Embracing the well-lopsided life

Rather than 'balance,' give certain things your all in different points of life, says Randi Zuckerberg

For Randi Zuckerberg, the idea of a “well-lopsided” life first occurred to her when she applied to Harvard in high school. She had dropped math and science to pursue musical theater with the dream of performing on Broadway, and while some were skeptical that she didn’t have the academic resume for the elite school, she learned something important during the admissions process: The university looked for two types of candidates—the well-balanced student who was good at everything and the well-lopsided one, who would make class interesting.

“That moment really defined my philosophy for how to live my life—and how a lot of entrepreneurs live their life—which is, if you want to do something in a way that’s excellent and give it your all, you can’t really have a well-balanced life in the moment,” Zuckerberg told WeWork Labs global mentor Dillan DiGiovanni at a recent talk at WeWork Labs in New York City’s WeWork 175 Varick St.

The entrepreneur, investor, and founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media explained that the lopsided approach to the work-life balance is okay so long as you’re aware of the aspects being neglected and address them in turn. (She expands on this philosophy in her New York Times best-selling book Pick 3: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day).)

To illustrate her point, Zuckerberg asked the audience to think about their two or three proudest accomplishments. “Did those things happen when you had balance or did you have to go all in?” she asked. “My hypothesis is that most people did not have balance.”

Randi Zuckerberg (left) speaking at WeWork Labs in New York City.

How to pick three

Work. Sleep. Family. Friends. Fitness. These are the five areas of life Zuckerberg identifies in her “pick three” philosophy. She posits that you can choose three different aspects from this list every single day to achieve equilibrium over time.

There are phases in the life cycle when we naturally neglect certain areas, Zuckerberg says, noting that for people raising children, friendship is often the first to go. For women, in particular, this can mean going an entire decade without prioritizing networking, mentorship, and peer support.

“Be conscious about the things that you’re not prioritizing and figure out if there are hacks or ways you can get them in,” says Zuckerberg, a working mom who is currently expecting her third child.  

Knowing your team is as important as knowing yourself, Zuckerberg says. As a manager, recognizing that your employees are likely in different life phases is a strong tool. With this awareness, Zuckerberg says you can lead with empathy to prevent burnout and turnover, both common to startup culture, and instead build a company and a team that’s sustainable for the long haul.

Setting boundaries

To effectively prioritize, Zuckerberg says, learn to say no and “ruthlessly prioritize your own time.” She admits it’s a constant struggle.

Technology often sabotages boundaries. When Zuckerberg realized that some days she was getting more screen time than sleep, she implemented a “digital Shabbat” on Saturdays for her family to literally unplug and recharge. “You train the people in your life to know that you are unreachable,” she says. “It takes time, but no one else is going to set those boundaries for you.”

In training her team not to expect email responses from her on Saturdays, she hopes to set an example. “By modeling the boundaries that I set for myself, hopefully that gives people in the organization permission to set boundaries for themselves, too,” she says.

The side hustle as life’s work

This “lopsided” approach to pursuing goals in both life and work has empowered Zuckerberg to create a multi-faceted career shaped by her passions that she describes as “20 side hustles” rather than one traditional path.

One of her gutsiest moves was stepping away from Silicon Valley and her job as director of market development for Facebook (her younger brother Mark is the founder) in 2014, to take a roll on Broadway in the musical Rock of Ages. “People thought that was the dumbest thing ever!” she recalled with a laugh. But the risk was worth it for the fulfilling experience (“When I flash-forward to the end of my life… that’s what I’ll tell my great-grandchildren about,” she said), and it also paid off as a career move. This season, she’s producing three Broadway shows.

“Give yourself permission to have a lot of interests and be three-dimensional,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s okay to want to succeed in business and also want other things. You don’t have to only have one thing that you want to do with your life.”

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.