Believe in yourself. No one ever encouraged me to believe in myself. Not because they didn’t wish me well, but because they weren’t familiar with the concept themselves. I had to arrive at it on my own, which took some time.
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tatiana Zakharchenko.
Tatiana Zakharchenko founded Project First America after gaining seasoned experience in the international TV industry, having produced international adaptations of U.S. scripted and non-scripted TV shows, such as Jeopardy!, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, Psych, etc. Project First America is a multimedia production company specializing in creating original content for preschoolers for digital platforms. Their work ranges from content production, localization, and distribution to brand and creative marketing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?
Thank you for having me! I was born and raised in Navoi, a small town in Uzbekistan. The school I attended had a sister school in the U.S. and specialized in teaching American English. Learning about American culture was an essential part of my daily curriculum — we had school plays in English, an English glee club. My favorite time at school was watching Disney animated movies such as Bambi and The Little Mermaid during our English classes! That’s when I was bitten by the movie bug, which eventually encouraged me to move to LA to pursue my MFA in Film and TV Production in Loyola Marymount University.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?
I actually switched careers in my late 20s. I have a BA in English Linguistics, so before I was a Producer I used to be an English Language Teacher. I’ll share a story from my teaching days.
As an educator, your goal is to teach a lesson disguised as entertainment so kids associate learning with fun. I pulled out all the stops to make my English lessons as entertaining as possible, with lots of vocabulary games and role-playing activities. My students were so engaged, they wouldn’t want to leave when the class was over. That’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it?
As the bell rang, they would still be in their seats waiting for another assignment. The end-of-class conversation would always go like this. Me “Students, the class is over.” Students “No, we want to play some more.” Me “Do you have any questions about your homework?” Students “Can we play another game now?” Me “No questions, great, see you next time.” Students “See, we don’t want to leave, that means we enjoy your class.”
Once I had to leave town, and a substitute teacher was sent in. When I came back I was greeted by a bunch of grumpy third-graders. So they’re just standing there in front of the classroom, with their arms crossed. Oh no, something bad is about to go down. Students “We have a bone to pick with you. You weren’t here last week. The substitute teacher was so boring, we all pretended to be sick and went home.” I’m trying to not grin at the thought that I might be irreplaceable. “Lying is not okay. I’m here now. Let’s learn some English.” Everyone cheered.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
Here are some crucial building blocks of success in my experience. These are in no particular order.
Believe in yourself. Pretty sure you’ve heard this one before, but my success was built on self-belief. Both in life and in business, I saw my dreams come to pass much-much-much faster when my self-belief was indestructible. It was so strong, that even if a crowd of naysayers was following me 24/7 telling me I wouldn’t succeed, I would tune them out, and not notice there were there.
Work hard. There’s no substitution, let me say that again, no substitution for hard work. You’ll need iron-clad self-discipline, but that’s just a matter of making it your daily habit. It may take some time to get accustomed to, but once you start seeing the rewards your hard work brings, you’ll never want to slack off a day in your life.
Have a game plan. Always know exactly what steps you need to take to achieve your goals. Without a game plan, your dreams will never become a reality. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. You can always pivot if you have to, but you need something written down to start.
Take care of your health. This is instrumental in achieving your goals. You can’t be your best self if you are not 100% healthy. Live a healthy lifestyle, always watch what you eat, and work out regularly. Not only will it make you more productive at work, but it will also lead to a longer life, will make you look younger, and save you money in the long run! Just think about it — no medical bills!
Exercise your brain. Always find time to learn something new, be it a new skill or a foreign language. Not only will it boost your intelligence and improve your memory, but it will also help you become more accomplished down the road. Knowledge is power!
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My father. He was an engineer by trade and a very creative person by nature. He turned the balcony in our condo into his workshop slash darkroom at night. He was constantly either building something or making prints from negatives. There was a window between my room and the balcony, and his workbench was right in front of my window. Every night my parents sent me to bed pretty early, so when they thought I was sleeping, I was actually watching my father craft another masterpiece in his workshop.
I watched his creativity unfold as he worked on projects like transforming a dull-looking vinyl player into the swankiest music device with flashing lights. Yes, it was the 80s! Watching him set the aperture on the enlarger and dip the photo paper in a development bath is what got me interested in the technical elements of film production, instilled in me a sense of wonder, and encouraged me to pursue a creative career.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?
Being a parent is not easy. My goal is to make the journey a little easier and more enjoyable for parents and caregivers around the globe by producing educational and meaningful content. Project First America produces TV para niños, a Spanish-language YouTube channel that features educational content geared towards preschool-aged children. Our shows are not only a valuable tool to teach your kids Spanish, but they also teach important social skills, like getting along with other children, accepting other children’s differences, sticking with difficult tasks, being kind to others, and believing in themselves.
The narrator in our popular animated series Leo the Truck, a parent archetype, helps our characters identify their own emotions and those of others, so they can manage their emotions better. Our shows teach empathy, which is at the heart of emotional intelligence.
Thanks to the unprecedented success of TV para niños, we now have a huge and very loyal following worldwide. Our shows have been watched over 1.6 billion times and we have fans in 160 countries. I’m so grateful and thankful to our very engaged audience. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to drop us a line to say thank you and for sharing our content with everyone you know. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We wouldn’t be where we are today without you! We’re working very hard to make sure more families have access to our educational programming around the globe.
Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
I minored in education in college and I’ve always been a keen learner. I got into children’s programming to encourage learning and help parents set a good example for their kids and assist them in navigating in society better.
TV para niños shows are in Spanish. Speaking from experience, introducing your child to a foreign language at an early age will change their life for the better. Foreign languages instill in you a childlike sense of wonder which helps you be more creative down the road. Most importantly, when you learn another language, you immerse yourself in another culture, which will later foster conversations about differences, diversity, and will help parents teach kids acceptance of others and their cultures. The concept of diversity takes various forms. It’s not just about the color of the skin, it’s also about your cultural background. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants with a plethora of multicultural communities. Teaching our kids a foreign language is the first step towards acceptance.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
It wasn’t a person, as much as my personal experience. I was exposed to a different culture growing up, which strongly impacted my worldview, taught me acceptance and tolerance, and planted the seeds for my future.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
1) Parents can encourage learning by setting a good example. If you want your kids to learn a foreign language, learn with them! You can do 10–15 minutes of language learning a day. It’s so much better than if you do it once a week for an hour. Make friends with people from other cultures.
2) Educators can have a Foreign-Language Day event at school. It can be similar to a Career Day, but in this case, you can invite people from different countries and have them talk about their language, culture, and traditions. Have the guests bring their favorite dishes from their home countries, share their favorite song or a TV show.
3) Government can provide more funding for international school exchange programs. I was fortunate to have gotten a Fulbright scholarship, and I met a lot of brilliant Fulbright Scholars from all over the world. It was a life-changing experience and I hope more kids can have it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.
I would refer to three of the tips I shared earlier.
1) Believe in yourself. No one ever encouraged me to believe in myself. Not because they didn’t wish me well, but because they weren’t familiar with the concept themselves. I had to arrive at it on my own, which took some time.
2) Have a game plan. A lot of people pursue the wrong career path to fulfill their parents’ dreams. They’d rather be miserable than tell their family “no” when they steamroll them in the wrong direction. I am defiant by nature, so I politely declined my family’s not so gentle nudges to follow a career path in which I had no interest. They finally came to terms with it twenty years later!
3) Take care of your health. When I just started running the business, I worked 24/7, self-care wasn’t even on my mind. As a result, my health deteriorated, and to make matters worse, I suffered burnout. Burnout should be avoided at all costs because it takes a while to cure. It took me 3 years to fully recover, so now I put my health first.
4) You absolutely can create the life you want, you just need to work hard for it. and
5) Stay away from toxic people. These two are self-explanatory!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
I believe learning a foreign language should be an important part of an anti-bias curriculum at school. We need to teach kids about cultural differences from a very young age when they just start to develop a sense of self.
Bilingual adults with knowledge of other cultures will contribute to society by translating their understanding of cultural differences into actions with social impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
“If you can dream it, you can do it.”- Walt Disney
It was a beautiful quote art print I saw on the wall in Loyola Marymount University Film School. It resonates with me because like I said earlier having a great deal of self-belief will help you climb every mountain.
Also, this quote helped me develop a guiding principle — whenever an opportunity presents itself, always say “yes” and figure out how to do it later. You will not be disappointed.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Arianna Huffington. She is such an inspiration. Her mission to end the burnout epidemic hits me close to home because the negative effects of burnout spilled over into every area of my life. I love her posts on social media. They are full of insights, have been instrumental in my recovery from burnout, taught me to practice self-care and being kind to myself.
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!