The reinvention of Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook founder turns 40 eager to leave labels aside

The owner of Meta, with a fortune of $177 billion, is very different today from the Harvard nerd who founded the social media company 20 years ago

Mark Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg during the UFC 298 event at the Honda Center on February 17, 2024 in Anaheim, California.Chris Unger (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
María Porcel

Reaching the age of 40 is a milestone, whoever you are. Forty is a rite of passage, an awareness of adulthood and of one’s own mortality. It is a midpoint for looking back, then forward and, probably, back again, as Mark Zuckerberg will probably do on May 14, when the once prodigious tech genius blows out the candles with his wife, Priscilla Chan, and their three daughters. They are the only ones who know the depth of the well-documented midlife crisis the Facebook founder is experiencing, and have the only window into what is really going on in Zuck’s mind, as he is popularly known.

Some might think: crisis, what crisis? How can the man who has everything be in crisis? Health, strength (sports have become increasingly important to him over the years), a large and stable family (in addition to Priscilla and his daughters Max, August, and Aurelia, he has his parents and three sisters), a home (several, in fact), a technological legacy, fame, and a fortune estimated by Forbes at $177 billion, placing him fourth on the publication’s 2024 World Billionaires List.

Maybe that’s where the crisis comes from. Because others might think: what’s missing when you’ve got it all? If the millennial generation dodges this crisis precisely by having very little and hardly any stability, perhaps Zuckerberg is even tired of himself. He’s spent half his life being seen as a global egghead, coming up with solutions that turn into problems and looking for more solutions to fix them. He is considered one of the most powerful men in the world, but also, despite his simple image (simplistic, according to some), complex, dangerous and among the people who have caused the most damage to global society with the issues arising from social networks — lack of privacy, fake news, mental health problems, harm to children (in January a U.S. senator even told the Meta CEO and several colleagues that they had “blood on their hands;” he apologized to the parents present) — and, in general, immense global anger. Reaching 40 and ruminating, beyond money and mansions, must be complex for certain consciences.

As he turns 40, there are many more milestones for Zuckerberg. In February 2004 he founded what was then called Thefacebook. This year, the platform turns 20. Meta’s social networks — Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram — are used by almost four billion people. It is also 20 years since he first met his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The life and image of the Harvard boy who was about to be expelled from campus for using the personal data of students to produce a kind of online yearbook — the origins of Facebook — are very different today. Zuckerberg is trying to shed that label of university nerd that has followed him around for so long. He is also trying to leave behind the image of an intense Silicon Valley geek, who for years sported a gray t-shirt as a minimalist uniform — “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” he told a forum years ago — and that of the capricious rich guy who bought his neighbors’ houses to ensure his own privacy. Now he seems to be looking for something different, beyond labels.

For the 40-year-old Zuckerberg, family is a priority; there is no doubt that his daughters are the center of his life. He displays this in his talks and on his own social networks, where he is often seen taking them out (especially Max, the eldest, who will be nine in November), playing sports, hiking in Yosemite, dressing up on Halloween or following Jewish traditions, something he has never abandoned. He has barely spoken out on the Israel-Hamas conflict, other than saying last October “the terrorist attacks by Hamas are pure evil.”

Another passion of the newly minted quadragenerian is Hawaiian cows, as odd as that sounds. It was 10 years ago, in late 2014, when news broke that the businessman had bought a huge piece of land in Hawaii for around $100 million. His arrival on Kauai was initially not to the islanders’ liking, but many now work for him under strict confidentiality agreements. His Koolau ranch, in the northeast of the island, according to The Times consists of 570 hectares and two mansions of 5,300 square meters (plus a bunker of almost 500 square meters) protected by two-meter walls. There he raises wagyu and angus cows on Macadamia nuts from his own trees — which his daughters help him plant — and home-brewed beer.

Planting trees and sports have become favorite hobbies: it is common to see Zuckerberg jogging or practicing martial arts, an interest that has earned him warnings from his own company, Meta, a company valued at $1.2 trillion. “Mr. Zuckerberg and certain other members of management participate in various high-risk activities, such as combat sports, extreme sports, and recreational aviation, which carry the risk of serious injury and death. If Mr. Zuckerberg were to become unavailable for any reason, there could be a material adverse impact on our operations,” read a company report issued in February. In fact, last November, he injured a ligament while training and had to undergo surgery.

Physical activity has also changed him physically, while his image has also evolved. He has moved away from the jeans and gray t-shirt with matching sweatshirt uniform and is taking more and more sartorial risks. A few weeks ago, he was given a beard in an internet mock-up and many praised the look; Gwyneth Paltrow even said he reminded her of her ex-husband, Coldplay singer Chris Martin. The New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman devoted a whole article to him called The Meta-morphosis of Mark Zuckerberg, where she developed the idea that his fresher image was “the most visible sign yet that in the phenomenology of Silicon Valley, we are entering a post-Jobsian age.”

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg on the red carpet for the 2020 Breakthrough Prize at NASA Ames Research Center on November 3, 2019 in Mountain View, California.
Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg on the red carpet for the 2020 Breakthrough Prize at NASA Ames Research Center on November 3, 2019 in Mountain View, California.Ian Tuttle (Getty Images for Breakthrough P)

His main rival these days is also a far cry from the late Steve Jobs and the absolute discretion exercised by the Apple co-founder. Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have an increasingly thinly veiled feud that nearly came to blows a few months ago. In June, Musk challenged Zuckerberg to a cage fight in Las Vegas. Musk’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, assured this newspaper in September that they were never serious: “It’s a total joke. It’s a metaphor. He’s not going into a cage to fight Mark Zuckerberg. He has a schoolboy sense of humor where he trolls people. He makes jokes. And other people don’t understand that one of his personalities is that of a juvenile prankster.”

The generally upward rollercoaster that has been Zuckerberg’s life has had one never-failing witness: Priscilla Chan. The doctor and half of their mutual foundation, to which they will donate 99% of their fortune, almost missed the ride: they met at a party with friends — a kind of farewell because he thought he was being kicked out of college — and Zuckerberg asked to meet her again, with one caveat: “I asked her out but told her we’d need to go out soon since I might only have a few days left,” he recalled in a recent post on Facebook. “Later on I started Facebook, we got married, and now have three wonderful girls. What a wild ride.” It may not be history’s most romantic declaration of love, but for the class computer geek 20 years later, it’s not bad.

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