“Practice your habits in the morning”, With Marygrace Sexton and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

One of my golden rules is to put any kind of technology away on at least one day a week. On Sunday, I don’t touch any technological devices. We need technology but taking a break from it has so many worthwhile benefits. It gives you space to grow, both personally and professionally, support a more […]

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One of my golden rules is to put any kind of technology away on at least one day a week. On Sunday, I don’t touch any technological devices. We need technology but taking a break from it has so many worthwhile benefits. It gives you space to grow, both personally and professionally, support a more intentional way of life, and it fosters clarity and community. I’m proud to be an employer who discourages their team from overusing tech. I care about them so much and I feel so strongly that stopping these bad habits will benefit them as well.

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marygrace Sexton, CEO & Founder, Natalie’s Juice.

Marygrace Sexton has always been a woman with a vision. Inspired by her lifelong passion for helping people to achieve optimal health and performance, she founded Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company, which today, is one of the nation’s fastest-growing and top selling premium juice brands. Under the fearless leadership of Marygrace, the Fort Pierce-based and family-operated company turns over $0 million dollars in juice sales each year and celebrated 30 successful years in business this year. Marygrace serves as a member of the National Women’s Business Council in Washington, D.C. and uses her voice on a local level to continuously inspire young minds. As Marygrace oversees multiple facets of the business, she is passionately committed to supporting the merchants, growers and families in the places where she lives and works.

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 was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut to working class parents. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot. We moved to Florida when I was 10 years old after my parents went through a trying divorce. Those early years could be perceived as being quite sad and reflecting on them, they could have had a negative impact on me. But I overcame them, they became formative and they actually spurred me on.

I didn’t perform well at school. So, in 10th grade I became involved in a program that gave students the opportunity to try out jobs that they could then pursue careers in. I went to work for a dentist who had the most incredible work ethic and demanded the same structure and professionalism from his assistants. You had to be punctual, not even a minute late every day and you couldn’t ever take personal phone calls at work. However, it instilled a powerful work ethic within me and taught me structure. I still believe today that when you’re an employer or someone’s boss, you influence the type of professional they become and that’s an immense privilege.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I knew I wanted to break the cycle of poverty for my family and I had an inherent sense of tenacity, which my mother always said she recognized and that became evident when I started working. I was driven by my past to work as hard as I could to create stability in my own life personally. My husband, Bobby’s family had a citrus fruit farm and he talked about how he wanted to make fresh juices but knew he’d never have the time to get it off the ground. It inspired me to fulfill his dream as I wanted to make the incredible quality of Florida citrus available to the mass market. As growers, we supplied fruit to big companies but no-one was producing truly authentically fresh juice — it was only available if you squeezed it yourself or bought it from roadside stands. So, my gut told me to go for it and the business was born from there.

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?

Most people told me the business would never succeed. I was a female entrepreneur in the late 1980’s. Only 7.4% of CEOs today on the Fortune 500 ranked businesses are female, imagine what that number was when I started. I find it so strange because I think when someone wants to do something, they should be encouraged. But my family believed in me wholeheartedly and my brothers jumped in to help me start Natalie’s, which I named after my eldest daughter who was one at the time. We’re still proud to be family-operated with around seven family members working within the business, including Natalie who is now our Vice President of Marketing. Of course, given the scale of the business today, we also need to hire high-level executives externally. We often find they take a bit of time to understand why we don’t simplify some of the processes that protect the unrivalled freshness of our juices. For example, why we don’t pasteurize at higher temperatures to extend the shelf life. Eventually, they see why producing fresh, clean label juice, made with integrity, has been a labor of love for our family and why we remain committed to it.

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?

When we first started the business, we didn’t have a sales team, so it was up to myself and my brother to get out on the road to find business. We drove to New England and started with meetings in Washington D.C. where we landed an opportunity to sell the juice but they wanted an exclusive. We were so excited about landing in D.C. that we said “yes” and kept on with our trip. When we arrived in Boston, another customer asked for an exclusive and we found ourselves saying “yes” to them too out of excitement and partial lack of experience. Moments later, the Boston customer called us questioning the exclusive in D.C. We learned quickly the rules of exclusives and rectified both deals and it was an early lesson that impacted our sales and distribution strategy.

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?

Learn to really appreciate your job. I think people often feel work is just a mandatory part of life. I believe work can be an incredible privilege if you apply yourself to something meaningful. If you don’t currently recognize the value of working, take the time to teach yourself how to appreciate it. That doesn’t mean working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s actually important not to work 24/7 because we also need to make space to foster our own creativity. If you’re always working outside of usual hours, you’re not making time for your own thoughts to come through, which would help you come up with better ideas, solutions to challenges and new ways of doing things.

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?

Not a particular book, but a poem called “If” by Rudyard Kipling. My mother gave it to me and it’s beautiful. In just a few short stanzas, it teaches life lessons that can be otherwise hard to define. Lines like “If you can dream — and not make dreams your master” and “ If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,” have really helped me along the way.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm” by Winston Churchill. I love this quote because I don’t believe in success. I don’t believe you can get hung up on how successful you are or will be. You just need to do a good job, enjoy each day and hope it lasts a lifetime.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We’re exploring ways that Natalie’s as a company can offer more of a holistic integrated wellness offering. I’m so proud our juices are known for supplying people with an honest, authentic source of nutrition with minimal ingredients but there are other areas we can tap into. For example, my daughter, Lucy, has also established her own fitness practice, ‘Bonded by the Burn’ for at-home fitness and I work with A-Gap, my non-profit that offers custom experiences for those looking to disconnect from the digital distractions of the modern world. We’re in the process of working out how we can bring both of these pieces together to work synergistically for the benefit of our community.

I’m so passionate about helping people to live better. It’s the red thread that has run through all the jobs I’ve had in my life. Whether they were patients at the start of my career or the people we’re supplying authentic nutrition to every day, it’s a beautiful thing to make a difference to the lives of others. And I live for my customers. I honestly believe we have the best customers in the world. I tell people who come to work at Natalie’s, “If you don’t want my customers or don’t care enough about the people we’re producing juice for, don’t come to work here as everyone wants my customers.” So, to be able to bring an integrated wellness experience to our community would mean so much to me.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Making a series of good habits part of your life has such a dramatic and important impact on the way you feel and how you perform. And in turn, habits can truly influence your path in life. I hope it’s empowering for people to know there is a way to change your frame of mind and it’s all about taking small incremental steps to introduce daily habits. After my parent’s divorce, I craved positive habits but couldn’t define what they were. It took me years to understand the value of habits and how to create them in my life. My first boss helped me better understand their value and after that, it took a lot of self-education. I read a tremendous amount about how to improve myself both personally and professionally. It’s a long journey and there’s always more room to grow but over the years, formulating better habits has made me a more productive and effective CEO, while also improving my personal relationships and of course my performance on the bike and overall wellbeing.

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

I’ve established several habits that have all influenced how I live each day and my level of productivity. I believe completely in the benefits of a morning routine because I know how much mine helps me start every day feeling inspired and with a sense of intention. And I set goals for myself when it comes to all my habits so that I’m constantly stretching myself bit by bit, whether they’re goals tied to how much I cycle, which I currently do for 160 miles a week, or avoiding tech, which I do every Sunday.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

Habits are built out of choice. Only you can create them. I think people are often looking for groundbreaking, insightful advice about how to create new habits but it’s actually very simple — commit to them. It’s self-discipline. I believe it’s best to practice positive habits early in the day, that’s when I commit to them. So, set your alarm earlier and when it goes off, get up and go through with what you intended. You can read all the books and magazines you like for advice but it’s really about setting goals and completing them. And if you pray, you can ask God for help.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

I get up at 5:00AM and cycle 30 miles every day during the week and I cycle for 50–60 miles on Saturdays and Sundays. My brother introduced me to cycling when he noticed my work-life-balance was nonexistent and I’m so grateful to him. Feeling fit is the epitome of feeling well and it’s not person-specific — it works for everyone. I find it helps me manage my emotions, invigorates me and changes how I feel in my body. That makes me a better CEO. At Natalie’s, we have programs to help people work out during the day and that’s something we’ve sustained throughout the pandemic for the benefit of workplace productivity and culture.

I also focus on eating foods that are produced from real foods and are in a state that is as close to their natural form as possible to reap the nutritional benefits. As a member of the food industry, I know how many additives can be added to our food so I steer clear of all those products.

And finally, I am a very spiritual person, so I pray every day as part of my early morning routine alongside cycling. Rather than just jumping into what I need to do that day, I prepare myself spiritually and physically for the day as the two work together.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Practice your habits in the morning. For me personally, I find that’s the only way. Otherwise, something comes along later in the day and stops me from cycling or praying and it won’t happen. And actually, if you set out to do something and didn’t do it, that will likely make you feel worse than trying to do it in the first place and that’s not helpful at all.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

One of my golden rules is to put any kind of technology away on at least one day a week. On Sunday, I don’t touch any technological devices. We need technology but taking a break from it has so many worthwhile benefits. It gives you space to grow, both personally and professionally, support a more intentional way of life, and it fosters clarity and community. I’m proud to be an employer who discourages their team from overusing tech. I care about them so much and I feel so strongly that stopping these bad habits will benefit them as well.

Tied to this, I also believe passionately in limiting social media. When people get caught up in a sense of comparison with other people in their industry or people they admire and aspire to be more like, it sucks up so much time that could be used to have your own experiences and form your own opinions, that actually support your growth. When you’re not thinking on your own, you limit the chance of being innovative, breaking the mold and finding new pathways to success.

Lastly, it is vital to continuously educate yourself to learn and evolve into the best version of yourself, personally and professionally.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

It sounds impossible to avoid technology one day a week but as I’ve said, when you commit to a habit, you can make anything possible. I have a landline at home and any business calls on Sunday are redirected there. My cell phone does not leave my drawer on that day. If you think about it, when there’s something really urgent, people always call rather than text or email. I’ve set a precedent with my team about Sundays so they know how to reach me and I know I won’t miss anything urgent. I try to inspire them to take the same approach, completing the rest of the work during the week, which I believe makes us much more productive during that time.

When educating yourself, my advice would be to choose realistic books. I don’t just read the stories of mega successful people who have shared how they did it, I also learn from books written by people who have achieved success on a smaller scale.And finally, listen more and talk less — then you’re giving yourself the best chance of learning something new.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

As I mentioned, I cycle every day in the mornings, which enhances my focus. The experience of cycling long distance out on the road has taught me so much about how it is possible to put all the turmoil to one side and mindfully concentrate on something for a set period of time. I find I’m often at my most creative when I’m cycling because I’ve made all that extra space in my head.

Also, work smarter for shorter bursts of time. In our current working worlds, everyone is on and prone to working 24/7. I mentioned before the detrimental effects that can have on our creativity but also if you drag out the day and work late, you’re actually prone to be less productive because you buffered extra time in the evening. Lots of bosses put expectations on their employees to be responsive or work around the clock but it’s not strategic. It causes a sense of anxiety that people don’t often admit to that isn’t good for our mental or physical health and is counterproductive. By getting your work done during the working day, you end up being more focused and having more impact.

And lastly, set goals for yourself. If you’re centered on what you’re trying to achieve, you’re giving yourself the best chance of focusing on what you want to get done. Whether goals are tied to fitness — walking a mile this week, 2 miles next week — or something else, if you keep setting them and adding to them, you’re guaranteed to grow.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

Avoid working after 6:00 PM. At that point, most of what you’re doing is not necessary and you could get up and do it the next morning. You’d sleep better, be more productive the next day and likely be more creative with your solutions because you’ve had space to accomplish other tasks away from work.

As a 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?

Adopt the “happy to be here” mentality. Being able to identify the opportunities in your life and appreciate them helps adjust your mental state and perception of life. It’s claiming control — not just letting all the moments pass you by but seizing them and where appropriate utilizing them, setting intentional habits and creating space to build on them and making the choice to invest in yourself through nutrition, fitness, spiritual practices and education. All of these things help you identify the direction that you want your life to head in and help you act on it. Your state of Flow will constantly change as you grow so as with everything, you just have to evolve with it to stay on track.

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’d love to help people realize how all the pillars of wellness — nutrition, fitness, spirituality and exposure to tech — are interconnected and impact each other. For example, you need to eat well for physical performance, and fitness gives you a reason to get away from tech and getting away from tech gives you space to focus on your soul. The soul can’t be overstimulated or overfed, it has to think on its own to survive.

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 🙂

John Foley. I’ve followed John for a long time. He has a spectacular passion and energy for inspiring people to realize their fullest potential and propel themselves on a journey to high performance. His career as former lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels afforded him such an in-depth appreciation of so many important business skills — what it means to lead, motivate, build trust and sustain excellence in the most extreme situations. I’m proud that we’ve established a culture of high performance at Natalie’s but I’m sure there’s even more we can be doing. So, I’d love to meet with him and get his firsthand perspective on how we can support the team and continue to inspire greatness within the company.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Don’t follow me. Use the time to enjoy life, exercise, read a book or gain your own real-life experiences in some other way.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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