In the Bezos marriage, the partners are equals. Jeff and MacKenzie started the company together. And they worked side by side. When the company was big and they had four kids, MacKenzie took half the load (kids) and Jeff took half the load (work).
Why do people assume Jeff will be doling out money to MacKenzie? The money is as much hers as it is his. Some headlines are simply despicable. NBC ran the headline The settlement between the world’s richest man and his wife. But if he is the world’s richest man, then she is the world’s richest woman. Already. Before the settlement. Because all his money is her money.
Consider what it would be like if NBC ran this headline: The settlement between the world’s richest woman and her husband. It sounds odd, right? Because the power in the sentence is so firmly on MacKenzie’s side. But then we should recognize the first headline as odd, too. The headline NBC ran is bad journalism because it distorts reality.
The language of divorce is about power, and we take power away from all stay-at-home spouses when we talk about MacKenzie like she has no money of her own.
Wired magazine published a great piece about how the famed companies of Silicon Valley are never founded by one, single person. It takes a team of people to do something so grand as Amazon, and MacKenzie was a key part of that team. Years ago, MacKenzie put any doubts about her contribution to rest in a long, meticulous review of a biography of Jeff. She gave the book one star.
MacKenzie has always stood up for her contribution in the marriage. But it’s not so easy for most women. Most women did not work side by side with their spouse to start the most disruptive company in the world.
Since then, Bezos became the world’s richest man, supplanting Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on Forbes’ annual list of the 400 richest Americans three months ago, with his net worth rising to $160 billion, up from $81.5 billion a year ago.
MacKenzie Bezos became a novelist, winning an American Book Award for her 2005 debut novel “The Testing of Luther Albright.” Subsequently, she released the book “Traps” in 2013.
This is not an accurate representation of either Jeff or MacKenzie. One of the most dangerous parts of the USA Today summary is they left out that “since then” Jeff and MacKenzie also became parents. This is very important because it’s the work that MacKenzie did that makes her an equal partner in the marriage and equally as wealthy as Jeff.
So, USA Today should make a correction to give a more accurate description:
Since then, Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos became parents. At the same time, Jeff was the CEO of Amazon, and MacKenzie became a novelist. They also became the richest couple, supplanting Bill and Melinda Gates.
It’s unusual for such a high-profile CEO to be married to someone who is their equal. Which is why the language we use to talk about this divorce is so important. Society does not celebrate the contribution stay-at-home partners make to corporate jobs. But huge jobs like CEO of Amazon are actually two-person jobs.
When we automatically assume the stay-at-home spouse is the one with less money, we disparage the contribution of the stay-at-home spouse. Today more and more women choose to stay at home with kids, but only after they spend time in the corporate world, where people get money and accolades and promotions. The transition to parenting is difficult, because there are no awards or promotions. The transition is even more difficult when journalists don’t give women credit for their contributions.
How you talk about the Bezos divorce says a lot about you. We don’t come across divorces like this very often; MacKenzie is a powerhouse. Let’s talk about her that way, because talking about women with power while being respectful of that power teaches us to respect the power inside ourselves.
Urban Meyer, coach of Ohio State football, likes three-sport athletes more than singularly focused athletes. Yet sites like Active for Life jump on the three-sport thing to tell parents that early specialization is bad for kids.
I don’t believe specialization is bad. But I do believe it’s scary. You could get hurt, you could miss your big chance, you could be disappointed, you could fail publicly. But if you don’t learn to take risks by specializing early then won’t be able to be great at anything later in life.
But what does it mean to be great at something?
Being great is relative. Relative to what you’ve been exposed to.
Before Eddie George played football for Ohio State, he left home for a private high school that specializes in keeping kids for a fifth year so they’re better recruits for college football. There’s tons of Ohio State football players who played multiple sports, but to go pro like Eddie George, you have to build your life around it. Because specializing is how you go from great to the best.
Corporate life has the same rules. You can be a parent and work full-time, but you can’t get to the top while making your kids a higher priority than work. Really. People at the top hand over parenting to someone else.
I say this a lot. And then people tell me, “I don’t need to be CEO. I just want an interesting job.”
And then I say, “How can things be interesting if you’re not trying to be the best?” You can’t be great at three sports or three instruments or three careers. I don’t want to do the work equivalent of three sports. It’s so insanely uninteresting to me to just be OK at something.
But when I start pounding my fists and shouting about the difference – commitment, focus, determination, grit, risk – people say, “Oh. I don’t want to do all that. I just want to [insert some mediocre version of what they are doing here].” Those people sound so rational, but I’ve spent my life trying to be great.
I am so enthralled with the relativism of being great –– that’s the arena I’m always trying to be in, even though I think it’s killing me. Also, I look at that picture of my son being little and playing football not very. well, and I am happy thinking about him being happy playing.
I can’t tell if I’m exhausted or changing or both.
So few people understand the gulf between the top and the very top. Most people know they don’t want to work hard enough to be the very best, but they still want to be learning and growing. But that level of constant engagement is really intense. Very few people want to live that intensely. Because it’s exhausting.
Science says you’re always going to want 20% more than what you have –– whether it be money or skills or recognition. We get used to where we are and then it’s not exciting anymore so we want more. We always want more. It’s human nature.
You actually have to approach your entire life differently. You have to want the crazy life of singular focus.
Which is why talking about how to be the best is sort of boring. Because being the best disrupts all calibration in your life.
People who are trying to do something huge are on the fringe. They are doing stuff no one else is trying to do. They are taking risks no one else relates to. Most of the time you can’t even talk to people trying to do something huge. Because those people don’t ever leave their office unless the hugeness requires leaving. They’re overly invested to the point of being irrelevant in any social gathering or reasonable conversation.
My friend is staying at my apartment while he job hunts in Boston. My job hunts were always done in pajamas with a jeans-and-T-shirt interview finale. Micah is in sales and his hunt starts with a trip to a clothing store.
While he hops in and out of dressing rooms becoming friends with everyone, I settle into a spot with the mannequins.
Then I say, “Micah! Hey! Did you know the most reliable way to speed up a job hunt is to have a professional rewrite your resume?”
Micah stops and looks at me. Sales guys are always attentive, even if you annoy them.
“So, not that I don’t love living with you, but I’m rewriting your resume.”
A lot of times when I rewrite a resume it’s so much better than the original that the person has to learn to talk about themselves differently. We underestimate ourselves because we’re in the thick of things when it’s our own career. A good resume rewrite makes you feel like a different, much more successful person.
Most people take a week or two to get used to talking about themselves at a higher level. Salespeople can adjust right away, which Micah did. Then he started making little changes for each job. And ruining the resume.
“Micah! Are you a total numbskull?! You can’t have a bulleted list with one bullet! It’s not a list if there’s only one thing!”
I told him he has a huge indentation where there shouldn’t be any. He thought I was crazy. He thought no one would notice.
My agent told me to stop wearing jeans. I told my agent my content is so good that no one notices what I wear. So he stopped booking me.
The problem is blind spots. And part of the art of making it through adult life is to learn our blind spots before they completely undermine us.
This is a good time to complain about tests we administer to ourselves. I have already published a tirade about personality tests – why nearly 50% of people get inaccurate results when they test themselves.
But another example is that the are you a sociopath tests don’t work because the ENTPs and ESTPs are always excited to test as a sociopath. They think it’s funny. So they inadvertently skew the results.
Also, when you have someone test to see if they have Asperger’s, most of the time they will say their social skills are fine. That’s because people with Asperger’s don’t know what counts as a social skill. For example, meeting deadlines, sticking with the group, saying I’m sorry. These are all social skills that people with poor social skills don’t count.
I see the phrase “appropriate attire” a lot. Well, maybe not a lot now, but I did a lot when I was 13 in the ’70s and I was receiving tons of formal bat mitzvah invitations. But anyway, that phrase doesn’t mean you have to knock it out of the park with an outfit straight from the runway. It means just look like you fit in.
The same is true with appropriate grammar. People just need to know basics. As a former copyeditor, I know that one should not capitalize a job title unless the job title comes directly before a person’s name who is doing that job. The number of people who violate this rule is so large that breaking that rule is like wearing white after Labor Day: Whatever.
But those mistakes on Micah’s resume are on the list of must-be-fixed. And, here’s a list off the top of my head of common grammar errors I see on resumes from very smart people:
Do not use jargon as a way to abbreviate because you need everyone at the prospective company to be able to read your resume.
Always abbreviate state names unless you’re a calligrapher getting paid per letter.
Don’t write Inc. on your resume unless you worked at Inc. Magazine. No one cares about the incorporation papers of the companies you worked for.
Lots of rules are flexible, but no rules are random. Put periods at the end of non-sentences. Or not. Capitalize long prepositions in a headline. Or not. Abbreviate months. Or not. But be consistent; whatever you choose, do it every time.
Maintain past tense even for a job that you are still doing. If you are writing a good resume, you are writing about a moment in time when you were great. If you are writing about something you do every day, meaning you are still doing it, then stop writing that. A resume is about accomplishments and the second you accomplish something it becomes past tense.
Give your verb an object as a way to make sure you look great. Consider the difference between Emma ate. And Emma ate something. The latter is a specific time with a specific outcome. People get hired for making a specific impact at the places they work.
Don’t use quotation marks unless you literally refer to a person who you then quote verbatim. But if you are quoting someone verbatim on your resume, delete it. What are you thinking? The only acceptable quote would be from someone who is so famous that they can just make a phone call and get you the job without you sending a resume at all.
My son left. He’s in Boston now. My friend Lauren agreed to take care of him.
“Until when?” I said.
“Right now, just get him on the plane. He doesn’t have a cello and he doesn’t have a teacher and he just needs someone to help him. I can help him.”
I want to believe I picked Boston because there is a teacher there who is a good fit. But really I think I picked Boston because I never tell anyone how much I’m failing my kids, but Lauren visits me a lot, so maybe she sort of already knows, because she says things like, “There needs to be a lid on your trash can so the garbage doesn’t make the whole kitchen smell.”
She hugged me. And that’s how I knew Boston would be the right place for my son.
When you put an unaccompanied minor on a flight you have to wait at the gate til it takes off. I sat away from the window to make sure my son couldn’t see me from the plane and then I cried. The gate agent brought me a tissue. Then she brought me the whole box of tissues. Then the plane took off.
When you grow up in an abusive household you can be really tight with your siblings, to survive, or you can leave them all behind, to survive. We are tight.
While my brother and I were growing up, my parents tortured me, literally, and my brother watched from the sidelines, terrified and almost invisible. From the time we left college, I took care of our much younger brothers, who were also abused. My brother Mike took care of me and Mike’s wife Rachel took care of Mike.
This is how we got through the next fifteen years. It was the four of us siblings, plus Rachel, who has been with us so long now that my younger brothers can’t even really remember life without her.
My mom would tell people about her kids: an economist, a chemist, an investment banker, and an author. My siblings would tell people: a mental ward, a stint at rehab, a case in court, an accusation of assault.
At least once a month I’m incapacitated by a flashback from my childhood. Sometimes it’s predictable: I’m driving by the ice cream store where we used to go to when we ditched Hebrew school. Sometimes it’s a surprise: my wood floors got refinished in the wrong color and now they look like the wood floors in the house we grew up in.
For me, the flashbacks have the cumulative effect of making me anxious, ashamed, and awake all night. For Mike, the effect is that he always picks up when I call, even when he can’t really talk.
But the last two years I’ve been unraveling. And I wasn’t sharing very much with my brothers because I thought they’d just brush it off. But then I called Mike crying. I told him I wasn’t fit to take care of the kids. And I asked him to take my older son.
He thought it was one of my panic attacks. But the next day I sent my younger son to Boston.
Then called Mike brother to arrange sending my older son to him. But Mike said, “Rachel’s coming to Swarthmore.”
Rachel has never visited me.
She sat in my blue chair in my living room and I almost couldn’t believe she was there. She said she was sorry that she had not realized how hard it’s been for me. She didn’t know how long this all had been going on and she’s talked to my brothers and they’re all so sorry they didn’t know how hard it was for me. And she cried as she kept talking. She said they knew something must be very wrong if I am asking people to take my boys.
The thing is, I don’t want them to be sorry. Because I love them so much. I just want them to understand me.
Rachel said, “We see now that we were expecting you to do things you’re not capable of doing. We don’t always understand why you can’t do them. But we understand you need help.”
The blog post where I told you I was falling apart is what saved me. I didn’t know who to tell. So I told you. And when I told you, my siblings listened.
I feel so loved. I want to tell you that I feel so loved. I am not sure I’ve felt this way before. I feel more secure than I’ve felt in my whole life maybe because I feel so understood and cared for by my siblings.
Rachel called Melissa to better understand how to help me. To ask her what I can and can’t do. My three brothers and Rachel are all helping me now –– it’s a lot of work to get me back to a stable place, that’s good for me and good for the boys. And now I see that Melissa’s been doing a four-person job by herself for a long while.
One brother said that if I weren’t so good at earning money I’d have been homeless a long time ago. He’s right. But I think it’s not just money that keeps a person from being homeless — it’s love.
It’s my job to make sure my boys are safe and secure. And to make sure they feel the same kind of love that I feel right now. Because you can’t give it before you can feel it. And you can’t feel it before you make yourself vulnerable enough to receive it.
I have been blown away by the comments on my last post. I am so appreciative of the kindness and support and all the ideas so many of you have shared.
I asked myself: why am I so reluctant to do Patreon? Melissa has been telling me to do it for years. And now so many commenters are telling me to do it, too.
The first, most obvious reason is that I’m terrified of rejection. As a writer I’m used to being rejected. It’s how writers get better. But I’m not used to being rejected by you. I feel like I have a much closer relationship with you. If I try Patreon and it doesn’t work, I would feel dumb. Like I thought you like me but you don’t actually really like me.
Also, I feel ashamed. I feel most ashamed that my parents are not helping me because I think everyone will think, “If her parents won’t help her then she’s not worth helping.”
It hurt to read that. And I have to admit I was happy that everyone told her to shut up. But as the day wore on, I started to like that advice. Which is probably why I gave it to her in the first place. I have to figure out how to keep doing what’s best for the kids.
So, I have to do Patreon because I can’t spend my life still seeing myself through my parents’ eyes. I hate even having to write that. I’m too old.
A lot of my life I’ve had an assistant. If you are good at work, then work comes with an assistant. Well, that’s what I used to think – that I had an assistant all the time because I’m so good at work. I used to think investors alway paid for my assistant because I’m so valuable. Then I realized they pay for an assistant so I don’t do things like have my car break down in the middle of an intersection and get the kids out of the backseat and walk home and then disappear for a week trying to get my car back. I did that once. But it was not a week — it was only three hours because I had an assistant who called me and figured everything out.
When I stopped working 100-hour weeks my assistant disappeared along with my job. I thought that would be fine because I was moving to the farm. But I didn’t realize the farmer had no intention of helping with childcare.
The boys are used to having me and one other person run the family. I think the kids know life runs better when there’s someone with us. The kids don’t expect that person to be a father — because obviously I’m not good at picking that sort of man. But the kids do expect the person to be an assistant. They’ve spent most of their life seeing me with an assistant. My kids feel comforted by hired competence.
So, I am going to hire a full-time assistant to manage my life and my finances. I have had this type of person before. I know how to do it.
Just writing this makes me so happy. My phone service gets turned off all the time because I forget to pay the bill. I don’t get our prescriptions refilled on time; sometimes I spend all month worrying about the prescriptions and we still go days without medicine. Having an assistant back in my life will give me so much peace.
One of the biggest barriers to getting someone to help me is that I don’t have a steady income. Money comes in waves, which is not helpful for making life more stable. In the past, my startups have paid for the assistants so they don’t suffer from my crazy cash flow.
So, here’s my plan:
I do Patreon and I use the funds from Patreon to hire the assistant who will then manage the funds from Patreon and also the rest of my life. Melissa has built an empire by being the god of hiring assistants. She’ll hire mine.
She hires for startup founders who can’t tie their shoes. I pine for the days when I was simply a startup founder who couldn’t tie my shoes. Now it’s my shoes, and the kids’ shoes, and it feels like there are 50 million other pairs of shoes as well, even though I know there are not.
Get it? Not? Knot? For shoe tying?
I’m showing you how hard it is for me to focus on logistics enough even to get this post done.
What I want to do is write. If Patreon can make my income stable, then I can solve most of my problems. I can still do the things I like to do – career coaching and personality type stuff. But that’s not consistent income — and I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I want to create consistency in my life, I need to change.
You have all helped me recognize that having an assistant is not a luxury for me. And now I can see more clearly that asking for help is OK.
When we went to my son’s piano teacher to say goodbye everyone was so sad. My son and the piano teacher are so close. The teacher said to me, “He’s very lucky. You’re an amazing parent to have gotten him here with no help. My parents didn’t do that for me.”
I need to hold that picture of myself in my head. My parents didn’t do that for me, either, which is why I so much want to be able to give both my kids what they need. What my kids need now is stability, and I’m getting that by asking for help from an assistant, yes, but really, from all of you.
His yearbook from high school is horrifying. There were derogatory jokes about women throughout the pages. Everyone knew, but the boys were rich, and they were going to top colleges, so it was okay. I didn’t know there were yearbooks like that.
I knew that in those rich-kid private schools the teachers decide who goes to which school. I know that, for example, Yale takes a certain number of kids from Choate, and Choate tells Yale which kids will be the best fit. There is a symbiotic relationship. Choate can say they always get kids into Yale. And Yale knows they’ll get the best kids for Yale without having to do much searching.
People like to hire people who are like them. We have so much research that supports that. The only way to get around that is to be way, way better than everyone else (black men often do this) or to be really hot. Middle-aged men do not have access to young, hot women except when they pay for it, or it’s their daughter’s friends. But if the men have power they can have access to those women at work.
I knew there were not a lot of female staff in the Senate. But I did not realize that every time there was a female issue, the male Senators sent a woman to deal with it. The all-male Republican judiciary committee does not want to have to question Kavanaugh’s accusers. They think the optics are bad. So they want a female staff member to do it. But the female staff are saying no.They say it’s part of a Senator’s job to know how to work with women. The female staff are sick of doing it for the male Senators.
I have done this job for men my whole career. I have stepped in to tell my boss that there are women in the company not making as much as their male counterparts and we have to fix it. I have told male leadership that we have a client who keeps harassing the women in the company. I thought it was my job to take care of lower-level women because I knew leadership would not. I did not even know I was doing that. I never expected the men to look out for the women.
I’m not doing that anymore — I will ask the men why they are not making sure themselves. I will show them how to do it. It’s a mentality. To know what to look out for. It is not the job of women like me. It’s the job of all of senior management.
I didn’t know that women so bright and successful as Christine Blasely Ford got derailed for years after sexual assault. I got derailed for years from sexual assault. But I thought it was because I was weak. I thought I was making too big a deal out of it. I am shocked that the time in her life when she finally told her husband, in couples counseling, is similar to the time in my life I finally told people about my experience.
I was shocked that Debbie Ramirez was so ashamed of having been forced to touch Kavanaugh’s penis that she never talked about it with anyone. I am shocked because I was forced to touch someone’s penis. But, like Ramirez, I wasn’t sure how to talk about it. I’m still not. I mean, I was there with a penis in front of me. And I said no, get away from me, gross. But I still touched it. I am shocked that it’s hard for Ramirez to put a coherent story together. I thought not having a coherent story meant maybe what I thought happened didn’t happen.
But now I understand that not having the words to describe it is part of the problem. We have no word in the English language for so stressed and so full of shame that you start trying so hard to block it out the minute you get way. Of course we have no word for that. Because it’s only women feeling a loss of power who need that word.
I knew that people protest things all the time in Washington DC. But I would not have known what to chant if I were staging a protest. I can’t think of a snappy chant to encapsulate all those things I want to say. But I learned so much from the women who are protesting this week at the Capitol. They know what to say. And they are saying it all with men as well. Men, too, are in front of their Senators’ offices, chanting “We believe Anita Hill! We believe Christina Ford!”
I want to do that. I want to be in this new wave of women who demand that Yale stop funneling women to lecherous men. I want to stand with women who risk their lives to testify in our male-privileged Senate. But most of all I want to say: I believe women.
If I keep saying that, I will believe myself, as well.