Photo Courtesy of Ben Arons
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!
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.