How This National Security Analyst Protects Her Home and Homeland

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In terms of everyday chaos, 2020 has shown no signs of slowing down. It’s no wonder that Juliette Kayyem, a national security analyst and Girl Scout Alum from California, is a go-to source for security and comfort. The effects of COVID-19 especially have her fielding phone calls and emails from her friends and professional network. CircleAround reached out for her advice on how people can balance their home life, safety, and sanity, in these uncertain times.

CA: How has your career evolved since the start of COVID-19?

JK: Some people have very linear careers; I like to say I've had one career, and many jobs. They all have the same theme which is, of course, based around risk reduction and security. But I've done those things in a government setting, I've been part of the private sector, I have experience in media and academia. Part of it is just figuring out the career narrative that works for you. I like having those different platforms because they are all so different and make my work more dynamic.

Most of my days are like this morning. I literally was up at 5 a.m. for commentary on CNN. Then, I ran to drop off the dog at doggie daycare. I taught a class from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and I've been dealing with the text from a CEO who needs some advice. It will be like that for the rest of the day, except I’ve got three kids, and my husband, all at home right now.

CA: Do you find your work life is translating into your home life more than previously?

JK: People laugh at me because I have all these organizational charts, but part of my job is to give order to chaos. That's important, because once people feel like they can actually understand what's going on, they can own it. And so the same advice I give to CEOs, I give to my girlfriends — especially as work is opening up in the middle of a pandemic.

There [are] three things we’re balancing simultaneously. One is trying to minimize contact intensity. The second is, you want to manage your number of contacts, or the number of people you come into contact with. The third is the most important: you want to maximize your own personal mitigation strategies. Staying home is the default. 

It's masking and social distancing and staying home if you're sick. It's all these things that, combined in the absence of a vaccine and an evolving national strategy, might help minimize the risk. So, when a girlfriend calls me and says, ‘We want to do ‘this. What do you think?’ I ask them, 'What do you think? Are you going to do all these things, and have confidence that the people around you are going to do all these things safely, too?' ”

CA: Your book, Security Mom: My Life Protecting the Home and Homeland came out in 2016. What drove you to tell your story at such a pivotal moment in American history?

JK: My idea of writing a book about homeland security as a memoir really was not in the plan. I wanted to write a book about risk reduction, and about living with a certain amount of risk, and what that means in terms of preparation, and how to prepare our families. It’s really not that different than preparing our communities, but I didn't really know how to write that story, and it was not interesting. 

Based on my first draft, I wasn’t going to find a market for it, but then something happened; I have a large Lebanese family. My cousin, who is a dentist, sends me an email. It's one of the anniversaries of 9/11, and her daughter wants to go to New York that weekend, but she’s very nervous because of the threat of a potential anniversary attack. In the email, however, she also asked if I was flossing, was I wearing my night guard, etc., along with asking for my advice on what to do.

Her email ended up being part of my book. She basically wanted me to talk about my work in the way that she talked about hers. So, I ended up writing my memoir as a mother of three kids, and both the sort of balancing issues I’ve encountered, but more based on the sort of skills that I was learning as I was becoming a mother. A lot of them are not that different from my professional skills.

CA: What’s the biggest takeaway from everything you’ve experienced so far this year?

JK: A basic theme is how can we build a more resilient society, and respond to the threat (COVID-19) that we have right now in the most effective manner, but also one that recognizes America's vitality — and that we're not just in one crisis.

I mean, we are also in a significant moral reckoning — and I think it's good that we are — but all of those things contribute to a sense of unease. I think part of my job is to try to bring a little ease to some of those institutions, through the work I’ve done, and continue to do. 

Tags: parenting, Family, author, Navigating the Pandemic, Overcoming Adversity, Motherhood, Divorce

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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