You cannot manufacture a relationship, they are built over shared time. The more time I spend with them, the more we learn to trust and rely on each other. The more we get into really positive grooves. Before I know it, my daughter is cooking with me, not because I ask her to, but because she enjoys being with me. And that’s the beauty. If you spend time with someone you love, especially your kids, there is immense room for discovery and exploration. If you do not have that time you are stuck in just going through the necessary motions and obligations of parenthood.
As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Gabriel Fairman. Gabriel grew up with the insatiable urge for self-knowledge and awareness. That led him to major in “The Death and Re-birth of Human Agency (please don’t ask him what that means because he is still trying to find out). It also led him to live in a zen Buddhist monastery in Southern Taiwan. Realizing he would never really know himself because such is the essence of life, he dove into the business world and began his own company at 25, because it was clear to him that he would not fit in anywhere else. He has been figuring out for the past 15 years how to develop his company in ways that keep him alive, relevant and fulfilled while keeping their product offering fresh and forward facing so that they can continue to add value in the future. He loves to play tennis, play the guitar, and cook. He enjoys spending time with my wife and kids even more. Gabriel truly believes that his quest is about finding a profound emotional center and that everything else just flows from that.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?
I grew up in São Paulo, Brazil but was raised speaking English, Spanish and Portuguese. My parents understood their main mission was to get my sister and me the very best education money could afford so they focused all of their energies into their careers in order to make this vision feasible. My parents thought the world of me and had ridiculously high expectations for me. They kept on giving me toys that were meant for kids at least 5 years older than I was and just expected that I would figure it out. They always treated me as an equal, expecting me to behave like an adult in formal dinner settings and just in general behave like someone much older than I was. While that was challenging and sometimes even painful, I have to thank them for believing so much in me and setting the bar so high. I would not be as determined and resilient had I not gone through that.
Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?
I got fired after 6 terrible months at a huge mining conglomerate in Brazil. HR told me to question things. I took that literally was not well received.
Traumatized by my epic failure, I fell off my prodigal high horse and said to myself in distaste that I would NEVER work again for anyone else other than myself.
I had no idea what I would do next, but I had always seen my mother work as a translator and experience the pains of a successful freelancer. I thought I could turn what she did into a scalable business. She was no longer deriving any joy from it so she handed over the clients she had developed over her tireless quest towards linguistic perfection and expected them to leave within weeks. They actually liked my work and I began to build the business as I believed it should be.
We became the largest Translation Agency in Brazil but I derived no pleasure in that. In fact, I loathed going to work. I wanted to feel like I was doing something special and I only feel that way when I am working with technology. So I began to go deeper into tech, began meeting amazing people like our CTO, Henrique Cabral and we developed Bureau Works, pivoting into a Tech company based in the Silicon Valley.
Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?
6:20 am alarm sounds
6:25 am still struggling to believe the alarm sounded
6:30 am up but still in disbelief
6:30–8:30 breakfast and get our two older kids ready and in school
8:30 am to 5 pm work
5 pm to 8 pm getting the older kids, bathed, homework, dined, and talked to, and asleep
8 pm to midnight with my wife and our newborn
Midnight to 6 pm sleeping with occasional pauses to take care of kids
Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?
Based on my experience my kids need to feel like they can count on me. Our school age kids who are 6 and 9 will only really open up after we spend several hours together. There is no use in asking them how their day was. I’ll get a boilerplate response: ‘Fine.” But as we spend time together, prepping a meal, playing, brushing their teeth or doing anything together, we build trust and engagement and they begin to tell me what they are really feeling and going through. I am then able to give them my take and they will listen because they too feel like I am listening to them. Without spending time with them, I would just be a figure of authority. The trust would not be there and rather than developing over time a feeling of being respected and included, they will just gravitate into a lonely psychological space that can be actually very dangerous for kids.
On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?
The first reason is actually for my own benefit. I love learning from them. They are so smart and have such beautiful takes in life. I can only really appreciate that if I spend enough time with them to step out of my tunnel-vision adult shoes and learn to see the world through their lenses.
The second reason is that you cannot manufacture a relationship, they are built over shared time. The more time I spend with them, the more we learn to trust and rely on each other. The more we get into really positive grooves. Before I know it, my daughter is cooking with me, not because I ask her to, but because she enjoys being with me. And that’s the beauty. If you spend time with someone you love, especially your kids, there is immense room for discovery and exploration. If you do not have that time you are stuck in just going through the necessary motions and obligations of parenthood.
According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?
The main thing about quality vs. quantity for me is related to mindset. If I am by my kids and am stressed out about work, bills, issues, etc…I cannot truly enjoy them even if I spend all day with them. In terms of examples of quality time:
1) Cooking together with my 9-year-old daughter. We will talk, chop, prep, cook and have a great time together.
2) Taking my kids to scooter around the reservoir. Helmets, gloves and scooters. Here we go! My kids feel free, and I get to be a kid around them. I get to challenge them, show them tricks, go fast, slow, and be one of them for an hour of so. It’s an amazing feeling.
3) Playing the guitar. This is an interesting one. Even though I am not interacting with them explicitly, they love to listen when I play. I will then find them singing the songs that I was playing. Music just creates a special bond between us all and is a wonderful experience.
4) Psyc talks. My 9-year-old daughter loves to disagree and can’t go ahead with things if she does not understand why. She loves delving into her own psyche and having really challenging conversations with me in terms of human behavior, her own sets of values, strengths and shortcomings.
5) Taking them to the candy store. I eat zero sugar. I think sugar is terrible for people’s health in general. But while I can tone it down, I can’t forget that kids are kids and that they love going to the candy store. I get to experience their vicarious joy and I get to learn how to have pleasure in something that I would never do for myself.
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
1) Emotional clarity: what makes you happy? What makes you fearful? Why are you stressed? For me, having a clear read on my emotions as symptoms and the root causes behind them provides me with great granularity over my emotional landscape. This allows me to place myself in check and reboot when necessary.
2) Embracing the frailty of life. I am going to die. My kids are going to die. Everything will go by very quickly. These are just facts of life and the more I accept these hard truths, the more I can take things as they come and really embrace the beauty of the current moments we are sharing together.
3) Gratitude — I can’t emulate gratitude. Either I experience it in my core or I don’t. But do know the greatest enemy gratitude faces within me: expectations. The more I expect out of things, the less grateful I feel. And without gratitude, I cannot really appreciate the beautiful things that my kids do.
4) Open mind and open heart — Kids are kids. Where I see a mess, they see an experiment, where I see them disobeying, they see themselves having fun. Where I see rules and regulations, they see a world full of magic and opportunities. I have to guide them without taking that unique kid-like perspective they have away from them. I need to challenge my own idiosyncrasies and inflexibility to really see things from their point of view and at the very least challenge my knee-jerk reactions.
How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?
I don’t think there is such a concept as a categorically good parent. In fact, I think the concept is a misconception that puts people in moral prisons, trying to work towards this artificial concept of goodness as opposed to being in the moment. Kids can grow up and come to loathe the greatest of parents. One parent is bad because they are too rigid. The other is bad because they were too loose. One is bad because they smother., The other is bad because they are absent. Human beings have different emotional make-ups, different specific needs, and triggers. Being good or bad for me, in the end, boils down to having the right intentions and being emotionally present enough so that your kids can deeply trust you.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I don’t inspire my kids to dream big. I don’t inspire them to dream small either. I try to inspire them to develop a profound sense of self-awareness and self-connectedness so that they can know intuitively right from wrong, get close to people that do them well and keep away from those that empty their buckets. My daughter is all about big dreams for instance and she has always been like that. Our 6-year-old son is very much in the present and his idea of dreaming big is getting an ice cream bar or a toy at CVS. I try to respect that they are their own people and it’s not my job to mold them. My job is to be there for them all along their journeys.
How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?
I don’t define success. I reject the concept entirely. Success is all about expectations and achievement. I believe fulfillment is a much better concept than success. Fulfillment is all about being able to give your very best, to devote yourself to those few things that matter and to leave absolutely nothing behind. Whatever happens after that is actually inconsequential. The journey is far more important than the destination.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
I avoid reading books, podcasts or things that artificially coach me into a better parent. They will always make me second guess myself and lose sight of what is right before me. My kids and my wife are my best teachers. All I have to do is observe them with open eyes and ears. I need to truly listen to who they are, what they want and how they want that. The more I can get away from theory and preconceptions, the better the human being I believe I can become.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite Life Lesson Quote is about the Zen student who goes up to the Zen master and says “Master please teach me.” The Zen master says, sure but first lets have some tea. The Zen master begins pouring the tea and the student says, “Stop, Stop!” The cup was overflowing. The Zen master continues to pour the entire kettle. The student says “Master why would you do this.” And the master replies: “How can I teach you anything if your mind is already full.”
It’s relevant for me because I try to empty my cup every day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement it would be based on self-love. We cannot love others if we do not love ourselves. For me, small gestures go a long way in terms of making self-love something real. A longer bath, a self-prepped nutritious meal, holding my baby in my arms after a sleepless night, forgiving myself, looking into my kids and my wife’s glimmering eyes. I think if we loved our own selves more, great things would come from that.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!