THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 79: Zainab Zaki, Technology Product Manager

Welcome to THE BALANCE PROJECT: a series of relevant and refreshingly candid interviews featuring inspiring and accomplished women talking about balance. I’ve always been curious—and maybe a little obsessed—about how women I admire manage the tragically glorified “doing it all” craze. So I asked them. As I suspected, no one really does “it all.” Everyone’s making sacrifices somewhere. And that should make us all feel a little better. I hope the conversation will be steered toward that reality rather than toward the flawed and dangerous assumption that we should try—or even want to try—to perfectly do “it all.”

BY THE WAY…

  • Looking for THE BALANCE PROJECT, the novel that was inspired by these interviews? It’s here.
  • The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
  • Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
  • Want to be a part of The Balance Project? Complete the interview.

No. 79: Zainab Zaki, Technology Product Manager

Age: 33
Where I live:
 Reston, VA
Job: Senior Product Manager for Fishbowl
Kids: 
a 17-month-old daughter

Profile Photo FinalHave you changed jobs or adjusted anything in your career to have more balance?
Yes, I did change jobs. I used to run a startup. Those were the crazy days. My startup was running into issues and I got pregnant. Clearly it was time to close the business and move on. I got an H1B visa, found my dream job using career websites and went to work. I am loving every moment I spend working. I wanted to make sure the job would be worth leaving my baby in someone else’s care. My commute sucks but I love going in to work. I am also doing well which means I get the flexibility and trust I need when I take a day off or need to work from home. I have made some adjustments though. I deliberately chose a “stable, non-travel” job even though I really want to work in a startup. But that time will come. For now my 9-5 job is great!

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
No, I don’t think it is overrated. I definitely want it all and I see and read about women all the time who are having it all. I am inspired by these women. I am learning from them and trying to model my life based on the lessons I’m learning from them—so that I may have it all. The key, I have realized, to having it all is figuring out what is all and which pieces do you want, when. There are only three things at a time I can do well. And right now those things are excelling at work, caring for my family, and eating healthy. There are many other things I want to throw in the mix: travel, exercise, getting back in shape, learning a new skill, being creative, etc. Their time will come. For now I am balancing.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
The feeling of guilt and a sense of incompleteness about the things I am not “having” at the moment. Also envy as I watch other people enjoy those things. I know very clearly in my head that I have made a conscious decision to focus on 3 things in my life at the moment. When the time comes I will focus on other things and when I do I will have them. But for now I am out of shape, travel is constrained, time is limited, and it is hard to ignore the absence of these things, even though I know they are only absent because I have chosen so.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
Definitely getting better at doing the “chosen” things right. Loving my job, spending lots of quality time with my husband and daughter, and cooking healthy, carb-free meals everyday.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance?
From a mentor/co-worker? “There is never a right time for kids or for any big milestone in life. You will never be ready for it. If you know you want to do it “someday” then today is the day. Go for it. Sometimes you just have to jump into the water and learn how to swim.”
From your spouse? “Focus on what makes you happy.”

If you had one extra hour in each day and you couldn’t work or be with your family, how would you spend that hour?
Being creative or reading a book or writing. I am trying to teach myself henna art and the key is to practice to get better. But henna is messy and takes time. If I could spend one hour everyday making intricate henna art, it would refresh and rejuvenate me. Reading has been a hobby since my preteen years. I love books and buy them impulsively. (I pre-ordered The Balance Project, of course, couldn’t resist!). But I don’t have the time or mental energy to read as voraciously as I would like. I have recently discovered writing as a creative outlet. I write a personal blog and also contribute to tech publications as well as writing for my company’s blog. Again, I’d write more if I had more time everyday.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
That self-confidence and focus is everything. I wish I had the insight to truly believe in myself and trust myself when I was twenty. Instead I spent all my time comparing myself to others, envying their successes, not focusing on what I was good at, not even trying to figure out what I was good at, and failing miserably in all aspects of life until I had failed enough and learned enough lessons to finally find my way.

What do you hope to know by the time you’re 60?
How to mend broken relationships. And how to be a good friend. Some relationships in my life are terribly broken and the wounds run very, very deep. Right now these relationships seem impossible to mend. But I have learned to believe in miracles. It is possible that I will have the gift of these relationships in my life at 60. How I wish I could know today what I will know then so I do not spend a few decades estranged from my loved ones.

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Laundry. Definitely laundry.

Whose job do you wish you had?
Sarah Bird, CEO of Moz. She, in my opinion, has it all. I want to live her life. I take that back. I don’t want to live her life. I just want her job and her career.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Definitely glad to not have a boring 9-5 desk job in government.

Favorite books?
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand played a big part in changing my life’s course. Illusions by Richard Bach is readable anytime. It is chicken soup for the soul. And Linchpin by Seth Godin played a huge role in changing the course of my career and the professional I have become.

What are you reading right now?
A few books in parallel: The Startup of You by Reid Hoffman, Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, and How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts.

Biggest vices…
Activity? 
Surfing social media on my phone. Constantly. My husband hates it and has called me out on it often. But I am addicted.
Food? Cocktails. And dessert.
Website? Facebook. Love to hate it.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?
8 on average.

What do you read every morning?
theSkimm and daily blogs of Fred Wilson, Rohan Rajiv, Seth Godin, Joanne Wilson, and Brad Feld.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: am going down the right path but know that I have many, many lessons to learn about myself and life.
I wish I: could focus on my life and forever kill this monster called envy that has consumed most of my life.
My daughter: is my world. She is a gift that I still can’t believe life was kind enough to give me.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“If you are given a wish, you are also given the power to make it come true.” —Richard Bach

PastedGraphic-2PastedGraphic-2 Family CollageAbout Zainab:
Zainab loves building digital products. She cofounded and ran TappedIn—a social discovery tool to help people build meaningful relationships—and currently heads up the social and mobile suite of products at Fishbowl Inc. Previously, she managed product design and operations at The College Board, developed enterprise solutions for Capgemini Consulting, and worked in SAP technology with Satyam Computer Services.

Find out more about Zainab here:
www.zainabzaki.me
Twitter: @zainabz

 

WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE? CHECK OUT MY NEW NOVEL THE BALANCE PROJECT!

Related Posts
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 1: Jessica Mindich, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 2: Veronica Beard, Fashion Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 3: Emily Liebert, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 4: Lyss Stern, Mom-trepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 5: Lauren Slayton, Nutritionist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 6: Elizabeth Moyer, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 7: Annabel Monaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 8: Holly Gordon, Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 9: Jill Salzman, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 10: Jennifer Levinson, Jen’s List
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 11: Jenny Hutt, Media Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 12: Angela Santomero, Kids’ Media Creator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 13: Carola Donato, Yogi
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 14: Tiffany Washington, Pastry Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 15: Emily Giffin, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 16: Alana Sanko, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 17: Cara Lemieux, Journalist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 18: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, Authors
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 19: Nikki Mark, Author & Foundation Director
Shonda Rhimes on Doing It All
Indra Nooyi on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 21: Jill Bryan, Comedian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 22: Cindy Callaghan, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 23: Stephanie Hirsch, Artist
My Times of India Interview on Work-Life Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 24: Whitney Dineen, Author/Baker
AmEx’s Sobbott on Balance
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 25: J0-Laine Duke-Collins, Dessert Stylist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 26: Whitney English, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 27: Jennifer Gooch Hummer, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 28: Melissa Amster, Book Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 29: Nigel Marsh, Author and Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 30: DayNa Decker, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 31: Amy Selling, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 32: Heather Sonnenberg, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 33: Allison Winn Scotch, Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 34: Bibi Kasrai, Entrepreneur and Chef
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 35: Karen Sutton MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 36: Samantha Ettus, Balance Expert, Author, TV/Radio Personality
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 37: Pam Yudko, Holistic Health and Transformational Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT| No. 38: Nancy Huang, Nonprofit Outreach Director
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 39: Mary Laura Philpott, Writer, Editor and Illustrator
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 40: Towanda Long, Marketing Communications Specialist
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 41: Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 42: Tracy Pollan, Actor and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 43: Christianne Phillips, Fitness Consultant and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 44: Susannah Lewis, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 45: Kimi Culp, Producer, Author and Creative Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 46: Traci Bild, Entrepreneur
The Balance Project Interview Series Turns 1!
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 47: Laura Vanderkam, Journalist and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 48: Amy Tara Koch, Style Expert and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 49: Cozy Friedman, Kids’ Hair Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 50: Bobbii Hach-Jacobs, Music Promoter
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 51: Niketa Jhaveri, Game Creator and Web Designer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 52: Sheri Silver, Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 53: Lori Pollan, Cookbook Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 54: Chatón Turner, Attorney and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 55: Joanne Wilson, Investor and Blogger
T
HE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 56: Nicola Kraus, Author and Creative Coach
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 57: Shiri Sarfati, Marketing Expert
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 58: Audrey McClelland, Entrepreneur and Blogger
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 59: Jessica Lahey, Writer and Teacher
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 60: Lindsay Bressler, Entrepreneur
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 61: Marie Claire Lim Moore, Banker, Author and Speaker
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 62: Stacey Ballis, Novelist and Cookbook Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 63: Amy Hochhauser: Co-Founder, JoyRide Cycling Studio
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 64: Molly Sims, Actress, Author and Humanitarian
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 65: Colleen Oakley, Writer and Author
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 66: Nichole Montoya, CEO of Cheddar Up
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 67: Eileen Palma, Author and Instructor
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 68: Adina Grigore, Founder of S.W. Basics
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 69: Dana Pollan, Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 70: Melissa Hawks, Owner, The Well Appointed House
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 71: Emily Greenspan, Art Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 72: Michelle Hodges, Software Executive and See Girl Be Founder
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 73: Kendra Basner Mallen, Attorney
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 74: Alysa Bajenaru, Dietitian and Writer
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 75: Anita Shepherd, Founder of Anita’s Yogurt
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 76: Dana Marlowe, President of IT Consulting Firm
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 77: Jill Royster, Marketing Consultant
THE BALANCE PROJECT | No. 78: Debra Olshan Cooper, Entrepreneur

Leave A Comment