Ana Homayoun Wants You to ‘Take a B’
Filed in: Woman of the Week
Ana Homayoun’s latest book, Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, has propelled her to the forefront of current discussions about parenting in the age of the internet. But that’s only one facet of her expertise: The entrepreneur and author of three books (including The Myth of the Perfect Girl) is brimming with advice for how you can, as she puts it, “build your own blueprint for success.” Here, she talks about founding her business, prioritizing time off, and the importance of “taking a ‘B.’”
I WORKED IN FINANCE in New York right after I graduated from college. People said it was a good job, and it seemed like the right move. Then, about two and half months after 9/11, I was laid off. I’m forever grateful for that job because if I hadn’t lost it and gotten a severance package, I wouldn’t have ever had the money to start the company that I run today.
I ALWAYS LOVED BEING AROUND kids; I had worked as a camp counselor and a tutor. So, while I was trying to figure what to do until I got my next job, I started teaching students about organization and time management. I was 22, and I loved it. I created a whole curriculum and was seeing incredible results. It became a business that, 16 years later, I still love. The main idea behind my work is to teach kids and adults about building or designing your own blueprint for success. It was created out of what I did for my own life—that’s how it all began.
A BIG PART OF MY JOB is teaching people how to be less stressed. We put so much pressure on ourselves to make things perfect in one way or another, which is what led me to write my second book, The Myth of the Perfect Girl, about the culture of perfectionism. I had been meeting all of these high school girls who had tons of activities, top grades, and great test scores. Then I would ask them what they liked to do for fun, and they would look at me like I was weird. The summer assignment I gave them was to figure out what they liked to do for fun. At the same time, I was hearing from college admissions officers that young women were showing up for their freshman year with more mental health issues than ever before. I was in my early thirties at the time, and I also noticed that many of my female friends were leaving the workforce or becoming disenchanted. And I thought, “If we could have these conversations with girls earlier, when they’re in middle school and high school, that could help with all of these problems.” For so many people, the careers that they love began as something they liked to do in middle school or high school.
HOW DO WE HELP KIDS, particularly girls who struggle with the culture of perfectionism, to get past the idea of checking off a box—or checking someone else’s box—and doing what everyone else thinks they should be doing? I do that by helping them look at their own values, and redefining what failure means. To me, failure is not trying something, or not being open to new opportunities, rather than trying something that doesn’t work out. I’m also big on the idea of taking the ‘B.’ For many perfectionists, the idea of getting a ‘B’ on a test would be so upsetting. But it’s about actively choosing where you want to spend your time. So there are places where you want to put all your effort, and other areas where you want to take the ‘B’—to put it in the backseat.
MY PARENTS ARE IMMIGRANTS FROM IRAN. They came here in the mid-’70s for grad school, and then they never went back. They raised my sister and me to do our personal best, identify what our interests were, and pursue those interests. I think a lot of parents do what I call “curling”—you know, they go out on the ice in front of their kids and smooth it out for them. And we’re not helping kids when we do that. When I was looking for an internship in college, I knew all these other kids who had connections through their parents, and I didn’t. And my mom said, “You know, Ana, you’re going to find a better job for yourself than I could ever find for you.” And I was like, “That’s so much extra work! Everybody else’s parents are calling people up.” But in the end, I really respected where she came from, because I got on the alumni website for my school and it gave me the confidence that I could do it on my own. And I landed an internship that got me a full-time job as a result.
KIDS ARE VERY GENUINE, and they are much more astute than adults, I think, at knowing when someone is trying to pander to them. So I don’t. I just say, “Look, I’m here for you. I’m trying to make your life easier. Nobody likes having those lectures about how their homework needs to be done or how their grades aren’t good enough. Everybody wants more free time, and most of you want more sleep, so let’s get there.” And they’re like, “I’m in.” I make it all about them. And that is the cornerstone of my work, for whomever my audience is. If people come away thinking, “These are three or five things that I can do today to make my life better,” that’s a win for me.
I DRESS COMFORTABLY, and I usually bring shoes and jewelry and maybe a scarf in my bag so I can dress my outfit up or down. Sometimes I’m on TV in the morning, meeting with students one-on-one in the afternoon, and then speaking at a school in the evening. I need to be able to do it all in the outfit I’m wearing, and accessories are the variables.
I’M ALL ABOUT RUTHLESS PRIORITIZATION. When I’m doing something, I’m focused on that alone. I avoid multitasking as much as I can. I use an app on my phone that I recommend to students, too: the Forest app, which is a digital timer that builds a tree if you stay off of it for the amount of time that you’ve set aside. If I’m writing, I get up early and I work on that piece. I find that I work best on writing and creative stuff in the morning. I’m just not productive after 8:00PM, so I’ll go to bed and get up really early. I also make it a priority to take time off, whether it’s walking my dogs every day with my phone on silent or taking a half day once a week. I travel a lot, and so I try to make that fun, even if I have a lot of trips back to back. I’m a big believer in building wellness into your life incrementally rather than trying to do everything at once and getting burnt out. Currently, our society encourages people to work until they’re so burnt out that they have to take months off. I own my business, so I can’t do that. So for me, the valuable thing is to take time off every day. And I’m more productive when I do that.
Photographs by Jeff Allen.