Alexis Ohanian Checks His Privilege in His Get With the Times Interview and He Deserves the Hype

The New York Times’ Get With the Times series centers around “inspiring young people to get involved in the issues that matter to them the most.” In their most recent installment, they took the party to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business to interview alum Alexia Ohanian. Many of you may know Ohanian as the co-founder of Reddit, co-founder of Initialized Capital, or, simply, as Serena Williams’ husband. Truth be told I only knew him as her husband and went into this viewing party with no expectations. So, you can imagine my surprise when Ohanian tackled some touchy issues head-on with more poise and honesty than I can remember ever seeing. 

Here are some of the highlights and my commentary from his Get With the Times interview with NYT business reporter Sapna Maheshwari.

As I expected the interview started with some background on Ohanian. He’s an entrepreneur and tech investor who got his start at UVA with his roommate Steve Huffman who remains CEO to this day, he’s written a best-selling book, and has funded over 100 start-ups as part of his venture capital firm, just to name a few of his credentials. 

Photo credit: Reddit

They went on to discuss how he spent his college years, “I was pre-MED for a week like a lot of kids,” he said before explaining he walked into a chemistry class and had no idea what was going on and decided premed was not for him. Those of us who have suffered through chem 101 here at BU can relate. 

Ohanian went on to explain that he was a self-proclaimed overachiever who double majored and minored and spent a whole lot of time in the library at school. But, when asked what he would change about those years if he could, his response really struck a chord with me. “I still had fun but I wish had given myself more freedom to care less about my GPA,” he said while also noting he wished he had branched out with classes.

Photo credit: The New York Times

I think we can all relate to putting way too much pressure on ourselves to do well in college between participation, projects, exams, extra credit, extracurriculars, and everything else encompassed within the college experience. Needless to say, he had me listening, but when he began talking about fatherhood and how family and mental health need to be priorities, he truly had me hooked. 

He began digging into his work-life balance by explaining how he needs great stories to tell his daughter, Alexis Olympia, known as Olympia, because as of right now, Serena is killing that game. But, he also wants to spark her curiosity with the ideas of the people he meets with every day. 

It was at this point he began talking about the importance of CEOs acknowledging the need for coaching when it comes to mental health so the business world can break the “toxic culture of self-sacrifice” and move away from this idea of constantly needing to hustle. People need “balance and respite or it becomes self-destructive” according to Ohanian. 

He said he began learning this lesson when it came to taking the entirety of his parental leave. He spent a decent portion of the interview really hitting home that one of the most important, if not the most important, parts of work-life balance is having your priorities straight and for Ohanian, family comes first. He’s also glad that he’s getting this question of how do you balance your personal and professional lives more because, as he so fabulously said, “if I were a mom exec I’d be asked this every day […] Why shouldn’t a business dad be asked this question?”

He even fessed up to feeling like he doesn’t do enough and that, while he tries to keep weekends sacred for family time, keeping up his relationship with his wife can be a struggle and a challenge. But, at the end of the day, “I want to make sure that I’m there and I show up when she [Serena] counts on me and I know I can get the same out of her.” Thank god for Google Calendar syncing and FaceTime. 

Photo credit: Hello Magazine

He also tackled the issues of immigration and white privilege without dipping into very sticky territory. By that I mean he didn’t really say anything wildly political or radical; rather, he just explained how his mother came here as an undocumented immigrant and overstayed her visa by three years just because she wanted a life and a family in America. 

Unfortunately, his mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer when he was fresh out of college and starting up Reddit, but this gave him a huge reality check and a “superpower” of perspective as he labeled it, “None of the s**t that wasn’t people or experience didn’t matter at the end of the day” when she was dying. 

In terms of white privilege, he kept it simple saying “I’m a white dude who has basically walked into every room feeling like I kinda belong there” before saying his parents were his greatest mentors. 

I know this is a lot to digest and quite frankly he tells it much better than I do, but I hope this whets your appetite enough to watch the interview. I truly don’t think you’ll regret the hour spent listening to him, I know I sure don’t. It was ridiculously enlightening and he kept it super friendly and personal by engaging with the audience and telling jokes for some comic relief when things got a bit heavy or serious. 

Be sure to check out the full interview here and stay tuned for the next guest on Get With the Times, thus far they’ve been amazing and make sure to check out Ashley Graham's interview as well which was equally inspiring and hilarious. 

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