People 17 May 2018
Randi Zuckerberg is a force to be reckoned with. Not only is the serial tech entrepreneur and Founder of Zuckerberg Media a New York Times best-selling author, Broadway singer and avid proponent of getting more young girls into STEM via an innovative pop-up shop called Sue's Tech Kitchen and children's content platform (Dot Complicated), but she's also a mom of two young boys.
According to Zuckerberg, navigating her packed schedule and multitude of personal and professional responsibilities has been built on a simple notion; picking and choosing.
Work, sleep, family, friends, fitness; all important, but not all possible to do at once. Picking three on any given day is Zuckerberg's way to navigate the many demands a modern woman in business faces. Her newest book, Pick Three: You Can Have it All tells women it's OK to sometimes temporarily disappoint people or say 'no,' to something, because being fully present is much more important. "Not everything can be top priority, so instead of trying to do everything and winding up doing it all in a thoroughly mediocre way," says Zuckerberg. "It's always better to prioritize and show up for things 100 percent."
Here, we get low down on how this book came to be and why Zuckerberg believes it's OK to sometimes put work over family...
1. Were you always someone who took on a lot? Can you talk us through how your experience brought you to the "pick three" philosophy?
I guess you can say that I've always had a 'more is more' approach to life. I've always found room to advise one more startup, see one more Broadway show, write one more book, or invest in one more female founder. The only glaring problem with that approach is it's easy to feel overloaded, drowning under the pressure of everything going on - I often found I was prioritizing everything and everyone in my life, except for me.
I figured that there had to be a way to be busy and to accomplish everything I wanted to do in terms of: work, sleep, family, friends, and fitness, but in a way that was focused, mindful, and strategic. I realized that the key lay in prioritizing. Having the discipline to focus on a few things each day and do those things really, really well has allowed me to take on many more projects than I ever dreamed possible, while feeling way less overwhelmed and frazzled (though of course I do still have my moments)!
2. Do you think there is more pressure on women to balance all responsibilities while men are forgiven more easily to embrace business over family life?
Definitely. It was shocking to me as I was researching and interviewing people for Pick Three how women would lean in close and drop their voice to a whisper before admitting that they wanted to prioritize their careers. As if it's a major taboo for women to admit that they want to spend time on the thing that they spent years of their life doing and oodles of money and student debt preparing for! It's ok to say 'I love my career and sometimes I want to prioritize it over my family!' It doesn't make you any less of a mother or any less of a person. Men definitely don't have the same societal pressure to excel at work by pretending their children don't exist, while at the same time feeling like they need to say that their children are always their number one priority in every social setting, but Pick Three applies to everyone, no matter gender, age, or phase of life. We all prioritize and make sacrifices. So make your choices each day, do those things well, and don't waste a minute feeling guilty about the areas you didn't choose.
Zuckerberg, with her two boys, reminds women that some days it's inevitable that you must pick family over work or vice versa. Photographed by Dan Martensen, Vogue.
3. Are these five value propositions universal? Do they vary when it comes to different countries, generations, and socio-economic groups?
I purposefully tried to make the five categories as broad as possible to fit the needs of as many people as possible. For example, Fitness doesn't just apply to going to the gym. It encompasses all areas of health: mental health, physical health, stress relief, mindfulness, meditation, nutrition, and more. Family is another example of a broad category. There are many people for whom family is complicated - or biological family just doesn't exist. Family broadly applies to the people who make you feel like you belong - which could be a church, religious community, etc. Of course, if my five categories don't meet the needs of your life, feel free to craft your own!
4. Which of the five are you most likely to drop? Do you notice any patterns in your own life re. favoring some vs. others.
For me, I find that friends drop off the most and sleep is a close second. I've interviewed dozens of people on this topic, and while no two people are the same, I have noticed some broad similarities of what people prioritize in different life stages. Teens and Twenties are all about Friends and Work (School, Early Career.) Thirties and Forties switch to Work and Family. And Fifties and Sixties switches back to Friends and Fitness. For me, I am squarely in the Work and Family phase of my life. I have my own company and two young children, so I am pretty much picking those two categories every single day. Which leaves only one open slot to rotate through: Fitness, Sleep & Friends. By the time I make it to the weekend, all I want to do is sleep and try to get in a good workout. Sorry, friends. See you when I turn fifty, I guess?
5. You say there is "no such thing as a perfect balance" yet women are constantly striving for perfection. What advice do you have to help women go easy on themselves for those moments they are most stressed?
I have wasted way too much of my life feeling guilty: guilty for not having a perfect body, guilty for not spending enough time with my children, guilty for not spending enough time on my company. You name it. Guilt-a-palooza over here. Compound that with the fact that it's so easy to open Instagram and feel like everyone else's lives are so perfect (because we've all gotten so good at curating our lives to a tee).
Enough of that. Don't waste one more second feeling guilty because I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that when you think about the things you've done that you are most proud of in your life, those things probably did not happen when you were perfectly balanced. No. I'm guessing you accomplished those things when you gave yourself permission to really go for it in one area of your life, even if it had to mean temporarily sacrificing some other areas. So go be great and stop feeling guilty!
"I guess you can say that I've always had a “more is more" approach to life. I've always found room to advise one more startup. See one more Broadway show. Write one more book." Photo Courtesy of Ben Arons
6. As more women enter executive positions while navigating motherhood, can you share your thoughts on how companies should begin to adapt? What was your experience with this?
Oh gosh, I could write a book titled Horrible Places I've Pumped (And Other Stories). I think that the more we as women articulate our goals, our priorities, our Pick Threes, the more we educate those around us on our boundaries, the better off we'll be.
The workplace of the future will need to be a nimble, flexible one that can accommodate working mothers and give them the environment to do their very best work, while also enabling them to Pick Family when need be.
That being said, we do ourselves and all working mothers a disservice by pretending that we can do it all at the same time. If you're on a conference call while your toddler is throwing cheerios down your shirt, then you're not present at work and you're not really there with your children. Pick Three is all about prioritizing and choosing fewer things to focus on each day so that you can be fully present and truly excellent at the things you choose. So make sure that when you Pick Work, you give your all at work. And when you Pick Family, you are truly spending quality time.
If that means that you need to have a four-day work week or a flexible work-from-home arrangement or you need to not answer emails on Sundays, then do it. You know yourself best, which means you know the environment to truly set yourself up for success, rather than failure.
7. It is clear that women from more privileged socioeconomic backgrounds are given preferential treatment in terms of getting hired by top firms or getting investments, can you speak about this disparity?
It's definitely a vicious cycle. If you're in a position where you get to pick your Pick Three and you have the freedom and resources to choose where to focus your energy, then you're already starting from a privileged position.
There are so many people out there who don't get to pick their Pick Three - life picks for them. And of course, if you're a single parent working multiple jobs to make ends meet - then you're regularly not picking Friends, which means you're not building your network. You're probably not picking Sleep or Fitness that much either, which means you're not putting your best foot forward. So you're already starting from a severely handicapped position.
Where Pick Three can truly help here is in acknowledging that none of us can prioritize everything and do it all alone - we need to lean on those around us for help. So whether that is finding a mentor, a religious community for networking and resources, an online course, friends or neighbors - find those local groups that can fill in the gaps and enable you to pick some of the categories you have been neglecting a bit more.
8. When it comes to giving yourself totally personal, disconnected 'me-time,' as a mom or as a business leader, is there ever too much? Any strategies for "touching base" with yourself every so often?
I'm not sure there's ever such a thing as too much 'me-time.' I tend to believe that the more you take care of yourself, the more you can show up for those around you who depend on you. The better you'll be at work, with your children, at the gym, with your friends, you name it. We all have different needs - for example, I am actually quite introverted and need some alone time after a highly social work event, whereas my husband is quite extraverted and could spend every single minute of the day surrounded by other people, so it's hard to apply a one-size-fits-all here.
By journaling your Pick Three, you'll be able to quickly touch base with yourself and see if you've been neglecting self-care a bit too much recently.
Book cover for PICK THREE by Randi Zuckerberg
9. Let's say you adopt the Pick 3 strategy, and it causes you to put work further down on your priority list, how should you go about explaining this to your employer and making it a seamless experience moving forward?
If you're getting your work done as your job requires it (not half-assed), you probably won't need to have a big discussion about de-prioritizing work. But if you have to take on a smaller workload and actively pass on projects, or if you find yourself missing deadlines and falling short of responsibilities, you definitely need to have an honest discussion with your employer.
Having to focus on family, health, etc. is a normal part of life. It's understandable to be afraid of being honest about this need. The fear stigma is real. We worry our outside needs could cost us our job, our salary, and our livelihood. But honesty is always the best policy. If you can make it so your work is completed or your team can help pick up the some of the load, tell your boss that your time away will only bring you back as a stronger, more focused employee.
If you have to take a leave, be honest about that too. Don't stretch yourself thin. Life happens, and when it does we need to be adult about what to do. By hiding your needs, you're bringing more stress to come. Rip the Band-Aid off quick and admit your struggles. Your boss will appreciate you more for respecting them and including him/her in your discussions of what to do. It shows a strong work ethic, and even more so, it shows your dedication to your work.
10. When it comes to those days that everything just seems equally important (i.e. a big All Hands meeting, your kid's big recital, and your best friend's bridal shower), do you have any strategies for how to decide on which should come first, and how to navigate the others?
Sometimes, prioritization means making tough choices and being honest with those around us when their event just can't make it into our Pick Three. It also means planning in advance. I've found that even the busiest weeks can be made less stressful by planning in advance what to prioritize and how to focus. With some good planning, we can occasionally have a Pick Four day (as long as we don't try for it too often.) Can you delegate tasks for the bridal shower? Video call into the all hands? Have someone tape the piano recital and then watch it with your child at home to relive the moment? Not everything can be top priority, so instead of trying to do everything and winding up doing it all in a thoroughly mediocre way (that's the old you!) it's always better to prioritize and show up for things 100 percent, even if it means temporarily disappointing a few people along the way, but then showing up for them fully in the future.
11. A lot of what you do (Dot Complicated, Sue's Tech Kitchen) is aimed at bringing technology into the lives of children. Can you tell us more about why this was a quest you set out on?
I am driven by a mission to get more women and girls into tech and STEM fields. My research points to ages 9 and 10 as a key time when we lose a lot of girls in these fields. If we can't get a girl excited about tech by that age, it's really hard to get her interested later on. After seeing that data, I decided to focus a lot of my efforts on children's media projects. I am currently the executive producer of Dot., an animated children's show on Hulu and Universal Kids about a tech-savvy girl and her friends, based on a children's book I wrote in 2013. And most recently, my team and I opened Sue's Tech Kitchen, a pop-up tech-themed cafe where you can eat 3D-printed s'mores or watch a robot make you a pancake. We've now opened three locations, focused on small and mid-sized cities that could become up-and-coming tech hubs. Our first location was in Chattanooga, TN. And most recently, we popped up in Jackson, MS. We'll be opening in six additional cities in the second half of 2018.
12. Can you tell us a bit about what you're up to now (aside from the book, of course). Any Broadway performances or other activities of note?
Oh my, aside from raising two young boys, ages 3 and 7 to be smart, kind-hearted men - I'm not afraid or guilty to admit that I love my career. We're opening six additional locations of Sue's Tech Kitchen in the coming months. I host a weekly radio show on SiriusXM (Dot Complicated on Channel 111), I see 60+ Broadway and Off-Broadway shows each year as a Tony voter. I travel the globe speaking at conferences from Croatia to Cleveland. And I have a personal goal to lift 3 million total pounds of weight in the gym over the course of all of 2018. There's always something brewing at Zuckerberg Media. Luckily I have Pick Three to keep me grounded!
Purchase your copy of PICK THREE at Amazon now!
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.