get, or my community used to get. You could get a job in a sewing factory, a laundry, a restaurant, you know what I mean? You weren’t getting any of those things. So to me, having a union is a fundamental right for people to have those kinds of protections and have that kind of work.
Jasper: Can you tell me about your experiences union organizing as an Asian American woman?
Deb: Now it’s very well established. There’s APALA for Asian, Pacific American Labor Alliance. There’s, you know, various groups, alliances, and things like that. It wasn’t like that when we starting. I would go to a meeting, and I would get up, and people start pointing fingers. “She’s not a union member.” “Kick her out,” right? Cuz I’m Asian and I’m a woman. Before I even opened my mouth or said anything, I mean it, it would just be like that, right? So there was a lot that people have gone through that we all don’t talk about and we don’t have time to talk about.
In that one year while we were all really excited about finally making a breakthrough in organized labor for Asian workers, we were right on the cusp of forming Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, APALA which is now in its 30th year, I believe. Three people, my friends, who are all very active, all died. 1, 2, 3, all within six months. Two heart attacks and a stroke. Because what kind of lifestyle and stress have people been going through all this time? Right? And that’s what I said. That’s it. I don’t feel that this, that we should have to be dying ourselves. You know, that isn’t helping the movement to die, right? Or to be crippled or whatever in the middle of doing this. Cuz it is a long-term thing. Like, look what just happened, right? With Roe versus Wade. Didn’t we have this battle since ever since I was a kid? You know what I mean? And here we go again. So look what happened to the Civil Rights Bill and all the consequences of that.
These movements go on for a long time, and I think people have to approach their lives that way too. What can you do now and for the future to set that pattern so it’s healthy for everyone as well, as to get work done? Cause the end goal can’t be social justice at all costs— meaning you should die too. I mean, I don’t think that that’s the point. You know what I mean?
Jasper: Yeah, I totally hear you on that. We, we have to take care of ourselves. Like, as activists, we need to pace ourselves for work that happens over years and decades. If we’re so intense that we end up harming ourselves, that, that actually impacts our ability to actually create this change, which often isn’t gonna happen overnight.
I’d like to bring you in, Isaias. How did you get your start in activism?
Isais: You know, my deal was, disempowered youth. And, and so I was lucky enough to have, both my parents at home, and plenty of time dedicated to me and all that stuff.
But my friends from my school, a lot of them were single parents. A lot of fathers were absent, so they would kind of hang out with me and my dad. And that’s kind of where it started. My dad put me into, a youth center, basically so I wouldn’t be exposed to gangs. Cause that’s all we had back then. And then that’s where I hung out. So then that’s where I would meet all these kids, and I would just, you know, help them box, tutor them, whatever. And it became a thing. Where it grew for me was, a lot of these kids weren’t going to school right after high school. They weren’t going to college. They were going straight into the workforce. At some point they capped out, they weren’t gonna make any more money. And, I go, Well, why don’t you go to school? What’s, what’s going on with you? And they’re like, Yeah, well, I can’t.
And it was just a lack of information, where they didn’t know that there was grants that they could get help for school and so forth. And then a lot of ’em were, it was their immigration status. Someone at home didn’t have a legal status, and they didn’t want to get parents in trouble. And even parents began going to school. I would go, Look, let’s go to the school. I’ll help you with the financial aid. And then that, that’s how my activism started. So I don’t, you know, I wish I could say I have an organization. I’ve worked in many.
Jasper: It sounds to me like there was never a point where you were like, All right, now I’m done with my training. Now I can start giving back to the world. You were doing this from, even when you were a student in high school or grade school. You were connecting friends. You didn’t really think like, Oh, I have to wait, or I have to ask permission. Am I, am I seeing that right? Does that sound right?
Isais: Yeah. I think when it’s just something that, inspires you. Cause I can’t tell you, Oh, at this particular time in life, I decided to go back to school. I went back to school when I was 42 years old. I used to be a boxing coach, former boxer in my youth. , Then I ended up where I’m at now, going, I started in the college system at the junior colleges, working with disabled students, severe disabilities, I, didn’t think, Oh, this is where I’m going. And really, as school went forward, other opportunities presented themselves. That’s when I was like, Okay, I could do this. And, it’s just one of those things. You could see that you could do some more, and it’s, you know, you do it. You know, I couldn’t say I had an outline for it. You kind of just go wherever, I suppose you go wherever you’re meant to be at the time. You know, it’s wherever you’re useful.
Jasper: Yeah, that’s such a well-put idea, and I think it’s a really good guiding principle. I want to turn to you, Max. What brought you to this work, and are there foundational beliefs like this that underpin your work?
Max: I don’t know if it sounds corny, but my motto for the last many years has been “Class Struggle.” Meaning, there’s a small group kind of at the top, who just by sitting around, they’re able to extract profit from not paying people the full value of their labor. And then there’s the vast majority of us that are subject to that exploitation. And you can break down all the different, you know, race, gender, sexual, you can break down all those different things. The thing I got really obsessed with was like, how do I position myself, especially now that I’m a therapist, right? Cause there’s different things I was involved in before becoming a therapist. But I was like, how do I position myself now that I’m in this like a little bit more, It’s not bougie, but it felt bougier than where I came from. Where I was like, I’m gonna sit and help people and talk to people in this nice office and it’s air-conditioned. I was like, how do I position myself in any kind of like class struggle project? Do I just have to sort of humble myself and be like, I can just help whoever comes to me? I can see mostly lower-income people, and I can feel a little bit better about myself. Like not just working with people in Montecito or something.
Part of the tenant project and other things has been like really wanting to just be like, Well, I’m still a tenant. I don’t own a home. I’m a tenant. I know everybody’s being screwed by landlords. That’s a class struggle project I can get involved in. So there was a lived experience of it many years ago, and there’s things I still deal with. But there’s almost like a bigger ideal in a certain way of just being like, I wanna be part of this, like, broader project to build a mass organization to be able to like overthrow the landlord class, essentially. Like a weird thing as a therapist saying these things, right? So you’d think you’d be like, Oh, what? Why don’t you like, heal the landlord’s broken heart or something? Right?
Jasper: For real. So, how is this tenant organizing work going?
Max: Well I actually, that’s actually quit like a month ago, so it’s no longer interesting. I can’t even really talk about it I just, I realized I needed to set, , I’m doing some soul-searching and working on forming a therapist-worker co-op right now is actually the project I’m doing. But I just, I burnt out, cuz it was, here’s the thing, when you have a job and then you do volunteer stuff on the side, and you are spending just as much time doing the volunteer stuff, it is a recipe for burnout for sure.
Jasper: That’s so real. Deb, I feel like you would have something to add here. You mentioned earlier this really tragic thing where several of your activist friends died partly because they like, gave too much of themselves to their work. How do you navigate burnout and sustain yourself in this work that you’ve been doing for really a long time now?
Deb: I think it’s really easy to let your passion or your beliefs carry you to the point where something else is so important that you just continually give, give, give. And this is not a unique thing just to social justice. Anybody in a caring profession has that same issue. Because you care so much about something that you go farther than maybe you physically, mentally, or emotionally can actually carry at any particular time. And when that happened, the incident I had talked to you about earlier, where those three folks died all within the same year, all of stress-related incidents. That’s when I just stopped and I said, We need to balance this out a little bit better. Because there used to be a thing a long time ago that said, If you worked for personal balance, you were giving in to oppressive conditions and you were just like accepting them and coping with them, you weren’t trying to change them. So the ideal was to go out there and do your 80 hours a week or more. And if you took any time off, it was like, Are you that committed, if you took some time off to do something else? And that’s no longer the case.
Now I think it’s much more accepted that taking care of yourself is a radical act and it is a move towards equality and equity because you should be able to live your life that way. But it’s not always possible and we don’t have control over those kinds of things. So one of the things that we teach folks was, What is the concept of centering?
How do you make sure that you, yourself are always in a place to best deal with everything else that’s going on around you, especially when it’s unexpected? For example, when you get stressed or if something happens, you could be sitting there at a stop light waiting for the light to change, to keep going, right? And you can spend that 15 seconds just focusing on your breathing. Well, don’t take your foot off the brake. Don’t do it. You know what I mean? You’re still in the public service, but to be able to bring yourself back to that so that you can constantly reset.
Jasper: Yeah. Teaching those kinds of self-care, while it sounds really simple, it’s actually really fundamental to who people are. And that’s the thing that we try to teach people. Balance out what you’re doing with your family, balance it out with your health and wellness. And especially now around mental health, which is a huge issue. Take the time that you need. It’s okay to take a mental health date. It’s not a stigma to do that. Those kinds of approaches for me make a big difference. Yeah.
Deb: And unfortunately, especially for BIPOC communities, we don’t have control over what happens in our communities. There’s a lot of violence, there’s a lot of unforeseen things that can happen. And we’ve seen this all along. And I’ve been burned out several times in my career, and I can look back at that and say why and what happened. But I also know I’ve had several times over my life where I’ve had huge life-changing personal things happen. You have to stop and deal with them.
Deb: You can’t feel guilty about doing that.
Deb: It’s a part of life.
Jasper: If you’re gonna treat other people as full of people, you have to treat yourself as a full person too.
Deb: Correct. And there is the tried and true tired saying, Put your oxygen mask on first before you put it on someone else. And that’s a nice way of saying it. It’s very true. And I think it’s not just, I’ll go like crazy for nine months and then take three months off.
First of all, who has three months off? I don’t know anyone that gets three months off. You know what I mean? But everyone’s gotta have their own sense of how far they can go and how much they can do before they hit that point. And I like to think of it as gas in the gas tank. You know, that’s your energy. And if you run your tank all the way to the bottom and some big catastrophe happens, what’s gonna happen?
Deb: So try to keep it around three quarters if you can, you know what I mean? Or be very judicious about, you have your extra gas can over here. If you know you need it.
Jasper: Ha. That’s such a lovely metaphor, just making sure that we always have enough gas, especially if something else goes wrong, having some reserves. Let’s turn it over to you, Isaias. How do you fight against burnout in your work? One of my dreams growing up was that I wanted to be a chef. And so I’ve been cooking, baking, name it, since I was about nine years old or so, and so it, it became my therapy. I’ve always done all the cooking at home, even now with my wife and kids. So, what I do is, I’ve got about a 45 minute drive, and I like driving. So, I can take a scenic drive home, on a long day.
Isais: Then, burying myself in my kitchen. For a while and stuff. And then, my wife and kids, they’re all tri athletes and, you know, crazy. But they, you know, I’ll join them. I’ll join them, and I gotta push myself. I’ll go, I’ll join them, and I’ll go do a few laps and stuff. And then, my last go to, which is daily, it’s, I either read or watch a movie or a couple of episodes or whatever before I go to sleep. Because yeah, no.
Jasper: You take care of yourself.
Not before a couple of bouts of having burned out myself. I’ve been there, you know, a good chunk of times. To where I’m cognitive that I don’t want to be angry.
Isais: I don’t want to be tired. I don’t wanna be grinding my teeth. I don’t care for the body aches and pains. When I start noticing, reminders like, uh, oh no, I’m a little moody, you know, and tired, you know. Then you, your self-care. But I do remember having one quarter at Antioch, where all we had was trauma classes, and they they kept on driving that message. Of, you’re gonna burn, beware. You know, take care of you. But I’ve been burnt quite a couple of times in life, you know. So I do know what that’s like and so I, I do my best to avoid it.
Isais: Yeah, you kind of have to continually remind yourself, cuz it’s easy to get sucked in.
Isais: Yeah. Those are my little bag of tricks.
Jasper: Yeah. Max, do you have something to add to that?
Max: Oh, just, I was like, this guy is really wise, man. Well, the chef thing. Yeah, I love cooking too. I’m not as good as my partner at cooking, but, I’ve been making yogurt. And I started making candles as well, kind of recently. away to friends and maybe eventually start some like small like candle business or something like that. But just those kind of things. There’s quaint, domestic, in the kitchen, I just, like, there’s no politics here. There’s no trauma, it’s just like chill, and obviously, I’ll binge on the TV shows and play video games to numb out sometimes. But for me, my biggest self-care thing these days is just connecting with friends.
I think because I’ve been doing the activist type stuff for so long, I realized that the actual meaningful interpersonal, non-political, nonorganizing relationships were kind of fading away. And I was like, do I really have real friends, or do I have these like quote-unquote comrade type people, right? That I gotta go out and we need to like, fight the system and stuff. And at a certain point, I was just like, That’s really lonely, you know? I need to like really cultivate just these normal relationships with people. And I found that’s kind of the most important thing for me right now, as well as journaling. I’m doing a lot of journaling.
Jasper: Thank you for sharing that. I think we often focus on the positive side of, you know, making change in the world, being the change you wanna see. Being an activist. And there definitely is this other side of what it can take from you, what you can end up giving. Max, I imagine, helping these people who are gonna have their lives potentially ruined by a landlord, that can seem more meaningful than connecting with some friends. On an immediate level.
Max: Yeah. But it’s both. I think that the thing is when you get exposed to too many difficult situations where you don’t really see an immediate way out for people, it sucks away your sense of hope. Right. One of the main things that kind of teach you in therapist school is like to instill hope with people, right? When you first start meeting with them to be like, Oh, you know, I can see you’re going through this, this, and this. But if we do this, this, and this, I think you might, you’ll come out the other side, and blah, blah, blah. And you have to instill hope in a certain way. And, I think the severity of the housing crisis, for tenants, is so bad right now that that’s kind of what contributed to my burnout.
So, whereas in the therapy world, I feel like once a week, like somebody comes in, I can have somebody, I can have suicidal people, I can have whatever. I actually don’t, knock on wood. Maybe I will get burnt out from this, but I don’t tend to get burnt out from the therapy work. It’s an hour a week, and your issues may be really severe, but I kind of have faith that that’s gonna work out. But it’s not trying to take on the whole system and all this stuff, right? These are like big systemic structural issues.
Jasper: It sounds like it’s kind of contained.
Max: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Isais: Back to the, what Max was saying about how, you know, you see this client the one time a week or whatever, and, and for some reason, I think with doing therapy work, that whole boundary that you put with your clients, just because of something that’s second nature now. So even when I’m doing outside work that’s not involved in therapy, it’s like, okay, well you got me for this much time and then take your problems with it. Bring it back next week, you know, next conversation. And I think you just get used to the time limit that you’re gonna add to it, whatever. And I think it, it integrates into your time management. One thing that I also do is that I don’t answer my phone, dude. Like, once I’m done, once I clock out, I’m gone. You know, my phones, I’ll answer my wife and kids, and that’s it. Like no one else. You know, I don’t look at text, I don’t look at email. You’ll get me back Monday morning.
I think you get used to putting that kind of like a light switch, you know. Like, okay, you’re at work, work, deal with it. You get your session and then we’ll revisit where you are at next week, right? Because overall it’s their issues, not yours. I think being a therapist lets you develop that ability to keep that barrier, you know. And just remember your countertransference was like, okay, these are their problems and, it’s their pace. I’ll get this a lot, cause I work with children in adolescence. But they, man, I used to get this from my friends all the time too. Is that they want you to care just as much? They want you to be as panicked as they are. And it’s a 9 1 1 issue. And you can’t let that come out all. They wanna get real attached to you. You know, they like, well, you know. Then all of a sudden you’re their hero. You’re their, their savior. And you know, it’s like, no, we, we get 50 minutes. We’ll see what’s up next time. I guess the best way to set that expectations that you’re in there too, you know, you’re investing your emotions.
Jasper: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s like a big idea in therapy, right? That you have to, part of becoming a professional therapist is learning these skills to not have that happen. That seems like it would be useful for all people working in social justice work, or activists to some degree.
Well, we are almost out of time. So I have kind of a last question for you. But maybe I can start with you Isaias. I just wanted to ask if you have advice for other people who are, maybe prospective students, current students, even alumni who might be listening to this or reading this. And they’re still on their path towards finding a career and finding their work that aligns with their social justice values. And like, how have you navigated that?
Isais: I could say my career found me. I sat in one class at a junior college, and I liked it. So I took another, a follow-up class. And I was hooked. And then I was like, Well, this is what I wanna do. And as I got into beginning my academic career in this field, I started working in every trench work type of job associated with mental health. I’ve done all of it, and a few more intense than others. But I liked it. I wasn’t taking it home and like hating what I was doing. So the fact that it calls to me. So, I just stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed. Originally, I was just gonna get my BA hanging on my wall and go right back to my old life. I just wanted to go to school. And fast forward, now, here I am, a whole different change in my life. And I do have a job I like doing. So there’s no questions about that. No regrets. But in my case, I think it’s really, take your time, find your passion. And like I said, that’s me. I feel my career found me. You know, I think we just finally cross paths. Yeah. So take your time. Really take your time. Find what is it that inspires you. It doesn’t have to feel like work.
Jasper: Yeah, that’s beautifully put. Thank you. Max, I would turn it to you. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find careers and activism work that really aligns with their social justice values?
Max: Yeah. I think Isaias put it really beautifully. I think it’s a very individual thing, right? Like, how I found this work and Isaias found this work is different, but everybody else’s path is gonna be different too. And I’m a big proponent too when I’ve had people say, like, Oh, should I become a therapist? It seems cool. I’ve been to therapy and stuff. I think things like, you know, take a psychology class. If you can volunteer for a hotline, if you can like, you know, reach out to local nonprofits or something. And actually try to just get involved in that way to see if you actually do like that work of like, sitting with people or dealing with crises and things like that.
And then, if you have my issue of like, the systems. Where you’re like, Oh, this isn’t big enough, it’s not, this isn’t changing the system or whatever. I think wrestling with that as well. Talking that through with people, reading more, and stuff like that. Because I still wrestle with it. And I haven’t come to a perfect conclusion on that. And I have different ideas on it. But sometimes I feel like trying to figure out careers that will change society isn’t the best way, actually isn’t the right way to think about it, if that makes sense. Right. Cuz like our jobs is just what we do on the day to day, and it may make a difference on a small scale, but it’s not, you know, universal healthcare or the housing crisis and stuff like that. I’m not sure if jobs are the way to think about that. Although I mean, maybe it’s like, it’s probably a both-and. Right? But if anybody else listening like, struggles with that, keep struggling with it and think about it and talk about it.
Max: You know, follow that, that calling for sure. You know?
Jasper: Yeah, I, I totally get that. That’s so well put. Deb, do you have any advice for people moving into this work?
Deb: So my whole life or career, I followed that path, and it’s taken me between community organizing, labor organizing, workplace organizing, you know teaching as an adjunct instructor in community colleges, doing a lot of different things. But I guess that’s where I would say, I wouldn’t feel like obligated to say you have to have a career, per se. I would say, Think of what you, it’s important to you, and find the place where you feel comfortable doing it at that time. And that doesn’t lend itself to what my parents would say is success in life, which is to have a defined benefit plan, which actually there isn’t any anymore. Very few, right? Except for in unions, unionized places, you know. So I don’t have a great retirement plan or anything like that, but I do feel that, for my life, I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do. So I would say follow what your heart is, at the end of the day. Because I’ve seen too many people make too many sacrifices, making compromises or whatever. You have to decide to what level you want to do that. And to what level relative to where your life is at, that you can take on those challenges too. Because I’ll tell you when I was younger I thought nothing of going out, doing 80 hours a week, of doing whatever and nights and weekends and, you know.
But if you have a family, if you have, responsibilities, don’t feel torn between, you wanna take care of yourself and your family. Cuz to me, especially for BIPOC folks, that’s already a social justice act. You’re not supposed to take care of your spouse. So you’re supposed to go out and work two jobs to make ends meet and do all these things. You know, that’s not right either. So how did people put it? Just existing is already a revolutionary act, if you will. You know, it is an act of justice because it’s part of helping your community flourish.
Jasper: Yeah, I love that. And I think that that actually is a perfect place for us to conclude this episode. So thank you three for spending this time talking with us today. And thank you so much for the work that you’re doing in the world.
You can find more information about the MA in Clinical Psychology programs that Isaias and Max are graduates of, as well as the Doctor of Education program that Deb is studying in on Antioch’s website, antioch.edu. We’re also going to include specific links to those program pages in our show notes. To learn more about Deb’s work in transit activism you might be interested in watching some of the videos that she produced on the California Transit Works website. We’ll link to that in our show notes, and we’re also gonna include a link there to the Santa Barbara Tenants Union that Max helped found. We post these show notes on our website, the seed field.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Johanna Case. I am your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Our digital designer is Mira Mead. Jen Mont is our Web Content Coordinator. Sierra-Nicole E. DeBinion is our Work Study Intern. Lauren Instenes is helped record these interviews. Maria Symons edited the print version of this panel for the Antioch Alumni Magazine. And a special thanks to Karen Hamilton, Amelia Bryan, and Melinda Garland.
Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. And don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been the Seed Field Podcast.