The older I get the more I appreciate the importance of stress management. Mindfulness for me is about being present and living in the moment. When I am working I give my clients 100% of my attention and when I am on vacation with my husband I do not check my voice mail or e-mail. I tell my clients when I will return and who they can contact in my absence. I prefer to work hard and play hard. When I am spending time with someone they are the most important person to me.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing interviewing Paige Arnof-Fenn.
Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and digital branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am a child of the 60s and 70s who grew up in the Deep South. I am the oldest of 3 and was always a good student and athlete growing up, responsible and hard working. My father and both grandfathers were in business so I always thought I would go that route too. From a young age I loved sports, movies, TV and travel. I was an exchange student in France in high school and Italy in college. As an adult I have lived and worked in NYC, LA, Bay Area, Atlanta, DC, Cincinnati, etc. but have been in Boston for the past 20+ years. After graduating college with a degree in Economics, I started my career in finance on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing before they went public or were sold. I took the leap into entrepreneurship right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. I have never looked back and love being an entrepreneur.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I was raised to be responsible, honest, hard working, and confident all great qualities for an entrepreneur. Both my grandfathers were successful entrepreneurs and only one graduated from high school. My dad took a more traditional corporate path and my mom stayed at home and I had always assumed I would. go into business (vs law or medicine) and follow in my dad’s footsteps. After college I took a series of corporate jobs and got an MBA like my father but by my early 30s I knew I had more of the entrepreneurial gene in me so I took the leap and started my company. My parents always supported me to challenge the status quo and question authority when I had done my homework and could make a strong case which is also great training to becoming an entrepreneur. They were also very proud of me and encouraging when my high school guidance counselor told me I needed more back up schools because I was shooting too high for college and I went ahead and applied to my top choices anyway. My mother reminded that man every time she saw him how much I loved going to college at Stanford and getting my MBA at Harvard Business School so I come by my renegade tendencies naturally I guess. My parents seemed to get me when I tried to bend, break or change the rules if I had a solid argument so I learned early on to not stop just because someone says no. That is such an important part of being an entrepreneur and has served me and. my business very well.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I have been so fortunate to have great mentors, champions and role models throughout my career including former bosses, my father, senior women in organizations where I worked but the person who has always encouraged and supported me as an entrepreneur and has my back every day is my husband. He started a company too so understands the journey of an entrepreneur and has been my sanity check and thinking partner every step of the way. He is both a cheerleader and butt kicker depending on the situation and I trust his judgment and advice because I know he always has my best interests in mind. I am very fortunate to have him in my corner.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a few of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again! It is a great lesson in the power of humility, resilience, persistence, manners and having a sense of humor.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
There is so much to share here…
It really is a marathon not a sprint so do not set arbitrary goals like being named 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 because it may take you longer than Mark Zuckerberg to hit your stride and that’s ok. Most people take many detours on their career path before finding their true calling. Don’t be disappointed if you get to 40 and are still exploring because the journey really is a great adventure so enjoy it! Figure out what makes you unique and special and own that real estate in people’s minds.
Don’t be scared to fail, just learn from every bump in the road so you make better mistakes next time, that is where you learn the most! You learn to do by doing. Course correct and pivot along the way, it makes for a fun career path. In retrospect you may look back at what you thought was a failure and realize it was a blessing in disguise. Whether you were passed up for the promotion, did not get the job offer or missed the deadline for the launch you learn that as Winston Churchill said failure is not fatal and being resilient and getting back up and trying again is really what matters in life.
Success is personal and your definition will change over time. That is normal and shows maturity, find what matters to you and don’t worry about anyone else. Once I pursued a more entrepreneurial path I realized my definition of success had changed. It turns out I did not want to run a big company I am much happier being a big fish is a smaller pond.
Not getting what you want can lead you to magical outcomes, being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started is incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love books by and about strong women. Two of my favorites are:
Notorious RBG — Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a national treasure, every woman in this country owes her a huge thank you
Atlas Shrugged — by Ayn Rand
I could not put it down it inspired me and fueled my interest in business in college
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I saw this quote from Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept” and it inspires me to turn my ideas into action. Another great quote is “For it isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt said it and it is still true today.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I think every project is exciting! That is the beauty of running your own business, if you are not genuinely excited by the work then you can pass on it. I only take on work that I find interesting and worthwhile. Finding the right words and pictures to tell great stories that attract more customers to our clients’ products and services is incredibly fulfilling.
We have had a few delayed projects during the pandemic but only one client has stopped a project in process but several projects have slowed, everyone is still on board knock wood. For professional service firms like mine we will recover even if our revenues slow from the crisis. Current projects include market research for a B2B tech company, a new website for B2B and B2C companies, and creative development for a nonprofit. We do anything a marketing department, ad agency, market research shop or PR agency does on an outsourced basis. We have resources in 14 cities in the US and major metro areas overseas. Everyone in the group comes out of industry so our heads and hearts are much more aligned with our clients than a typical agency or consulting firm. We are not professional PowerPoint makers, we have actually done the job as marketing and communication leaders so our recommendations come from having been in our clients’ seats before. We are an extension of their team and spend their money the way they do, not as a vendor so I think that is a compelling angle when they hire us. We do not see marketing as a necessary evil, we believe in the power of great brands and think all organizations regardless of size or budget deserve great marketing advice. Our passion comes through in our tag line and everything we do.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
The older I get the more I appreciate the importance of stress management. Mindfulness for me is about being present and living in the moment. When I am working I give my clients 100% of my attention and when I am on vacation with my husband I do not check my voice mail or e-mail. I tell my clients when I will return and who they can contact in my absence. I prefer to work hard and play hard. When I am spending time with someone they are the most important person to me. When you are on a call do not be in front of your computer or device, you will sound and be distracted. When you are at an event talking with someone focus on them and do not peer over their shoulder to see who else is in the room. When you signal to people that they matter you will maximize every situation you are in and leave a great lasting impression.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
A mentor once told me and I have come to appreciate and realize is that to stay clear headed, sane and be successful “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance! The mentor shared that respecting my time on the calendar and taking myself as seriously as I take my most important clients is the least I can do for self care because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either, specifically I learned to:
Give myself permission to say no. What matters most is having impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with volume of activity, it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.
Disconnect from technology periodically and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships while social distancing. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
Taking breaks with exercise — I do something active every day to stay healthy and break up my day.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Not really sometimes listening to great music or taking even a short walk outside is all you need to hit the reset button.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Tai chi and qigong are called moving meditations so I often do exercises, breathing and stretching when I need to relax or clear my head before attending key meetings, making important decisions or giving speeches. You do not need any special equipment or tools to just become present and focus your mind. I started practicing >15 years ago and it has helped me in so many ways personally and professionally.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
In my experience here are the top habits of people who feel both happy and successful in their lives and careers:
* Our work and personal lives are in synch sharing common values and gives us meaning and purpose.
* We value our time dearly and spend it wisely with people and activities that bring us joy. We will outsource things and spend money to insure we have more time to do what we love with the people we like to be with. We recognize that money comes and goes but time goes one direction only. For me, respecting my time on the calendar is a great place to start..
* We work hard on things we care about and also plan down time to recharge on a regular basis. We savor vacations, sharing meals with family and friends, hobbies, the simplicity of a walk on a beautiful day, a good book or a great conversation. You have to give yourself permission to say no. Whether it means sleeping in (no to an alarm clock), getting a massage, taking a walk, or just turning off my phone and computer (no I will respond later on my own schedule), simple acts of letting myself relax and enjoy the moment are the very best gifts I can give myself that help me stay balanced and productive.
* We give back and volunteer to help others. We are grateful and appreciate our lives and want to help others achieve their dreams too by sharing our gifts with them. There are so many ways to give back that enrich your life by helping others. I find the more you give the more you get.
* We find ways to laugh often.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Surround yourself with great people whose habits you admire and they will rub off on you in my experience. Read a lot and learn from the best.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
When I started my businessI set a goal of working with people I respect and admire for people I want to help succeed. For me, relationships matter. Quality encounters matter. Honesty, consistency, authenticity and integrity matter. The experience and the journey matter a lot too. Focus on what matters to you and get rid of things that don’t. Taking the clutter out of your mind and your life frees up space for more of what you value. Success is very personal so your definition will be — and should be — different than mine. To me, growth for growth’s sake is meaningless, but profitable growth with interesting clients solving important problems is what keeps me engaged and excited. The ability to spend time with people I love and care about is critical. My reputation really matters, and the positive word-of-mouth means a lot to me since almost all of our business comes by referral. So on my rockstar days I have time to be creative and do work my clients value, spend time with people I care about, take time for myself to exercise or be reflective and make time to glve back in my community.
There are a lot of successful businesses out there that stay true to their core values and offer great products and services to their customers that they value. When you can create an environment where your employees and customers feel valued and appreciated you can feel proud and know you have a successful business. Look at Spanx, Virgin, Apple, etc. for examples.
I think it is a mistake to hide behind technology and CRM systems. My advice is to disconnect from technology and focus on cultivating human, face to face relationships when possible. Meeting for coffee or lunch even virtually can accomplish so much more than e-mail exchanges, social media posts, etc. and it is a great way to get to know people better, their interests, hobbies, and dreams. I have found that building relationships is what drives my business and technology supports them once they are solidified. Technology helps advance the conversation but it will never replace the human interaction that builds trust over time.
It takes effort and a commitment to excellence to continually create flow and improve especially as an entrepreneur and CEO. I do not think there is one silver bullet, I use a combination of reading and learning online and off, attending conferences and talks, networking, newsletters from influencers, TED talks, podcasts, finding mentors and listening to all feedback good and bad. I have found that I learn more from the bad and tough situations in my career than when things go smoothly. I carve out a few hours each week on my calendar for professional development activities to make it a priority. Living in a state of flow takes time and effort. There is no such thing as an overnight success. You make your luck by being prepared to recognize opportunities that appear.
As an entrepreneur there are many ups and downs but most would agree that the excitement and joy of bringing your idea to life is incredibly fulfilling and dealing with the bumps in the road is just part of the adventure. To stay motivated during the rough times I try to maintain perspective by taking good care of myself, getting exercise, seeing friends and family and reminding myself that I can always go back to work for others but when I open the file with all the notes and kudos I have gotten from customers and colleagues with praise and encouragement along with sincere thanks for helping them or making a difference through my business it is just the kick in the pants I need to keep going. Start a file with cards, notes, e-mails, etc. and dust it off when you are down so that you can be reminded of not just who you are and what you do but why you do it. That always works for me!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to spark a movement or create change through a new (domestic) Peace Corps (2020 version) and suggest we are all in it no application required. We have millions of people unemployed, the largest number in our history. We need our roads and bridges fixed, clean water in our communities, tutors, day care, senior care, census takers, contact tracers, there is no need to pay people to stay home or send them abroad to build infrastructure overseas we need it here right now across all 50 states! We also need peace to prevail and I think if we work together side by side to fix these problems in our communities we will all be on the same team.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I’d choose Michelle Obama I think her perspective and experience will be critical to our future success and she will be part of the solution to many of our problems now. She is smart, kind, and makes things happen. Michelle can be the catalyst that lights the spark on our new path.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thanks so much it’s been my pleasure!