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 feel a little better. Every Friday I’ll feature a new interview. Here’s what Bibi Kasrai had to say…

No. 34: Bibi Kasrai, Entrepreneur and Chef

Age: 47
Where I live:
 La Jolla, CA
Job: Entrepreneur, Founder of Harvard Cookin’ Girl
Ages/genders of kids: Boy, 16, and girl, 13

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 4.25.19 PMIs the job you have now the same one you had before kids? If not, how and why did you change directions?
I had many jobs after having my kids, and the nature of those jobs were different than the ones before becoming a mother. I changed from consulting to marketing and then from marketing to non-for-profit executive (and getting paid less) in order to accommodate being more with my family. I have to say I did it willingly and not as a sacrifice. My last job

[before the cooking school] was for a very famous and “evil scientist”—the kind of person who makes you question humanity as a whole. One day, I decided that I had enough of this non-compelling and unsatisfying high-paid slavery and quit. I finally found myself with time to think and to organize lots of play dates for my children and their friends. I cooked with them, as this was always my passion and my therapy. The moms of my kids’ friends started to call me to say their kids have learned not only cooking but also fractions and math. I thought I may have something here. So I started to write a curriculum to teach kids how to eat healthy. My approach wasn’t to push cauliflower and broccoli but make things that kids like to eat slightly healthier. Once I conquered the kids’ hearts, the moms followed and told me that I have to do this for grown-ups, too. I moved from my garage to a leased space. And Harvard Cookin’ Girl was born.

Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated and why?
Having it all is not only overrated and unrealistic but also a sick and sadistic concept. If only I find one day the person who has introduced it :-). Those who propagate it are as guilty in my opinion (and obviously I have a lot of it). I think instead of encouraging women to lean in, we have to encourage them to lean back for a moment and take it all in.

What part of “balance” can you just not seem to figure out?
The part that says all can be in balance. Obviously if you are an overachiever by the luck of your gene pool or upbringing, you are focused on something—success, family, money, fame, or whatever your “thing” is. If you are focused on one or two things by definition you are missing out on two others and there goes balance.

What part of “balance” are you getting better at?
I try to be balanced and am getting better at it with age and a broader philosophical outlook on life. I am better at assessing the risks versus the rewards of my actions. Before, I would be 150% all systems go about any mission I undertook. Now, I know that a bit less of everything is better and more fulfilling in the long term. I try to multi-task less. I am bad at it because of the internal synergy in me but at least I try.

What was the best advice you ever heard on balance…
From a mentor/co-worker?
 My first mentor at the World Bank—my first job in the U.S.—told me, “Bibi, there are times for action and times for reflection.” I took it lightly 20 years ago but now I get it. I was and am such an “Action Jackson.” Reflection is the best part of reaching balance.
From your mother?
 “If you don’t have upsets, you don’t appreciate success.” The yin and yang of balance really. Also I thought this was the stupidest thing she could tell me, usually when I was upset. Now I see the wisdom in it.
From your kids? 
“Mommy, give yourself a break. Breathe :-).”

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?
I used to think that every minute should be dedicated to family or work and not to Bibi. Now I try to at least take a one-hour walk with Bibi. That hour really helps me be the best person for everyone—my family, customers, co-workers, employees, friends, etc.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 20?
Grades, praise, work evaluations, compliments don’t matter. Follow your intuition and heart and eventually everything falls into place.

What do you hope to know by time you’re 60?
What really matters?

What one part of your home life do you wish you could outsource?
Cleaning and now cooking, because I cook for living.

Whose job do you wish you had?
Everybody’s job looks more glamorous from the outside than from the inside especially in the U.S. where everyone works so hard on the veneer. Honestly, if there was one woman whose job I would like it is Meryl Streep. She seems balanced to me, but who knows? Maybe she yells at her husband and kids at home….I mean, really….people think I am the symbol of balance but I am far from it. I mean, look, I am divorced so I am sure there is a missing chip.

Whose job are you glad you don’t have?
Hands down: the president’s job.

Favorite books?
The Alchemist by Paula Coelho, A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, and a bunch of other foreign books nobody knows about.

What are you reading right now?
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Biggest vices…
Activity? Not exercising.
Food? Skipping food for dessert.
Website? Facebook.

How many hours do you generally sleep at night during the week?

What do you read every morning?
The news or bad news online.

Complete the following sentences:
I think I: don’t suck that bad.
I wish I: were a better mom.
My kids: are my world.

Do you have a personal motto or favorite saying?
“Better done than perfect.”

Anything else you’d like to add?
Follow your passion. The rest falls into place.

About Bibi:
Bibi Kasrai is a graduate of Harvard Business School and Moscow State University. She speaks seven languages fluently and has worked many years as a corporate executive at many for-profit and non-for-profit companies. In 2009, at the height of her career, she kissed her MBA goodbye and left her corporate career to pursue her passion for cooking. This foodie started to examine the secrets of gourmet cooking along the Silk Road. She has captured the best of her Persian family’s recipes and created many others from all her travels around the world. Simultaneously, her passion for educating her kids and their friends about the value of healthy eating drove her to start an education program through schools. Soon she found a cult following among adults and children who asked her to open her own store. With the help of marquis sponsors, Bibi was able to open her studio in La Jolla, CA, in 2010 to teach and hold events around healthy food. Bibi is also the author of The Spice Whisperer.

Find more about Bibi here:
Facebook: HarvardCookinGirl
nstagram: harvard_cookin_girl
ouTube: harvardcookiegirl
interest: harvardcookin

Please share your own tips on balance and check back every Friday for another interview from THE BALANCE PROJECT.

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