Mental Stamina of a Great Business Mind — an Interview With CEO Paige Arnof-Fenn for Thrive Global About Creating Global Branding That Helps Organizations Tell the Story of Their Products and Services

We've had the chance to chat with Paige Arnof-Fenn, who started a global branding and marketing firm 17 years ago and helps organizations find the right words and pictures to tell their story in unique and compelling ways.

I had the pleasure of talking to Paige Arnof-Fenn, Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA.  Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, The New York Times Company, Colgate, venture-backed startups as well as non-profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Paige serves on several boards and is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?

Paige grew up in New Orleans, LA the daughter and granddaughter of bankers.  She did not plan on starting a company in fact she always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO.  When she was a student she looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as  role models.  Paige started her career 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.  She became an entrepreneur and took the leap right after 9/11 when the company she worked for cut their marketing she felt she had nothing to lose.  Being an entrepreneur provides her a platform to do work she truly enjoys with and for people she respects.  She sets her priorities, makes time to travel and spend time with her inner circle, and work out every day.  She loves the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that she knows every day the impact that she has on the business.  Her DNA is in everything the company does. Like most entrepreneurs, she is working harder and longer than ever and has never been happier.  She jokes that she is the accidental entrepreneur.  She knew she had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on her business a few years after she started it, they were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before her company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How did this quality help you overcome obstacles on the path of becoming an influential and inspiring leader?

I am an extrovert who loves down time to unplug and recharge but I get a lot of energy and ideas from being with smart people.  I thrive in settings with curious and creative people where the energy magnifies as ideas are shared. I am organized and decisive and am able to draw a variety of insights and perspectives from diverse groups which helps me lead effectively and influence.

What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?

Mental toughness today means you are resilient and able to focus but also pivot as needed when you get new data and market feedback with better information. There are a lot of distractions and noise so it is key to stay clear on your mission and vision while being true to your values as you grow.

A lot of people in the business world feel as if talking about mental health makes them appear weak. How do you feel about showing mental strength and setting an example of what it takes to have the strong mental stamina to succeed?

In my experience when you show your vulnerabilities is when you really connect with people.  It is easy to see the CEO or leader as perfect or superhuman but when I give speeches I try to show some of the bumps and bruises along the way too and how those setbacks and struggles made us stronger and better. Everyone stumbles and falls sometimes it is how we get back up that inspires others.

Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?

I save quotes and this one really resonates with me:

I am strong because I have been weak

I am fearless because I have been scared

I am wise because I have been foolish

It is an important reminder that stumbling is part of the journey to success.  As an entrepreneur you just have to keep going and pick yourself up and be smarter every time you get up and try again.  It was true for Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely and it is true for me too!

Another one I really like is “you have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t.” Again, making mistakes is just part of the process.  Brilliant.  

Can you give us 5 tips on maintaining strong mental health stamina to succeed in the modern business world? Tell us a little about why each point matters.

Like most small business owners and entrepreneurs there are never enough hours in the day to fit everything in so when something has to give it is usually time I have allocated for myself to exercise or just relax.  

  1. What I have come to appreciate and realize is that “me time” is not a luxury or pampering, it is maintenance!  I think 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.
  2.  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.  
  3. For the first 5 years after I started my business I was scared to go on vacation for fear all my hard work would unravel.  Then my in-laws, father, mom, and stepdad all started to get sick and I wanted to be there for them.  They all lived thousands of miles away so I started to work less.  After years of decline, they each died about 6 months apart and I became executrix which is like having another job at times. So I had to take very good care of myself or I would not have been helpful to anyone else.  I started working out every day.  I started planning ‘me’ time on my calendar.  I became more comfortable with white space in my day and stopped over scheduling myself.  And guess what?  My business did not suffer, in fact, it has become stronger.  We moved up the food chain and have better clients.  I do not think I could ever go back.  I am so much happier and more productive now.  
  4. It is all about controlling your calendar.  I no longer try to squeeze in more meetings or hit multiple events at night.   As an entrepreneur, I can be selective.  Less really is more.  I’ve chosen quality over quantity.  It sounds trivial but it is true.  I created a platform to do work I enjoy and feel energized by.  I feel I have found my purpose because I used to work all the time and life was passing me by.  I got raises and promotions but I was all work and no play and I did not feel fulfilled.  Since starting my business I have joined boards and volunteered at several organizations.  I am a mentor to the next generation of leaders and have helped build a very successful anti-bullying program that >80,000 middle school aged kids have gone through.  As a marketing consultant I am able to write articles, contribute to books and speak at events to share my experience and lessons learned.   I saw first hand that no one on their death bed wishes they worked more or were busier.  
  5. You can fill a calendar to stay busy but what matters most is having an impact on people’s lives and that has nothing to do with the volume of activity, it is about touching people in meaningful ways which may mean being less busy not more.  

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I had to fire a client in my first year of business and it was absolutely the right decision!  On a personal level the guy was a jerk who never paid on time and was rude to my team who was doing great work for him.  He was mean, unappreciative and had terrible manners.  I am from the South and expect people to behave with common decency.  He hired us to do PR for his firm and I realized if we could get great press for a guy like him then people who knew him & knew how difficult he was might want to hire us too to help them thinking “hey these PR people must be really good and I’m not as nasty as this guy so imagine what they could do for me!”  I did not want to attract other bad clients so even though he signed a 1-year contract I ended it after 3 months.  It sent a signal to my team that the money was not worth an unappreciative client who was a jerk and treated us poorly.  We replaced the income and more within a month with a much better client.  I have never looked back.  Optics matter and culture counts, as the leader you have to set the tone for your group you better walk the talk because all eyes are on you so your team is not just listening to what you say but also watching what you do and how you respond/react.  When we say we have a no jerks policy we really mean it.  Life is too short to work with or for jerks.  When it is your business it is up to you.  It attracts the right people as clients and colleagues for the ecosystem I am trying to build.  

What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the age of information and technology?

For me it is about not getting overwhelmed because social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it but you do not have to let it run your life! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths.

What works best to maintain strong mental stamina as a leader? Yoga? Meditation? Listening to music? Something else?

  • Exercise — go to the gym, take a walk around the block, find an empty conference room to stretch out, a little fresh air and new stimuli can shake things up and help you see things in a new light. 
  • Make plans to see friends & family — all work and no play limits your thinking and energy, you need fresh ideas and exposure to people away from work to get out of the bubble and back to reality, in touch with the real world. 
  • Plan a vacation — buy tickets to lock in a date so you can start preparing, the mental escape knowing it is coming up will help you get through the tough times. 
  • Switch gears — listen to music, read for an hour, do a crossword puzzle or video game anything to shake up your focus and energy that helps get out of the rut you are in, routine can breed boredom so get those synapses firing

If the readers of this interview series would like to read more about you, how they can reach out?

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