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Marc Fienberg of The Great Advice Group: “Please don’t use that language around me”

I try to teach my kids not to swear, and one of the swear words that I fault them for using is the phrase, “I can’t.” My response is, “Please don’t use that language around me. I’d prefer you say, ‘I haven’t yet learned how to do X’.” It’s the difference between teaching them to […]

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I try to teach my kids not to swear, and one of the swear words that I fault them for using is the phrase, “I can’t.” My response is, “Please don’t use that language around me. I’d prefer you say, ‘I haven’t yet learned how to do X’.” It’s the difference between teaching them to having a growth mindset, where they believe they could learn how to do almost anything some other human being has already done and having a fixed mindset where they’re limited by some inherent skills that they were either born with or not born with. One of the best ways I’ve learned to teach this to my kids is that I challenged (bribed) them to learn to juggle. Juggling is a really, really, difficult skill for anybody to learn, but as it turns out, with a reasonable amount of practice, it’s also well within the ability of almost any child who is older than 10. The sense of accomplishment that my kids felt after hours and days of practicing was unbelievable, and it really was a great method to teach them that they can learn anything they put their minds to.


As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Marc Fienberg.

It doesn’t matter that Marc Fienberg is an author, life coach, executive coach, public speaker, movie director, strategy consultant, entrepreneur, owner of The Great Advice Group, husband, and all-around nice guy. What matters is that he is the father of four kids, three of whom are teens, and that none of them have been rushed to the emergency room or spent a night in jail yet, so it seems like his Great Advice is working.

Marc’s book, “Dad’s Great Advice for Teens” is the first in a series of more than two dozen “Dad’s Great Advice” books in the works including, “Dad’s Great Advice for Parents of Teens,” “Dad’s Great Advice for College Students,” and “Dad’s Great Advice for Everybody.”

Marc started the Great Advice Group, which provides professional executive coaches and life coaches to entrepreneurs, parents, kids, and anybody else who needs practical, tactical advice and strategies to become happy and successful. For corporate professionals, the Great Advice Group offers individual executive coaching for entrepreneurs, executives, CEOs, and employees. The Great Advice Group prides itself on avoiding “touchy-feely” solutions to problems that real people do not or cannot put into effect, and instead offering real-life strategies and habit-forming methodologies that people can use to help improve their life.

Marc is also an award-winning screenwriter, director, and movie producer. His movie, Play The Game, starring Andy Griffith and Doris Roberts, was the third most successful independently distributed domestic feature of the year, it played in almost 300 theaters nationwide, and earned almost 1M dollars in revenue.

Marc earned a B.B.A. in marketing from the University of Michigan, and an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

For more information go to www.GreatAdviceGroup.com.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I grew up in Chicago with two parents who set the bar pretty darn high when it comes to parenting. Even though I got a business degree from University of Michigan, and an MBA from Kellogg Business School, I think it was my parents’ refusal to put any pressure on me when it came to career choices that gave me the freedom and confidence to turn down a job from a small 10-person tech startup, in favor of traveling around the world for a year taking photos and writing. Of course, it was not until I was in Nepal in the shadow of Mt. Everest that I read an article about how fast that 10-person startup I had interviewed with was growing. It was a company called eBay. Fortunately, though, to this day, I still enjoy those photos I took from around the world, and wouldn’t trade that experience for anything!

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

It was a quick ride that only took a few decades to get through! After doing many marketing and strategy consulting projects for entrepreneurs and businesses for many, many years, I eventually noticed a pattern in the lifecycle of the clients I was advising: When the business advice I gave started to pay off, my clients started to get really successful, and as a result, they started to ask me to advise them on different, more ephemeral business problems like, “I know what I have to do to change my business, but how do I get over that fear and actually do it?” And I’d work through things with them to help them get over the fear. And then later on, those same clients started to come to me with even more personal problems like, “What do I do with all this money I have now?” and “Why am I still not happy?” and, yes, even “How do I stay sane while raising my teenagers and balancing a demanding job?” Luckily, I’ve studied a lot of positive psychology and science, (and I have four kids who have taught me a lot of parenting lessons the hard way) so I started advising them about these more “real-life” problems. And that’s when The Great Advice Group was born.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

First, I take the same advice that I offer to all of my clients: work for yourself each day before you work for your business or your boss, or even your kids when they’re old enough. I start the day with an hour focused on me, which usually means exercising, or working on a personal project. Then I spend about 15 minutes going over my to-do list for the day and prioritizing the top three things I need to get done. And then I dive in and get going, sometimes starting with a project, sometimes by reviewing email. That 15 minutes of planning dictates much of the rest of my day, which varies greatly depending on what those specific priorities are. I’m lucky enough to have a lot of flexibility in my schedule, so I can sometimes time shift if I need to help my kids with school, or a project they’re working on. I always take a break for dinner with my family, with few exceptions, and then focus on family time afterwards, either playing a game, doing homework, or watching a show together. Then when everybody turns in for the night, I usually get another few hours to myself to either work if I need to, or read and relax. It may not seem like a lot, but if I get even two of the top three things on my agenda for the day done, I view it as a major win.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now 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? 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?

My grandfather used to say “Do as I say, not as I do.” If that worked with our kids, life would be great. But sadly, it usually works out to be the opposite. Your kids follow the behavior that you model for them, not the nice platitudes and things that you talk about. As a result, the less you’re around them and spending time with them, the less behavior they have as a model for how to act, and the more they just have to figure it out on their own. And if you’ve read Lord of the Flies, you know that if you let kids figure out how to behave on their own with no guidance, the results usually are not so great. So, by spending time with them, you’re modeling for them how people should act in this world of ours. But even more important than that, by spending time with your children, you’re providing those three things that the psychologist Abraham Maslow figured out are toward the top of almost everybody’s hierarchy of needs: Love, belonging, and self-esteem. Having a parent around looking out for them, caring for them, and encouraging them helps fulfill those important needs. Everybody likes getting attention, but teens in particular need and want that attention, and the person whose attention they want the most is their parent.

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?

It’s a really interesting study and it’s hard to sum it up simply by saying it’s always quality over quantity. But I think the main takeaway is important for parents to understand, especially helicopter, type-A, guilty, super-parents, and that is: If you’re measuring your success at parenting solely by time spent with your child, you’re measuring the wrong thing. It is mainly about creating meaningful, “quality” connections with your child. So, I think that the “quality over quantity” message is a good one, but clearly quantity comes into play as well, because if you’re having a meaningful connection with your child only once a year, that’s not going to hack it. Plus, interestingly, that study actually found that teens are an exception to the “Quality over Quantity” rule, and that the more time you spend with your teen, the less likely they are to get into trouble in and outside of school. Regardless, the real issue is: how do you connect with teens? I’ve got two tricks I use…

First, let’s just be clear that the phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” definitely applies to teens. The days of trying to get them interested in my own hobbies are over. Instead, I decided to install TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat on my phone. Now, when I want to bond with my daughter, I sit down on the couch with her and flip through some Charli D’Amelio TikToks together. Watching a 16-year-old girl do some silly dance moves to a song I’ve never heard is about #823 on my list of things I enjoy doing, but hanging out with my daughter is close to #1, so I suck it up. Same deal with getting pedicures, shopping for clothes, and redecorating. Thankfully, my son is more into his X-box than pedicures, and playing Luigi to his Mario is a bit more my speed.

The other thing I’ve started to do is to insist on at least one family activity per weekend. Granted, our teens negotiated me down to limit that activity to a maximum of two hours, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I accepted their generous deal. Apparently, my activities are no longer “fun” for my four children, so we now each write an activity that we want to do on a piece of paper, and we randomly pick out of a jar one person’s activity for that weekend. We have had a painting night, photography contest, Monopoly marathon, reading party, a Chopped cooking competition, and a backyard Olympics. Oh, and pedicures. More than a couple pedicures. Good times.

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? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

Read Bronnie Ware’s book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” Spoiler alert: one of those regrets is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” And although she hasn’t written the sequel to her book yet, when she inevitably does write “The Next Three Hundred Regrets of the Dying,” I’m confident that, nowhere on that list will be, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time with my children.”

Remind yourself that science has discovered that the biggest driver of our happiness is our relationships, and among the best, closest relationships you have are probably the ones with your children.

Stop using the phrase, “I don’t have the time for that,” whatever “that” is, but especially when the “that” is your children. We all have the same 24 hours in our day, and we’re all busy, but unless you happen to be locked up in the local penitentiary, we all ultimately have control over how we spend our time. Instead, tell it like it is and say, “I don’t want to prioritize that thing over these other things I want or need to do.”

If you’re organized and do well prioritizing your work life’s tasks and schedule, bring your kids into the fold. Add “play a game with my kids” to your task list, and schedule time with them on your calendar. And most importantly, realize that, in this area of your working world, your kid is the boss, and if you cancel your appointment with the boss, the boss might do worse than fire you: They might cry.

Try to find activities that you can do with your kids that you both enjoy. When you fail to find anything that fits that bill, find activities that your kids like, and suck it up and enjoy it. Or at least pretend like you enjoy it. Trust me, speaking as somebody who has been the recipient of many of those aforementioned pedicures, even if you find it impossible to enjoy having your toenails painted pink, it’s very easy to enjoy the smile on the face of the girl who is painting those toenails pink.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

I imagine that every parent has their own definition of what a good parent is, so I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer. I can tell you some common ideas of what makes a good parent that I think are WRONG though: I don’t think a good parent has to buy their kids everything they desire. I don’t think a good parent has to take their children on exotic vacations. I don’t think a good parent has to shelter their children in an enormous house. If you’re trying to define what a good parent DOES do though, one of the criteria that I think most people’s definitions of a “good parent” probably have in common is, “Somebody who often prioritizes their own child’s happiness before their own.”

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I try to teach my kids not to swear, and one of the swear words that I fault them for using is the phrase, “I can’t.” My response is, “Please don’t use that language around me. I’d prefer you say, ‘I haven’t yet learned how to do X’.” It’s the difference between teaching them to having a growth mindset, where they believe they could learn how to do almost anything some other human being has already done and having a fixed mindset where they’re limited by some inherent skills that they were either born with or not born with. One of the best ways I’ve learned to teach this to my kids is that I challenged (bribed) them to learn to juggle. Juggling is a really, really, difficult skill for anybody to learn, but as it turns out, with a reasonable amount of practice, it’s also well within the ability of almost any child who is older than 10. The sense of accomplishment that my kids felt after hours and days of practicing was unbelievable, and it really was a great method to teach them that they can learn anything they put their minds to.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Great Advice #1 from Dad’s Great Advice for Everybody is “Figure Out How to Be Successful” and the message of the advice is that “success” is generally defined in our society as how much money you have. And for some people that is indeed how they measure their success. But most of the world is using a different bar by which to measure their success, and that bar is so varied and unique to each person, that I don’t know that it’s possible to define success for anybody but myself. You can measure it by how many days a year you ski, or how many countries you visit, how many kids you have, or how famous you are, or how many friends you have, or how many people you helped, or hundreds of other ways. The challenge is to figure out the right definition of success for you, which sometimes isn’t straightforward.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

I have a wide range of books and podcasts that I consume, but the ones that I think have been most relevant to my parenting style, and the advice I give others about parenting, are those focused around the field of positive psychology, which is a fancy term for the study of happiness. I think that at the top of every parent’s wish list for their child is for them to be happy. Martin Seligman is kind of the king in this area, so I love his books, but I also loved The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, Grit by Angela Duckworth, Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, and The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore, dream, discover.”

Mark Twain

Like many other people, I’m constantly torn between taking the nice, easy, safe route in life, and taking the riskier route that requires a lot more energy and sacrifice, but brings with it much greater rewards. This quote by Twain reminds me that just “resting on my laurels,” “joining the rat race,” or “playing it safe” doesn’t really lead to a full, exciting life (at least it doesn’t for me). It reminds me to try to ignore the inevitable trepidation and fear of leaving “the safe harbor” in favor of focusing on the excitement to come of exploring, dreaming, and discovering. Reminders like that have been relevant to me countless times in my life, in both big and small endeavors, and are greatly responsible for me creating experiences for myself that I now treasure, such as traveling around the world, making a movie, starting my own business, having four children, writing a book series, learning how to hang glide, and, most apropos of Twain’s quote, sailing solo for a week off the coast of Australia.

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.

That’s a really thought-provoking question, with so many great potential answers! But ultimately, I would inspire parents to join my “Schedule 4%” movement to encourage them to schedule onto their calendar a minimum of 4% of their day to connect with their kids. That’s just one hour per day! Even the worst workaholics among us schedule about 60% of their day around their jobs, so lowering that to 56% is not something you or your boss would probably notice. But I guarantee that your children will notice that 4% of your day if it hasn’t been a milestone you’ve been able to reach on a daily basis before. And for extra credit, for every day you don’t “Schedule 4%” with your children, donate 15 dollars to a charity that helps single parents. That 15 dollars is about an hour at minimum wage what will hopefully help allow a single parent to “Schedule 4%” with their own children.

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