If you were narrating your story, what would it sound like?
And she lived happily ever after.
I come from a very traditional Middle Eastern family. My father ended up with four girls and no boys, and so he had to redirect his thinking about girls. He taught us that we could accomplish whatever we wanted – we were high achieving and education was very important. At the same time, they could not have been more conservative and sheltered in their approach. I was the middle child: always pushing the envelope, questioning, and challenging much of what my parents were accustomed to from a cultural standpoint.
My first career was in marketing for large packaged goods companies, and then I left and started an event planning business and stationary business in New York. That was my first foray into being on your own – less stable, less secure. I felt I would succeed because I had control over it. And I knew I was going to work really hard. I grew up always keeping in mind that lesson of ‘we can do anything.”
I don’t think I realized how much of a gift that was until I started that first business and applied for my first loan. The banker said: “You know 90% of businesses in New York fail, right?” And I said: “I never even thought about that as an option. That’s not part of the plan.” That life lesson made me always push forward. My kids would probably say that was a lesson I imparted to them, for better or worse.
Then, about 21 years ago, I helped get Wetzel’s Pretzels up and running. I worked with them to develop the business and I owned several stores.
What are you doing now?
I’ve shifted gears; I’ve sold all but one of my Wetzel’s stores, and I’m getting more involved in long-term commercial and residential real estate investing. And then, actually, two people came to me recently and asked for my help starting a business. I’m determined – this is it for me, this is the last one. Hopefully I’ll slow down at some point and find something else that I really embrace and enjoy.
What were the hardest decisions you had to make in the past?
Everyone needs a purpose. For me, I wanted my accomplishments to be having a family and doing some sort of work. I took the path of starting a business. I’m not sure it was a hard decision, actually, because for me it was easier to have my own business than to work for someone else. I could control my environment. I watched my sisters struggling with that push pull of full-time corporate work – Am I spending enough time with my kids? Am I short-changing my work? My decision was, “I’m going to find a way to do something that gives me a sense of accomplishment but also allows me to be with my family.”
How did those decisions turn out? Any regrets?
Not for a minute. I love the decision I made. The downside: working for yourself is more stressful and it’s harder. But the upside – having that control – far out weighed the downside for me. My kids always joke that their first words were ‘May I help you?’ instead of ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’ They learned a great work ethic.
Are there things that you spent years stressing out about that turned out to not really be that big of a deal?
Yeah: the small stuff. Worrying about such ridiculous things – I really got caught up in what people thought too much. I should have stepped back and said: “Do what’s right for you and move on.” If I could live it over, I wouldn’t get caught up in the minutiae.
What do you wish you had spent more time doing over the years?
Really taking some portion of every day and redirecting it to me, to a slowing down process. I would have had a little more of that – whether it’s 30 minutes or whatever – every day. And it would have made a difference.
How have you balanced your and your partner's goals and ambitions with your marriage?
I would say that for the first 20 years I put my husband’s career first even though I had my own career. I know I did. I was raised in a traditional environment. I didn’t really stop or think that I needed to resent that. I felt like I could do it all – which you cannot, that’s ridiculous! I worked around his career and got the most I could out of mine. When he retired, we shifted, and my career became the more important one.
What would you say your highlights have been?
Definitely getting married and having four fabulous, unique children. Having a successful and interesting career. Surviving cancer. And just being here! Moving to California, I love it here.
And the low points?
Surviving cancer! But that’s ridiculous; who cares, right? I survived it, I’m done with it. I would say watching my parents deteriorate. That breaks your heart.
What do you think has changed the most for women over your lifetime?
The good news is that those who get it, the lean in theory and all, they go out there and really get it. They get what they need and work hard to accomplish what they want and don’t let things hold them back. The bad news is that women still worry far too much about what other women think – particularly the younger generation. They’re not doing themselves any favors by succumbing to the pressures of social approval.
What would you like to see continue to change and improve for women?
It’s unfortunate, but back in my day, those who worked and those who didn’t never really met. Those who didn’t work resented those who did. And those who did were so guilt-ridden that they had an attitude about it as well. The support that needs to be given to both just didn’t happen. I always downplayed that I had a business. And then women would call me and ask me to pick up their kids at school because they got pulled into a meeting, and I was like, “What the hell?” But that was my own fault, because I downplayed it. And I did that because I knew that people judged. Those who stayed home judged, and those who worked judged. The more that changes the better. And that women think for themselves and follow their instincts. That last part is really important.
Looking back at the past 50 or so years, what words of wisdom would you have?
Follow your instincts. Any time I did, it was good. Any time I didn’t, and allowed too much external influence, it was the wrong decision. And then see and do the best you can with what God gave you. It’s not about anything around you. It’s about living up to that standard: giving your best. And enjoying that – use your gift and enjoy it.
Where do you see yourself in five years, ten years? What does "retirement" look like to you?
Spending more time in places I love and just having more downtime. Places I love with people I love. Finding some interests that keep me stimulated. Life never gets simpler, that’s for damn sure.
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Letting go of people’s expectations of me. I know that’s a general thing to say. But I feel like this year, has been transformative for me. I’m Palestinian-American and a Muslim-American, but I don’t look like what people’s stereotype of those.