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.”


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  • The Balance Project interview series recently celebrated its first birthday!
  • Fortune ran a feature about The Balance Project.
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No. 79: Zainab Zaki, Technology Product Manager

Age: 33
Where I live:
 Reston, VA
Job: Senior Product Manager for Fishbowl
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…
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:
Twitter: @zainabz



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