Alex Blumberg’s strength—what, when talking to investor Chris Sacca, he might call his “unfair advantage”— is his ability to craft educational narratives which develop characters both vulnerable and likeable. It is this strength that the first episode of Start Up’s mini-season showcases.
The first episode focuses on Alex and his wife Nazanin grappling with a new life decision: if she should leave her executive producer position at The Rachel Maddow Show and join him at Gimlet Media. I love Nazanin and Alex’s conversations, which cover everything from the business’s impact on home life to the self-doubt that results from constantly defending your best idea.
Early in the episode, Nazanin considers the impact of this change on their financial security, their marriage, and Gimlet’s workplace dynamic. “All of that stuff is, like, real stuff,” she says, in the tone of someone contemplating life changes so drastic that their gravity becomes difficult to articulate.
My favorite part is a conversation between Alex and Nazanin after a difficult morning getting their children to school. Nazanin realizes that her long hours at The Rachel Maddow Show—which often preclude her from being home for her children’s bedtime—have forced Alex to take on more childcare than he might have given a choice. She worries how that might change if she works normal hours, especially because it is still somewhat unusual for a father to take the lead in the home: “I feel like the only reason why you played such a big role in all that stuff these last like, 4-5 years, is because I wasn’t physically present.”
Alex could have spent a lot of time arguing Nazanin’s assertion—after all, I think many fathers would like to believe that they would develop relationships with their children regardless of their spouse’s professional obligations—and maybe he did, off the record. But his response (recorded later, outside of the conversation) invokes the confessional honesty that is a hallmark of this podcast.
“I’m worried about that too, frankly,” he admits. “If Nazanin had had a normal schedule, I’d have said no [to professional responsibilities] a lot less. Perhaps so much less that we’d have turned into one of those couples where the dad doesn’t know all the stuff that I know now.” (cue endearing tidbits about his children).
Start Up addresses one of our societal debates du jour without ever veering from the personal to the pedagogical. Nazanin and Alex feel committed to gender equality in the home, but they also feel a little helpless as circumstances have dictated a shift from the unconventional to the traditional. In a vacuum, this shift of balance would be just another example of give-and-take in a relationship. But in a society that often puts the burden of eradicating gender norms on women, imploring them to lean in and resist bearing the brunt of domestic responsibility, this change makes Nazanin uneasy. Similarly, Alex enjoys being a father who is in the trenches and has gained a unique understanding of his children’s quirks.
Though societal expectations have long deemed professional sacrifice more acceptable for women and personal sacrifice more acceptable for men, Nazanin and Alex’s honest conversation demonstrates that neither men nor women are ever completely content with their concessions. And leaving aside the gender role implications, the candidness with which they discuss restructuring their lives reminds me that some of the greatest difficulties in relationships arise in quotidian logistical snafus. 1
I won’t reveal Nazanin’s decision here. It’s irrelevant—the beauty of the episode lies in the honesty of the process and its reinforcement of transparency’s power—good for business, great for storytelling.
- I’m still pitching my version of The Bachelor, where contestants would be forced to manage a household together for a month. Decidedly less glamorous, but I’m certain it would yield a higher success rate. ^
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