I was putting together a talk about the values that we have at aSweatLife.com, the content site I founded about four and a half years ago. Slide one proclaimed “everything is better with friends,” which is our way of saying that all arenas of life – work, play, fitness and side hustles - benefit from partnerships.
Slide two was stark-white and I stared at it for more than a handful of minutes before I realized that was it:
It was the only thing that really drove us forward and made us stronger.
That was a hard lesson for me to learn after I’d spent the bulk of my life thinking and operating as if I could do it all myself.
I was taught to figure it out. Find a problem. Solve a problem. Ask for help only if you really need it. The most telling illustration of this in my childhood was a time when my mom told me, a demanding five-year-old that she did not have time right that second to braid my hair. I locked myself in my bedroom, kneeling next to my bunk bed twisting and untwisting strands of my hair until I figured it out.
I operated that way for more than two more decades before I realized there’s loneliness to that sort of existence and in business not only is it lonely, it’s limiting. It just took near burnout to figure that out.
After running aSweatLife by myself as a side-hustle, I read an email from a reader offering to help. It wasn’t the first email like that, but I was just tired enough to read it and spread just thin enough to consider this perfectly timed, well-written email. Over coffee, we talked about where I saw the site going and quickly I realized that I couldn’t do it alone. Three years later, she’s still writing for aSweatLife along with 20 other people.
Because we write about the intersection of health, happiness and fitness, we know the human connection makes you happier and happier people are healthier with potentially improved immune systems, but I still have to learn some big lessons for myself.
In that slow and methodical first year, Kristen, aSweatLife’s first contributor helped me take the walls around my city down and welcome in partners internally and at other complimentary companies. Here’s what we learned.
1. Partners show up. This aspect of relationships is the most important for us. Making commitments and honoring them shows your team and your partners that their interests are your interests too.
2. Partners share resources. Sometimes we can’t give our partners our time, but we can help connect them to someone who can – helping to forge connections within our network is rewarding.
3. Partners work through mistakes. Human relationships hold business together, but they’re filled with miscommunications and mistakes. If you insist that no one around you makes mistakes, they’ll learn to fear accountability for their mistakes, which leads to blame-seeking. Instead, partners work through mistakes, learn from them, figure out how they can be prevented in the future and move on.
4. Partners celebrate success. We live by a couple of mantras at aSweatLife that I’ve had to reiterate to myself as I’ve worked my way out of my old mindset and into this one. This most important is “your success is not my failure” This helps us to shift our thinking from, “how can I stop you” to “how can I help you.”
The magic is that when you do partnership right, all four of those pieces come right back to you.
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.