Christina Furnival of ‘Real Life Mama’: “You need a growth mindset!”

You need a growth mindset!When you run a business, KPIs are important. They tell you how your business is doing! But, they are just data to learn from. If you employ a growth mindset to your entrepreneurship, you can view your KPIs and all other ups and downs as information, not as your or your […]

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You need a growth mindset!
When you run a business, KPIs are important. They tell you how your business is doing! But, they are just data to learn from. If you employ a growth mindset to your entrepreneurship, you can view your KPIs and all other ups and downs as information, not as your or your business’ identity. With a growth mindset, you see setbacks as learning opportunities, and you strive to do better instead of letting a bad month get you down.

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Furnival, MA, LPCC.

Christina Furnival is a wife, a mother to two young children, a licensed psychotherapist (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor #2719), the founder of her website and the therapeutic motherhood blog, Real Life Mama, and a soon-to-be-published author of children’s social and emotional learning and wellness books. Christina has had over a decade of practice in the mental health field, working in hospital programs, outpatient clinics, domestic violence shelters, and most recently providing services via telehealth. Christina and her husband are raising their family in San Diego where they love to spend time walking at the beach, exploring on hikes, whipping up masterpieces in the kitchen, and having wild dance parties in the living room.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you for interviewing me!

I can pinpoint the turning point in my backstory to a singular day in March five years ago — the day I became a mother. In that instant, I was no longer acquainted with myself and who I thought I was. Before having children, I was a licensed psychotherapist who specialized in working with youth and their families. I loved working with kids and I could not wait to have my own to raise. I also believed that I would adore being a stay-at-home mom, having made that choice before my first child arrived.

But after I gave birth, what should have been a positive life-changing experience felt more akin to an earth-shattering one. I struggled through months of postpartum depression and anxiety, and I felt a seismic shift in my view of myself. I loved my children to bits, but I did not feel fulfilled by staying home and mothering full-time. I needed something for myself, and ideally something related to my career since I did not want to close that door completely.

So, I began to write.

In February 2019, my writings became my blog, Real Life Mama, which is a motherhood blog with a mental health therapist’s twist, and have since also turned into children’s social/emotional learning and wellness books. On my website and blog, I share openly and honestly about my personal and professional experience as it relates to authentic motherhood in order for other moms to feel seen and supported. In my children’s books, I empower and equip children and their parents to navigate common experiences such as prickly friendships, fear and anxiety, and low self-esteem. And last year, at the outset of the pandemic, I began providing mental health therapy to adults using a telehealth platform!

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Much of the media we consume presents a curated version of what motherhood “should” look like, which sets us up to fail. The reality is that motherhood is messy — physically and emotionally — and when we compare our imperfect experience to the manufactured falsehoods we’ve been told, we feel defeated and inferior.

Reflecting upon my own journey, as well as those of my friends, family, colleagues, and clients, I realized there needs to be a shift. Moms need to support other moms, and the facades of perfection need to be dropped. I knew I could do that through my writing where I would shed light on the raw and the real. In my work, I paint a more true-to-life picture that normalizes that life is not flawless, that mothering is hard, and that we are fit for the job.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Before starting my business I would’ve said with an emphatic “no” that I was not a natural-born entrepreneur. My personality traits did not align with what I thought an entrepreneur was. Historically, I have been a people-pleasing, formula-following person. I’m a great worker bee — tell me what to do, and I can do it quickly and well. My strengths and comforts are in following a prescribed path, so much so that I remember hating when professors would let me and my classmates choose our own topics for projects. It felt too wide open; I wanted parameters! I thought natural entrepreneurs must thrive without those confines, so I didn’t think I could be one.

That said, I have always had a leader’s instinct. I love to help, support, and impact others. I am not shy to use my voice and step into the limelight. My path to becoming an entrepreneur was unexpected, as I didn’t realize when I began my blog that, in essence, I was starting a business! But now that I’m on this path, I am loving it and I am thrilled to see my business evolve. In addition to providing therapy, writing on my blog and other renowned publications, public speaking, and guest-starring on several podcasts, I am a soon-to-be-published author of children’s social/emotional learning and wellness books! I am finding different ways to apply my strengths, and I am taking on the challenge of improving my less-developed skills with excitement.

Over the past two years, my view of what an entrepreneur is has changed, and I see ever more clearly that I was, in fact, made for this. I would now say simply that an entrepreneur is someone who has a purpose and is fueled by passion. They are someone who may not always know what they are doing, but they do it anyway and hope for the best.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

My husband and I have some amazing friends, and many of them are entrepreneurs in varied industries. We are hugely inspired by them, and they have been a great support as I toss around ideas and make decisions for my business.

One friend who I have always been in awe of is David De Leon with Of the Lion Fitness in Austin, Texas. We met almost 20 years ago, as teenagers on a family cruise to Alaska. Even though we were young when we met, I could tell he had something special. He ran his own gumball machine business and actually brought in a decent income. I had never heard of someone our age doing something like that! What I find so impressive about David is that he doesn’t let fear — or the lack of well-laid plans — hold him back. He didn’t wait until his ducks were in a row to make strides towards his business dreams. “What ifs” didn’t occur to him; he just acted. I think of David’s approach often when I am considering what is next for my business.

Throughout our years of friendship, he began other endeavors (including buying and selling antiques and running a gym out of his garage), and several years ago now he began his fitness empire with his lovely wife Courtney. Together they are taking over the world, I’m telling you!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My business stands out because as a licensed psychotherapist, mother, writer, and children’s book author, I have a unique perspective that informs the way I approach everything I do. I have a true desire to help, and I have the expertise to be able to do so.

My supportive and educational writing is anecdotal, relatable, and conversational, at the same time that it is evidence-based and draws from my profession’s theories and approaches. I write articles about motherhood, identity, parenting, relationships, and mental health through the lens of being an imperfect person and mental healthcare professional. I make therapy tactics accessible to a broader audience in both my articles and books. My children’s books are rhythmic and entertaining for children while being practical and helpful. They are special as well because even though they are directed at youth, parents can glean a lot including how to talk with their children about the topics at hand.

Additionally, I am a confident public speaker and have been fortunate enough to give presentations and talks on various mental health and motherhood topics, as well as to be a podcast guest on several podcasts.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Thank you! I feel honored to be supporting parents and children through my business, and I hope that anyone looking to start a business finds the fulfillment and opportunities that I have found.

I would say the three character traits that are most instrumental to my success are my authenticity, my self-assuredness, and my drive.

In terms of authenticity, I am unapologetically myself. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I give with all I’ve got, I see the best in others, and I set my goals high. I am direct and upfront as much as I can be while being compassionate and supportive. I am very empathic and I care about supporting others.

In terms of being self-assured, I know that my work is value-added and that my purpose guides what I do. I have worked very hard to get where I am today, and I am proud of what I’ve accomplished.

And in terms of my drive, I finish what I start, and I always do my best. I set goals, and then I figure out how I can achieve them. I am the author of my own story, and I am going to make sure it has a darn good ending.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Oh, that’s a tough one — usually, I hold on to the advice that serves me and let go of what doesn’t. I guess I would say I don’t follow the general advice that we’ve all heard: ”You can’t do it all”. I disagree. I believe that you can be a human with your own wants and needs, a spouse, a parent, a friend, an entrepreneur — whatever you want to be! The challenge is in the push and pull, the give and take. Some life areas will take a back seat while your focus is on others, but I do think with prioritization and focus, you can have it all and do it all. I won’t let anybody tell me otherwise.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Burnout is common, especially right now with the pandemic and its impact on our lives. The best thing we can do is to stop it before it comes to a head by being proactive, which involves mindfulness and an action plan. If we aren’t aware that we are heading towards burnout, we are helpless to stop it. So by being mindful and aware of our warning signs, we can try to regroup before we’re burned out.

The question to ask yourself is, “What are your warning signs?” They might be that you are finding yourself more irritable with loved ones. Maybe you are having a harder time making decisions. Maybe you need a second (or fifth) coffee to make it through the day. Whatever your specific warning signs are, pay attention to them!

When your warning signs are present, then it’s time to put in place your action plan (which hopefully you have thought of ahead of time). This could involve setting boundaries in your personal or professional life, making sure your nutrition, movement, and sleep needs are being met, upping self-care, and prioritizing what you need to do and what you really don’t need to do (and letting those things drop for now). Think about what makes you feel refueled and fulfilled, and include those elements into your specific plan.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

This sounds obvious, but in order to be considered trustworthy, credible, and an authority, you need to be trustworthy, credible, and an authority. Be true to yourself and don’t try to conform to be somebody or something you’re not. Clients and consumers are switched on, and they can sense when you aren’t being genuine. Build trust by authentically connecting and relating. Build credibility by continually seeking out education and fine-tuning your skills. And demonstrate authority by consistently providing value.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Like I mentioned before about the falsely curated image of motherhood that society and media present and how harmful it is, the digital world we live in unfortunately provides ample opportunity for businesses and business leaders to present an inauthentic front. If you’re always showing up “filtered”, your audience is being deprived of the chance to get to know the real you and your true purpose. Your clients want to know who you are, why you tick, why you got into the business you’re in, and that you stand behind what you’re doing.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The two issues I am about to mention share one trait: fear.

One issue is when the entrepreneur fears failure. When you start a business, you need to begin with the end-game success in mind. If you don’t believe in your business and its ability to achieve its potential, or you are overly focused on the possibility of failure, it becomes easy to quit when the going gets tough. You create a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe your business will take off and do great things, and if you see any failures as opportunities for growth, you won’t let anything get in the way of realizing your goals and dreams.

Another issue is when a business owner fears delegation; they are afraid to entrust certain tasks to other skilled professionals. When a business starts, the founder often naturally wears all the hats. They are their own bookkeeper, web designer, marketer, social media manager, etc. In the beginning, it makes so much sense that the business must function that way, and depending on the entrepreneur’s skill set, it might be able to work with just the entrepreneur for a while. But most of the time, it stops working as the business grows, and that is when the business owner is best served by hiring professionals for specific roles and devoting their strengths to key areas of the business.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

When you work a more typical 9–5 job, you often have roles and responsibilities that are clearly defined, you have expectations of what can be accomplished, and you have regulations around how many hours you can work. When you own your own business, you don’t have any of those things. You work around the clock, the tasks that you have to be able to manage are incredibly varied, and you have to hold yourself accountable. Some tasks play on your strengths and others do not, which doesn’t feel good.

Also, businesses don’t always bring in money right away. As an entrepreneur, you work long and hard, for sometimes years before you see any income. In the process, your efforts can feel fruitless and without direction. Your business may do great one month or one quarter, and suffer the next, which leaves you guessing and analyzing.

Another reason there are so many highs and lows with entrepreneurship is that your business is your brainchild. The line between where you end and your business begins is blurry. You put your heart and soul into what you do, and it’s incredibly difficult to not take personally any setbacks, stressors, or obstacles. This also means that when your business takes off, you identify with its success and ride that high.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

The biggest high that I have gotten so far from my business is when my first children’s picture book manuscript was accepted by PESI Publishing,, and I signed the contract for my book deal! The idea for my first book, A Not-So-Friendly Friend — How to Set Boundaries for Healthy Friendships, came from wanting to help my children navigate difficult friendships. At first, it was just a cute rhyming story in the Notes app on my phone, where it lived for months before I decided to see about turning the story into a real book.

When I took the leap to submit my proposal to publishing houses, I was nervous and hopeful, and I couldn’t believe it when I heard back from PESI Publishing the very next day! I still want to pinch myself that my book is being published. I have gotten to work hand-in-hand with the illustrator, which is not common in the book publishing world believe it or not, and it’s been such a treat. I have gotten to put my artistic creativity to use in a way I had never imagined. The book is set to launch in September 2021 and I cannot wait. You will be able to buy it on PESI Publishing’s website, my website and Amazon!

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Just yesterday I got word that I would not be involved in a project I was very excited about.

A film production company had reached out to me to be the face of a project for a big box store. After official auditions, and many back and forths, we were set to shoot next week. And then it fell through — the big box store decided to go a different direction with their campaign.

I am understandably bummed and it would be easy to spiral into self-doubt. It is hard to not take the project’s demise personally, but I know that through the process I am now connected with some amazing people that may reach out to me for future projects. And this opportunity found me, which feels encouraging. I hope, and expect, that there are more that will come my way in the future.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

In order to bounce back from feeling low and vulnerable, we’ve got to keep perspective. There will always be obstacles, problems, and challenges, AND there will always be times where things go smoothly and you have successes. We often let the negative feel big and shade how we experience our day, and we brush off the positives as no big deal, but if we celebrated the positive just as big, it would make a difference!

Pay attention to what your inner voice is saying, and if it is being mean to you and making judgments on your character or talents, it’s time to truth-test your thoughts and look for evidence that disproves your negative, unhelpful thoughts. Because here’s the deal: you don’t have to believe everything you think. Your thoughts are based on patterns of interacting with the world around you, and sometimes those patterns don’t serve you anymore, meaning your thoughts or perspective may be wrong.

I could tell myself that the big box store deal fell through because I wasn’t good enough, but if I truth-test my thoughts, I can say that I don’t know that to be the truth. The objective fact is that the project isn’t happening, but I don’t know the reason why. So instead I will say to myself, “I’m gutted the project isn’t happening but that’s not a reflection of me. I did my best. Hopefully, something else will come my way.” Our perspective shapes how we feel about an event, and we have the power to meta think (think about our thoughts), assess them for validity, and identify more helpful ones to help us get through the lows.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. You need to keep your eye on your PURPOSE for starting your business in the first place! 
    It is so easy to get caught up in the daily ups and downs, the stressors, and the challenges of being an entrepreneur, but if you are able to keep your focus on why you got started with your business in the first place, you create a buffer. If someone critiques you, but you know that you are living your purpose and staying true to yourself, then it’s easier to ignore the critics. If your profits are less than expected, but you know you are providing value and doing your best in accordance with your “why”, you can keep pushing forward.
  2. You need to be mindful and have an action plan!
    Mindfulness often conjures images of yogis and meditation, and those are great, but when I speak of mindfulness I am referring simply to being aware and intentional. With the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, it’s important to notice how you are doing and make necessary changes before you feel burnt out. You can gauge your stress levels on a spectrum of 1–10, or you can acknowledge when you are exhibiting certain stress-related behaviors such as irritability and low patience. Learn your early warning signs of burnout, and intervene before you peak. That may mean you take a vacation day, you set better boundaries around professional and personal relationships, or you do something that fulfills you like walking in nature or spending time with your loved ones.
  3. You need to practice metathinking!
    Metathinking is to think about thinking. This relates to mindfulness and specifically means that you are more active in your thinking process. There is a relationship between thoughts, feelings and actions, and often we feel a certain way without stopping to examine what thoughts we are having that may be fueling negative emotions. Our inner voice and thoughts are unhelpful a lot of the time, especially when we are weighed down by the stress of owning a business. If we engage in metathinking, we think about our thoughts, and then we can notice and catch ourselves using unhelpful and unproductive thoughts such as “I am an idiot,” “I’ll never succeed,” etc. We can then create more helpful thoughts to think about instead. These need to be truthful, but from a different perspective. For example, we could change those thoughts to “I am smart and capable even if I don’t feel like it,” and “Success doesn’t come without obstacles.”
  4. You need a growth mindset!
    When you run a business, KPIs are important. They tell you how your business is doing! But, they are just data to learn from. If you employ a growth mindset to your entrepreneurship, you can view your KPIs and all other ups and downs as information, not as your or your business’ identity. With a growth mindset, you see setbacks as learning opportunities, and you strive to do better instead of letting a bad month get you down.
  5. You need a support system!
    The four tips listed above are how you can help yourself to manage the highs and lows of being a business owner. This fifth tip recognizes that we as human beings all need the support of others along the way. A good support system is key. You need people to lean on, bounce ideas off of, vent to, and celebrate with. If you don’t naturally have that support in friends and family, then you can look to professional networks, groups, and associations. You may have to put effort into finding your crew, but you’ll be glad you did!

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I would define resilience as the ability to persevere in the face of challenge and discomfort. If you couldn’t tell already, I think so much comes down to mindset! People who are resilient know there will be hard times and difficulties, and they keep going because they know they can tolerate the discomfort those times bring.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

I grew up with some medical complications that resulted in illness or hospital visits at different times in my youth. It would be easy to identify myself as a poorly child, or unlucky, or whatever negative term we could think of. But I don’t.

I owe that to my mom and dad, who were hugely supportive, were great advocates, and who allowed me to feel what I needed as I went through the different challenges. At the same time, they never made me feel different or less than for my experience. In particular, my mom highlighted my strengths and my ability to overcome adversity. She helped me see how great it was when I felt well, and how capable I was to handle the times when I wasn’t well. That approach to my health has generalized into how I approach life in general.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Yes, in general, I do keep a positive attitude during difficult situations. Now of course I, like anybody else, have emotions that take over at times. There are periods where I am sad and wallow in it. And there are periods where I’m angry and see red. But overall, I am an optimistic person and I keep a positive attitude. When times get tough, I acknowledge and accept what’s hard, and I actively look for the good, make a plan, and trudge onward. My practice in mindfulness and metathinking, as well as my confidence in my skills and ability to navigate challenges, enable me to keep such a positive or optimistic attitude.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

A leader’s positive attitude is so powerful because it sets the tone for the team and for the company culture. From there, the company culture and attitude inform the client’s expectations and experience.

My husband Tom Furnival is the VP of Marshall Institute. He works hard to have a positive attitude in his daily life and in his work. He lives and breathes what he practices, and is even a public speaker on the Leadership Mindset!

Tom is driven by his purpose, which is to support his team in achieving their potential, within the bigger mission and vision of his company. He sees his team as the three-dimensional people they are, not just employees or contractors, and as such he treats them with kindness, compassion, and respect. Tom checks in on them regularly, gives credit where it’s due, and celebrates their successes. He humbly tackles and takes on responsibilities that are beyond his job description. Tom highlights the team’s and business’ successes, and he is always looking to grow and learn.

The way Tom engages with his team has led to a cohesive unit where everyone wants to do what they can to support their and the company’s success. And from there, the clients benefit because they are hiring a healthy, goal-oriented company capable of meeting their needs.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

One of my favorite inspirational quotes is “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” by Henry Ford. If you haven’t picked up on it already, I believe mindset is everything. This statement by the successful businessman and industrialist speaks to the power of mindset and self-efficacy in accomplishing your goals.

I actually say this quote to my children often! I want them to know how capable they are to reach for the stars and achieve what they aim to. And when they encounter an obstacle, I want them to know that they can work through it. If they feel they must say “I can’t do it,” we make sure to tack on the word “yet”, which changes the entire meaning from one of definitive inability to one of growth and capability.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I would love for your readers to reach out to me and say hello! They can find and follow me online at my website, and on social media — my Instagram handle is @ThisIsRealLifeMama and my Facebook page is Christina Furnival Real Life Mama. Also, I hope they purchase a copy of my first children’s book, A Not-So-Friendly Friend, in my Capable Kiddos social/emotional learning book series on my website and Amazon!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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