In this On Purpose episode, Jay Shetty welcomed Kerry Washington, an Emmy award-winning actor, director, producer, and activist. She is best known for her role as Olivia Pope in the hit drama Scandal

The discussion focuses on Washington's memoir titled, Thicker than Water. It provides a glimpse into her life and experiences in her newly released memoir.

Finding the Strength

Washington shared with Jay Shetty a childhood memory that shaped her identity - being the first girl in her neighborhood to play All Sharks Under. She attributed her willingness to take risks and challenge societal limitations to her family's firm, brave women. Washington emphasized that as black women, they were not "damsels in distress" but resilient, strong, and hardworking out of necessity.

Washington explained to Jay Shetty that this generational courage and strength stemmed from the history of black women, who were never rescued but always had to persevere. She acknowledged generational trauma and courage as essential to her identity, highlighting that adversity contributes to personal growth.

Feeling Unsafe

One revelation from Washington's book is her experience with panic attacks at the age of seven. Back then, she didn't have the words to label these episodes; only in her early 20s did she recognize their recurrence. She called them "dread pulsing through my body," a whirlwind of fear and an overwhelming sense of smallness.

From a young age, Washington would force herself to think good thoughts in challenging times. Despite her materially comfortable upbringing, the actress attributed the negative thoughts and the panic to the background noise of her parents' arguments and an underlying feeling of unsafety. It was more of an emotional disease than physical or material insecurity to her.

Feeling unsafe isn't solely related to physical or material well-being. Washington acknowledged to Jay Shetty that an internal unease, a sense of emotional insecurity and distrust, contributed to her panic attacks. She spoke about feeling as though she wasn't being given the whole truth, a feeling of incompleteness that haunted her. Yet, Washington found a path to self-discovery through yoga, which allowed her to be still in her body and be fully present in the moment.

The Acting Facade

Washington's desire to perform and be someone other than herself manifested in her career. Acting became her safe space to express emotions and vulnerabilities that typically stifled in her personal life. It allowed her to connect with her inner truth and express it through the characters she portrayed.

However, Washington admits to Jay Shetty a constant struggle with her acting career. She sometimes feels the need to step away from it due to the overwhelming business side of the industry. It involves rejection, competition, and the challenges of getting projects off the ground. 

The actress acknowledges to Jay Shetty that the external recognition and validation of her success are not always fulfilling; she occasionally considered alternative paths, such as teaching yoga or working with children. However, despite her sporadic desire to step away, Washington is continually pulled back into acting by scripts and projects that resonate deeply with her.


Dharma, a Sanskrit term, represents an inner calling that cannot be separated from one's true self. It's an alignment so deep that attempts to resist it are futile. Jay Shetty emphasizes that dharma isn't tied to specific activities or titles, such as CEO, actor, or author; it's about expressing one's essence authentically.

Kerry Washington highlights that the essence of her dharma lies in her ability to express emotional truth and vulnerability. Growing up in an environment where truth was concealed, she developed an innate drive to seek and honor emotional truth. She describes her role as someone who seeks genuine emotional authenticity. Therefore, she believes that her dharma is connected to holding space for emotional vulnerability and truth.


Kerry Washington shares with Jay Shetty a pivotal moment when her parents revealed new information about her family's history. It led her to question her identity and purpose. Despite the end of a successful TV show, she didn't find the expected downtime. Instead, she found herself continuously busy, prompting her to examine her intentions behind this busyness.

Washington recognizes her predisposition to being busy and has made efforts to reevaluate her choices. She emphasizes that her commitments align with her purpose and passion. This introspection has led her to say "no" more often to create space for meaningful yeses.

Jay Shetty highlights the challenge of redefining performance and success, especially after years of high achievement. Washington acknowledges the need to redefine success personally, considering her roles as a wife, mother, and daughter. Writing her memoir was a way to reflect on her life comprehensively and authentically, including her newfound curiosity and awareness.

Unexpected Turn of Events (Spoiler Alert)

Kerry Washington opens up to Jay Shetty about a life-altering revelation she received at 43. Her parents disclosed that the man she grew up calling "dad" was not her father; she was conceived with the help of a sperm donor. Washington describes the shock and, at the same time, the sense of alignment she felt upon hearing this news.

The actress compares her family's situation to a puzzle with one wrong piece everyone ignored. Finally, the truth emerged, and they could be honest about the missing piece, even if they didn't know what it was. It was about embracing the newfound honesty in their family narrative.

Washington's parents waited until she was 43 to reveal this information. She explains to Jay Shetty that her father would have preferred not to share this truth, as he profoundly believes in their bond as father and daughter. He sees her as his, and he is hers, regardless of the genetic complexities. 

Washington attributes the timing of the revelation to the era in which she was conceived. Sperm donation and assisted reproductive technologies were experimental and secretive then, with no frozen sperm or established norms. Her parents believed that keeping the family unit intact was crucial and that revealing the truth would only upset her.

The disclosure eventually happened when Washington planned to appear on a show called Finding Your Roots, which involved DNA testing. Her parents' reluctance to participate led to the revelation.

Mixed Feelings

Kerry Washington discusses with Jay Shetty the art of simultaneously accepting two seemingly opposing truths. Jay highlights F. Scott Fitzgerald's insight about the human mind's ability to hold two contradictory ideas in harmony, which has become a rarity today. 

Washington credits her yoga practice for teaching her the importance of balancing strength with flexibility, as yoga requires surrender and commitment in every pose. This physical practice has translated into her emotional and mental approach to life.

Washington also opens up to Jay Shetty about the complexity of her situation; she now has to navigate the presence of a biological donor while acknowledging her dad's immense role in her life as a father figure. To her, they both represent "father energy" in her story, and she embraces these truths as intrinsic aspects of her life.

Quest for Truth

Washington's pursuit of truth has culminated in her discovery of multiple realities. Her newfound revelations about her biological parentage have unearthed layers of truth, inviting her to explore her authentic self.

Throughout her life, Washington believed she wasn't enough for her parents, particularly her dad. She strived to be better, prettier, smarter, and more successful, thinking this would bridge her perceived emotional gap. However, she eventually realized that the emotional distance wasn't her fault; it was a consequence of her parents trying to protect her from a hidden truth.

Washington's journey, including family therapy and honest conversations, has brought her closer to her parents than ever before. The revelation of the long-kept secret has dismantled barriers, allowing for genuine intimacy and authentic relationships. 

Knowing Who You Are

Washington shares with Jay Shetty how her journey of self-discovery has allowed her to go deeper into her roles as an actress. She can now bring more of her authentic self and emotional truth to her performances because she no longer acts out of fear or looks to characters to fix her. This newfound depth and vulnerability have enriched her acting, enabling her to connect more profoundly with her characters and the audience.

Washington highlights to Jay Shetty the significance of understanding one's origins and the imprinting that occurs before birth. She explains how her mother's fear and shame during pregnancy unknowingly influenced her emotional journey. Washington also discusses her parents' decision to pursue artificial insemination over adoption, driven by their pride and desire to keep a secret, ultimately leading to her existence. 

True Feelings

Washington admits to Jay Shetty that her journey has been about allowing herself to experience anger and pain while making room for compassion. She emphasizes the importance of having healthy boundaries and not operating from toxicity. For her, holding space for love and compassion, both for herself and others, is essential.

We block compassion for others, we also stop it from ourselves. Washington attributes part of her compassionate outlook to her acting career, where she learned not to judge characters, even villains, but to understand their motivations and backgrounds. This approach has allowed her to cultivate empathy and compassion in her work and personal life.

Authenticity in Public

Kerry Washington opens up to Jay Shetty about her journey towards embracing her truth, both publicly and personally. Her current phase involves learning to be in her truth publicly and discovering its impact on herself and her family. As someone who has been very private in the public eye, she's curious about this new experience. 

Additionally, Washington is eager to explore her connection to her donor, recognizing that even the absence of information can carry significance and serve as an invitation to deeper relationships within her family and with a higher power. 

Maintaining privacy was a way to protect the actress' loved ones. However, the recent revelation of her truth has prompted her to be more transparent and correct the perpetuation of a hidden aspect of her life. She emphasizes the importance of speaking her truth and not hiding behind secrets, as it can lead to healing and help others feel less alone.

Washington believes that we are as healthy as our secrets. She desires healing, health, and happiness for herself, her family, and her community by walking through the fear of truth toward a more profound sense of healing. 

Sharing News With the Children

Washington's children are growing up in a world where diverse family structures are common, making it less daunting to discuss her unique situation. The conversations vary based on the child's age, focusing on providing information as they inquire rather than overwhelming them. 

Washington underlines maintaining an open-door policy, reassuring her children that they can ask any questions. Nevertheless, her dad remains her dad, offering her children a sense of security amid newfound information about their family history.

Growth Journey

Kerry Washington opens up about her deep connection to India, which played a significant role in her life. She spent time in Kerala, which was a formative experience. She wishes to return to India and bring her family along, especially her husband, who understands its profound influence on her.

Jay Shetty visits India annually for personal and spiritual reasons. He emphasizes the importance of disconnecting from the outside world during these trips and immersing himself fully in the experience. His wife, Radhi, accompanies him on these journeys, making it a deep bonding experience for them as a couple.

Jay explains that the monk training he received taught him the invaluable skill of being present wherever he is. He focuses on aligning his purpose with his location, allowing him to embrace each moment fully. While he acknowledges the comfort of home, he views purpose as his true home, enabling him to find fulfillment wherever he goes.

Jay Shetty and Kerry Washington emphasize the importance of embracing personal growth's messy and beautiful aspects. Reading about real-life struggles and revelations can be more relatable and impactful than a romanticized view of growth.

More From Jay Shetty

Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “Kerry Washington ON How to SHift Anger Into Compassion, Shame Into Strength and Break Generational Trauma” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at

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