Elizabeth Ashford comes from the world of politics. She advised Arnold Schwarzenegger while he was governor of California, managed several agencies across the same state, and worked as Kamala Harris’s chief of staff while the now-presidential candidate served as the attorney general of California.
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Then, while consulting, Ashford met a group of cannabis growers in Santa Barbara that needed an ordinance to find a place to grow. After she helped them, she met a number of clients that needed the same advice and guidance. That advocacy led her to her current role: a senior director of communications at cannabis-delivery company, Eaze.
In this week’s Proust Goes Tech, we chat about a quirky anesthesiologist, a novel about empowerment, and what Ashford defines as the “truest adage on the planet.”
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What would you otherwise be doing right now?
I’m not trying to be cute about it, but I am doing what I would otherwise be doing. Cannabis, cannabis policy, and communications is really a second act for me. I was a senior in government and political roles previously, and I felt super fortunate to have those chances.
But when that was done, I was very thoughtful about what could happen next. I think looking ahead has been intrinsic for me, and how my ambition was defined. Back then, this question would be more relevant.
Your main fault?
The challenges with your own faults is that you usually don’t see them, which is why they remain faults.
What has come up again and again in my life, both professionally and personally, is that I’m totally incapable of being teased. I’m incapable of understanding it’s out of admiration. Instead I think: why are you tormenting me with this observation?
I realized over time it’s a byproduct of being an only child. Nobody ever teases you. It has to be a blind spot. While I know I have much more serious and significant faults, one small thing I wish I could shift about myself is to have a better sense of humor.
The quality you most desire in a tweet?
Brevity. You only have 140 characters, or actually they expanded it right? Well you should only have 140 characters. Bottom line: it’s a resume. You need to be able to make your point quickly. Brevity.
Your idea of misery?
I lead a very easy life compared to most people, that’s a fact of privilege. I guess for myself it would be the inability to help my daughter. If I found myself in a position or situation where I wasn’t able to help her when she needed me—I can’t imagine a more profoundly miserable feeling.
What do you appreciate the most in your friends?
Ride or die loyalty. I don’t have siblings; I don’t have a big family. My friends are not people that I am close to because of professional ties or because we share a hobby; it’s because of shared loyalty.
Your chief characteristic?
I think it’s resiliency, if I were to try and put a word on it. One of the lines from DJ Shadow’s Lonely Souls is “there’s no secret of living, you just keep on walking.” For me, life is very much about putting one foot in front of another. And that’s a lesson I learned from childhood. I was very sick as a child, and I remember the doctors told my parents they didn’t think I‘d be able to complete high school.
I just remember thinking if I just keep going one foot in front of another, I can fix this, and I can cope with it.
Resiliency. It’s how my mother describes me, so I think it would make for a decent assessment of my character.
What skill do you wish you possessed?
Cooking. Actually not really. That’s what I thought I should say, but I don’t really mean it. I want to be able to sit down at a piano and hammer out a tune. Just one of those skills you can bust out at a party.
I’m good at writing, but no one at parties ever asks you, “Can you quickly compose me an essay?”
When I was a kid, my parents had a friend who was an anesthesiologist. He would paint or glue pennies to his shoes and tap dance. I wish I could do something like that.
Your most impactful book?
My favorite book is Anna Karenina. My most impactful book to date is “Be Fierce: Stop Harassment And Take Your Power Back” by Gretchen Carlson. It helped me understand that harassment is a legal issue, and a societal virus that touches most women in the workforce in some way or another. I worked for Gretchen during her book tour, and it was an opportunity to work with someone who came from a different world politically and personally.
Gretchen and I would not have run into each other at a party. She was with Fox News; I’m a Democrat. But it was awesome to work with her, and the book was very impactful. It put language, for me, to a lot of things I didn’t know. Also, her book was published two weeks before the Harvey Weinstein news broke.
What defines success?
For me personally, it’s contentment. I consider myself successful because if I was hit by a bus tomorrow I would feel like I had accomplished real things with my career and with my personal life. A sense of contentment is super, super important to feeling successful.
When is confidence lost?
I think it’s usually lost through betrayal. I think especially if it comes from a mentor or family member or someone in your life that you’ve been looking to as a north star.
I’ve had that happen to me. It took a while to come back. But when people say be kind to yourself, I swear to you it’s the truest adage on the planet. Time does heal 99 percent of wounds.
Which buzzword is exhausted?
I think the word “bro.” I think it is very reductive. I understand why it’s gained popularity; we’re in one of the biggest shake ups in terms of gender relations in American society. But I think, it’s a lot like the word “chick” or “babe,” it’s intended to be reductive.
I think that, you know, gender relations and professional gender relations are relations. They’re between genders, between people. And if we take behaviors and say he’s just a bro, we set aside that it can be improved. I think that for every Harvey Weinstein, or Matt Lauer or whomever out there, there are many, many, many, many, many more men and male colleagues and fathers and brothers and all that who are ride or die with the women in their lives. I’m not trying to minimize any outcomes or minimize anything. I think bro had a time and place, but we need to move past these kind of boxes. And ask ourselves: How are we going to be professionally together and personally together?
What virtues do others have that you don’t?
Many, many, many, many. I would say others have temperance, and I don’t. Also, I have a great respect for people who are really vigorous about their wellness routines.
What impact do you want to leave behind?
My daughter. She will take it all forward. I am so lucky to have a child.
What’s the biggest problem tech is failing to solve?
Tech has already solved the biggest problem in my life, which is where my keys are at any given time.
I would love to see tech do more with gender inequality, both in the technology that they develop and the way tech companies conduct themselves.
Tech is in a great opportunity to disrupt in equality. By nature, tech is drawing people who want to change things at a really fast pace. We’re talking about the ultimate disruption here: inequality. And I don’t see a sector possible more equipped to do it, than tech.
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