Recently I was helping my older daughter Luka study history. She was learning about the 2nd Persian War, started in 482 BC. I could see she was deflated. She looked at me and said, “Papa, why do I have to learn this? Am I ever going to need to know this?” Her question was representative of her recent disdain for learning in general. I turned to my go-to pep talk. “Maybe not,” I explained, “But the important thing is that later on in life you can choose to do whatever you want. In order to have as many choices as possible, you have to do your best at everything, even if it doesn’t interest you so much.” The next words out of her mouth were heartbreaking: “Papa, I don’t want to do anything.”
“People Get Paid to Work at Disney”
‘Quick, say something inspirational…’ I thought. I started to pull out all the stops. “Luka I think you will find a career that you love, but until you figure out what that is, think about the kind of life you want. Do you want to be able to travel around the world and live anywhere you want the way we have?” I then realized that I wanted her to strive for a career that was fulfilling and not just a means to live her life outside of work. But sadly, although the girls do enjoy our outings to explore ancient Rome and the surrounding areas, or our travels around Europe and beyond, the truth is the unlimited streaming content on their iPad is what they truly crave.
So I decided to get creative. “Luka, do you know that it’s someone’s job at Netflix to decide which shows to choose and show subscribers? ” I could see her eyes lighting up. “REALLY???” she asked in amazement. I decided to double down. “Yes! And someone at Disney decides which rides to build or replace in the parks.” Her mouth dropped open. “That’s a job that they pay you for?” I could see I had broken through.
How Can we Expose Kids to Amazing Careers?
I started to think about when I started working with Meliá after finishing my Masters at Cornell. My job was to fly around to gorgeous resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean to teach hotels how to increase their e-commerce sales. I remember having plenty of “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this” moments. But by that time, I was already 27 years old. That was the first time I was so fired up by my career that I literally couldn’t wait to get started everyday. It didn’t feel like work at all.
I also remember, however, what it felt like to be 10 years old, asking myself what the point was of learning things that didn’t interest me. I wish so much that back then, I could have experienced 1 day of my life at the age of 27 (or later). It would have opened my eyes and given me an undying motivation to get as much out of school as I possibly could. And while I was reflecting on my childhood and thinking about what would have motivated me, it hit me.
What if certain companies that are likely to appeal to kids, such as Disney, Netflix, YouTube, TikTok, Tesla, Apple (I think the list could be quite long), created 1 or 2 day internships for kids? The idea would be that once per quarter, each company invites a certain number of families to their headquarters. Parents could bring their kids and learn all about what happens behind the scenes. Each company should have a scholarship program so that at least 50% of the kids can at least get a domestic flight and lodging paid for.
It seems to me that if we can give younger children a glimpse of potential ‘dream jobs’, then they would have something real to aspire to. Of course kids get some exposure to what their parents do, but how many of us follow in our parents’ footsteps? Why wait until they’re in their 20s before they realize what incredible career paths lay ahead? How many kids would be saved from boredom, apathy toward learning, social difficulties, and bullying if they had a North Star to work toward? Let’s find out.
I would like to ask someone to put me in touch with a contact at Disney or Netflix to put together a program like this. I would be thrilled to bring my kids, and I will sponsor another family that the company selects. Thank you!
It is very difficult to be successful professionally if your house isn’t in order. I get the sense that couples everywhere are re-evaluating their marriages, most likely driven by being forced to spend more time together because of the pandemic. After getting the green light from my wife, Sina, I’ve decided to share our story in the hopes that it helps anyone else out there gain some perspective.
The Portrayal of Love in the 80s and 90s
As a boy I was always more emotional than my other male friends. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, watching movies like Karate Kid, It Could Happen to You, When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman and pretty much anything with Tom Hanks, I had no chance. The story was always somewhat similar. Man meets beautiful sweet woman and they fall in love. I remember watching those movies and falling in love every time, thinking “That’s what I want.”
The movie never shows you what happens later after they’ve been married for 10 years. Furthermore the female characters in these movies never had any real grit, and rarely had their own professional careers or life goals beyond being rescued by that perfect man.
One of the movies I remember growing up with was Flashdance. I recently watched it with my 9 and 10 year old daughters and was completely horrified at the blatant sexualization of the main female character and the portrayal of her as a helpless jealous girl needing to be rescued by her rich boyfriend. It’s amazing how as a child you don’t necessarily question what you see on screen. I just knew I wanted to be one of these men that rescues a beautiful woman and lives happily ever after.
How will new generations view marriage?
It was hard enough being a kid in the 80s and 90s and trying to figure it all out. I’m a boy, why don’t I like football? Why do I cry at an emotional TV commercial? Why don’t I like beer? Am I gay? If so why am I so attracted to women and not at all to men? What about all the movies where the nerdy, nice, sensitive guy gets the beautiful girl? Can’t buy me love, Back to the Future… can’t that really happen? Or is it only in the movies? It wasn’t until college that I finally felt that girls were attracted to me because of these character traits.
I’m glad that kids today are not growing up with such rigid definitions of gender and roles. I wonder how today’s movies and shows with the boy meets boy and girl meets girl storylines are shaping what love looks like for kids. Marriage is no longer defined by society as a man and a woman creating a family. I remember seeing older couples on the dance floor and hoping that I too would have that. What will kids today want for their future? It can’t be easy.
The New Focus on Self
Wellness, self-fulfillment, find yourself, love yourself, figure out who you are and be happy and secure with yourself before you can be happy with someone else. These are all trends and messages that have increasingly emerged over the last 20 years, and I believe that’s a good thing. But can marriage still work today if we truly put ourselves first and ensure that we are fulfilled and happy?
I think the answer is yes, but only if the two people involved in the marriage both acknowledge to themselves and to each other that this is their approach to life. The commitment then becomes, I love who you are and respect and support whatever you want out of life, and will be with you regardless of how that changes over time. But it takes a tremendous amount of tolerance, empathy, self-confidence and security to be in a relationship like that. Frankly, I don’t know many people that have enough of all those things to do it.
Marriages Everywhere are Struggling
I’ve made it a point lately to reconnect with friends that I haven’t spoken to in years (in some cases decades). The one common theme in every single conversation is how surprisingly difficult marriage is. Many have split up, some more than once, or at best, their marriage is struggling.
The reasons behind the struggles are also similar. Money, sex, stress, kids are among the many factors, and not necessarily in that order. People are pursuing their dreams, focusing more on themselves and their own happiness first, and with today’s complex always connected world, there just isn’t time to focus enough on a spouse and kids. Too many of us spend our first and last minutes each day with our phones instead of our spouses.
I now have a newfound admiration for older couples that I see that are still together. I’m sure they faced their own set of challenges, but certainly not the same technology-driven distractions, and complex professional and social dynamics that we face today.
We are no Exception
In 2009, I fulfilled my childhood dream that I grew up seeing in the movies, in which a gorgeous woman falls in love with a nerdy, sensitive man. My wife Sina, who could easily have been on magazine covers, married me. But unlike the movies which end after the happy couple gets married, our relationship continued to change and evolve.
Sina was not the simple passive girl waiting to be rescued. She had a successful career and worked her way up to a key executive position. She had strong opinions, grit, and attitude. These are all traits I am glad my 2 daughters will learn from her. I’ve learned a lot from her and she has opened my eyes to new ways of seeing things about life and the world. That said, she is not the sweet, loving, maternal woman that I always thought I would end up with.
Ironically, that doesn’t mean that our marriage doesn’t work since we have reversed gender roles in that regard. I invest a lot of time in providing emotional support to Sina and the girls. But if I invest so much into my wife and daughters’ happiness, how can I focus on me and make sure I am fulfilled and happy with so much responsibility at home?
What I’ve realized is that Sina brings things to the table that I never even knew could make a family and life so interesting and fulfilling. On a recent catch up with a close friend I said “Having a family has been one of the most incredible experiences, but it came with sacrifices that I never thought I’d be able to live with.”
Rebuilding a Solid Foundation
Marriage is messy, it’s complicated, and it’s fucking hard. Now imagine doing it while trying to bootstrap a tech business from the ground up, with all of the pressure and economic uncertainty that comes with it. Being an entrepreneur comes with even more ups and downs than a marriage. I don’t know what the marriage survival rate of entrepreneurs is compared to the average, but I can guess. Mistakes will be made. You can bounce back and forth between the brink of bankruptcy and the possibility of economic independence multiple times. This can be scary for both partners and requires the unconditional support on behalf of the spouse for a marriage to survive.
The pandemic has likely forced a lot of couples to reevaluate. There’s nothing like being trapped in a house or apartment together to make you take stock of where you fall on the spectrum of love and hate. No more business travel to give people some much needed space and time alone. Lots of time at home to think about life and if this is the one you want.
In line with my theme for 2022 of “New Beginnings”, I have had some much needed open conversations with Sina. I’ve realized that it’s ok if our marriage doesn’t fit the unrealistic mold that I painted for myself in my childhood. It’s also ok if it’s messy and difficult. It’s supposed to be. Sina and I are extremely different people and that’s what makes us a strong couple and parents. We have a mutual passion for exploring new countries, cultures and languages. This is what brought us together in the first place and what we want for our kids. We are partners, and we are best friends. We agree that everyday should be lived like it’s your last and to live life with a purpose. That said, I do need to be more proactive about doing what makes me happy. The key is communicating what I need and taking responsibility for those things.
Marriage is Like Business
You can’t fire your kids, but you do have the ability to influence who they become as a team member. You can of course fire your spouse. As a CEO I focus on open dialogue and transparency. I have the same approach and philosophy at home with my wife and daughters. When I build a team for a company, I focus more on who the person is. I know everyone will make mistakes but the intention is what matters. Does this person’s values align with the company’s core values? Everyone brings strengths to the table. The key is to recognize those strengths, value them, and remember that that’s why you hired them in the first place. Startup life is full of unexpected twists and turns, but it’s your team and their strengths that help the company survive. The same applies to your family. I certainly don’t have the answers but I hope this story helps in some way and helps some of you find some perspective.
Before I say anything, let me be clear about one thing. The outbreak of COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) is a global tragedy. Thousands of people are dying and it’s just the beginning. Billions of dollars of value has been ripped out of the capital markets. People all over the world are scared for their health, their safety, their jobs and their loved ones. I am worried about my parents, extended family, and friends who are old enough to fear for their lives if infected. For some people though, there is a silver lining.
The Effects of Coronavirus on Our Family Thus Far
The outbreak caused an unprecedented chain reaction of events around the world for people of all ages. Living in France, we have experienced this first-hand:
First, my business trips started to get cancelled.
Second, Luka & Taj’s schools were cancelled.
Third, given that it’s not really appropriate to move any sales discussions forward given what’s going on, work is a bit slower than usual.
In summary, I have much more time to spend with my girls, they are home from school, and I don’t have to travel. This is incredible! Last week I logged into a French website called Superprof and found an Art teacher to come to the house to work with Luka. She is the most artistically inclined out of all of us and truly enjoys drawing and painting. Unfortunately our normal weekly routine doesn’t allow time for her to explore it. Meanwhile, I have always wanted to learn to play the guitar and Taj recently has also expressed interest. So this Thursday, she and I have our first joint guitar lesson.
Yesterday we took the dogs for a walk through the woods behind our house, for the first time ever. Later that afternoon, I attempted my first Tofu Tikka Masala. It ended up in the garbage and the house smelled of Indian food all day but it was fun trying. Meanwhile, we wake up in the morning, eat breakfast together (without the rush of having to run out the door), we sit at the dining table and work together. I have some coffeehouse music on in the background, courtesy of Spotify, and I have to ask myself… isn’t this how life SHOULD be?
Nature is Sending us a Message
Since the Coronavirus outbreak, the way I see it, nature is sending us several messages:
Slow Down – Maybe this is what it took to get us all to stop running to the airport to catch our next flight and to put down our phones to see what the last email was regarding, and to talk to our kids more instead.
Saving the Planet Really isn’t that hard – Have you seen the satellite images of the air quality over China before and after the outbreak of Coronavirus? It is absolutely stunning. It CAN be done.
Life is Fragile – The symptoms of this virus are similar to a flu or cold for those who are not in a high risk category. It could have just as easily been something much more deadly that affected a much wider population. Live every day like it’s your last and be the best person you can be.
Take Better Care of Yourself – For those who eat a lot of junk food or who smoke regularly, this should be a wake up call. It DOES matter and the risk to your life is real. Use this down-time to start better eating habits and a regular exercise routine.
Take Advantage of This Opportunity
Today is March 16, 2020. As of now I think the outbreak of this virus has been very positive for our family. Again, I do not want to diminish the fact that millions of people’s lives are at risk. Many businesses are shut down and many people are concerned about being able to pay their bills. As an eternal optimist I would like to think that this virus will be contained within the next month or two given all of the precautions in place.
In the meantime, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the time this situation has given me to spend time with my girls and to enrich our lives with fitness, music and cooking. I recognize, however, how privileged I am to have this luxury, at least for now. When things return to normal, I hope we have learned a few things about how to have a healthier balance between work and family. Our dining table should continue to be our communal family workspace where we each retreat to our respective rooms or offices for video conference calls.
Lastly, I would like to thank those of you that told me that you really enjoy reading this blog and that you have missed it. It is inspiring to know that anyone cares what I think and have to say. You know who you are. Having the time to write this post is just another benefit of having a little extra time right now. Please be safe and let’s all get through this in the most positive way possible!
When we were notified by our kids’ school that they were reading below grade level, we got serious about getting our kids to enjoy reading.
We received the dreaded email that no parent ever wants to receive. Your child is reading below her grade level. The first reaction is “What? MY child? Doesn’t know how to read well? How is this possible?” But it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for the reality to set in and for it to become painfully obvious how it is possible.
Our girls are 6 and 7 years old, and I have probably read them a total of 4 books. More importantly, Sina and I do not model behavior that would lead them to think about reading as an option for spending their free time. In today’s world of endless options for binge watching, once we are done feeding the family, bathing the kids, feeding the dogs, and taking a moment to breathe, the only thing we want to do is watch the next episode of (insert title of latest Netflix Original here).
That’s it… our dreams are shattered. How will our girls ever grow up to be President of the United States unless they are intelligent, well-read, cultured… oh wait, I guess the bar really isn’t that high anymore. Well how will our girls ever grow up to be the next Notorious RBG unless they are intelligent, well-read, cultured, strong, confident women? Then we remembered that they are only in 1st and 2nd grade, and that maybe it’s not too late to save them from becoming professional couch-potatoes.
I thought about what books I enjoyed when I was younger. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was one that stood out. After Tuesday afternoon’s ballet class I was on a mission to get my girls to start enjoying reading. We went straight to Barnes & Noble and I found The Narnia Chronicles. I thought that maybe if I read them something that they could get excited about, they would see that reading is fun. “Bob Books” may be good to get them started with reading but the stories have no substance. I also bought something that we could take turns reading. The Narnia books are too difficult for their reading level, so we stocked up on several “Magic Treehouse” books.
When we got home yesterday I started to read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to the girls. I decided to skip the first book entitled “The Magician’s Nephew” which apparently was written later as a prequel because the guy in Barnes & Noble said it wasn’t very good, and I believed him. I wasn’t going to take the chance of reading something boring to the girls and losing their interest. It was hard enough to get them to sit still when I started reading.
It only took one chapter for them to be hooked, and they kept begging for more and more. At one point Luka said “Papa I’m not sure if I want you to keep reading… I’m scared.” That’s when I knew it was working. I offered to stop but she insisted I keep going, and before we knew it I had read 40 pages and it was past 9pm. They found themselves not wanting to go to bed, not because they wanted to watch yet another episode of My Little Pony (just kill me now), but because they wanted me to keep reading.
Today after I picked them up from school and as we made our way through the rain back home, they said “we know what we’re going to do when we get home!” They were excited about continuing the story. Before we continued though, we started to read Book 1 of The Magic Treehouse, each of us taking turns reading a page until we got through 2 chapters. Then it was back to Narnia… First with a big bowl of popcorn, then as I cooked dinner, then as we baked chocolate chip cookies and then as they had their bath. As Luka was in her bed about to go to sleep, she exclaimed “Aslan is so awesome!”
It seems to be working, and the crazy part is that I’m enjoying it as much as they are. Why did it take the email of doom from the teacher to wake us up? I don’t know. But hopefully it’s not too late. Our impending move to Paris is a great opportunity to replace TV time with reading time. We can get a fresh baguette or maybe some hot chocolate croissants, lounge in the Tuileries Garden and read a great book. If it’s not too cold and rainy that is…
I also started to think about alternative ways that I might get my girls to practice reading. I showed them ‘funny’ feed on Reddit and had them read the headlines (the ones that were appropriate for kids anyway!). But I found the pictures and videos were too distracting. I went onto Amazon today and bought the Amelia Bedelia books. I remember thinking those were hilarious when I was little. Are there any great books that you have found that your kids can’t get enough of? If anyone has had similar experiences, or has any advice, I would love to hear it.