237 The Purity of “For Profit” Business – Anne Mahlum

From “Back on My Feet” to “Solid Core” Anne Mahlum Story:

  • How Watching Her Father Struggling with Addiction Inspired Her First Business
  • Success Despite Growing up from a Dysfunctional Family
  • Changing Business Model – A Women Entrepreneur Story
  • Complacency vs. Living Life to a 10
  • The PURITY in the “For Profit” Business 

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More about our featured guest

Our speaker today is Anne Mahlum, and her personal story is a powerful example of how real change happens. Anne is the Founder and former CEO of Back on My Feet, a non-profit that uses the power of running to help those experiencing homelessness change their lives by changing the way they see themselves. Her vision for Back on My Feet was to help as many people as possible redefine themselves, so they can then redefine their life by making lasting changes such as employment and housing. Through her leadership, Back on My Feet is now a $6.5M organization with 11 chapters nationwide, and she was named a “Top 10” CNN Hero for her work toward changing the perception of homelessness on a global scale.

She is a two-time TEDx speaker and a frequent speaker at corporate events and conferences, inspiring and reminding audiences everywhere that change begins with just one step. She is a marathoner – having completed 11 marathons, including one on every continent except Antarctica – as well as a three-time triathlete. ​Last  year she started a new company in D.C. called [solidcore] – a high-end fitness studio that features the Lagree Fitness Method, and it’s  probably no surprise that she’s already expanded it to four locations. Please help me welcome philanthropist, social change agent and entrepreneur…Anne Mahlum.

Full Transcript

[00:03] Joel: Welcome to ReLaunch, your daily dose of inspiring stories, fresh ideas, practical steps and solutions. You can think of this show as being your prescription for relaunching into the life and into the business that you love. And if you are a daily listener to this show, welcome back and thank you for tuning in. And thank you for being involved in the before and the after show online conversations. And if you are new here, just know that you are among friends. And speaking of friends, we are having a blast in our ReLaunch fan club. Hey, Pei, why don't you tell us what's going on in there today?

[00:47] Pei: Well, as the time of this recording is Friday, and I really believe that we all get into the habit of celebrating our daily, weekly, successes 'cause that's how we can build confidence, to start to believe in ourselves that we can. We are capable of relaunching into this life and business we love. So we're having a party, everybody shared their success stories.

[01:14] Joel: Woohoo! Celebration Fridays! And you know what's cool about Celebration Fridays is that we celebrate the wins and the successes but they are all at different levels. Because people in the group are at different levels in their personal and in their professional growth and development. And what is a win for some people, maybe different than a win for other people. And it's not about comparing wins with one another.

[01:43] Pei: Right.

[01:43] Joel: And it's not about trying to impress other people with your win, but it's about impressing really yourself. And being able to allow other people to celebrate your professional growth and development. Love Celebration Fridays. Our guest today is going to be able to give us some great insights as it relates to redefining you life and your life's purpose, kind of some of the things that we talk about in our fan club on Celebration Fridays. She is the founder of Back On Your Feet which is a multi-million dollar, not-for-profit that uses the power of running to bring hope and healing to the people that she serves.

[02:35] Pei: Awesome.

[02:36] Joel: Yeah. And she serves the homeless population. Let me tell you about this lady. She is a TEDx speaker, TED Talk speaker. She is a three-time triathlete. And she's been named as one of the top 10 CNN heroes because of her philanthropic work. And she has completed 11 marathons. One on every continent except Antarctica. It's kind of cold up there.

[03:06] Pei: Wow.

[03:07] Joel: I can understand why that hasn't happened. Not yet anyways. The amazing Anne Mahlum is here on today's show. Welcome, welcome, Anne.

[03:18] Anne Mahlum: Thanks, Joel.

[03:19] Joel: Great to have you here and I'm so excited that you were able to join us today and work this into your schedule. And this show, Anne, as you know is all about the relaunch. And while we've all experienced numerous launches and relaunches throughout our life, I generally ask our guests to zero in on the launch or the relaunch, that has been the most significant or the most transformational for them. And they just kind of unfold the story from there. We'll get into that here in just a few minutes with you, if that's okay. But first, if you would, let's get into some quick meat for this show. Can you give us a solid take away for how to begin in redefining your value, your life, or your possibilities? And then we'll go from there.

[04:09] Anne Mahlum: Yeah I think… I start… My story might be a little bit different. I recently started a new company about 14 months ago.

[04:17] Joel: Sure.

[04:18] Anne Mahlum: And when I started Back on My Feet, there's a whole personal story behind that for me. My dad is an addict and he struggled with multiple addictions in his life, drugs, alcohol, and then gambling was the one that I remember the most 'cause I was 16. And it was an active addiction that I witnessed and it was what truly pulled apart my family. And 10 years later, me finding Back on My Feet and creating this organization that was helping people, that reminded me so much of my father. A lot of our members were struggling with active addictions and I took this healing power of running to help them take the first step in redefining their life, right? Helping them become emotionally stronger, emotionally more stable.

[05:03] Anne Mahlum: And after we could get them to this emotional state that was a little bit more independent than they were before, then we can make real steps in helping them become not homeless and living on their own, living independently. And that life for me was extremely fulfilling, right? It added all the personal agonies that I experienced in my life as a kid. It made everything make sense to me. It gave me a reason for my dad's addiction, it gave me reason for all the struggles that our family had to go though, and it gave me a lot of purpose.

[05:35] Anne Mahlum: And in 2012, the end of 2012, I began to feel like I wanted to do something else and that was a really difficult emotional process for me. I felt a lot of guilt, I felt a lot of shame. I felt I already took my big risk once in my life. I walked away from my huge corporate job to start this organization that didn't frankly make sense to a lot of people that I wanted to use running as a way to help people get out of homelessness. It doesn't sound very practical or logical or rational, and it worked and it worked well.

[06:13] Anne Mahlum: As you mentioned, Joel, it's a $6.5 million dollar organization with 48 staff, it's national at this point. It has staff and members and volunteers all around the country. And to feel, at some point, like that wasn't good enough for me was a really difficult process. So my story is really about, I feel like I had to reinvent myself again and find another purpose after feeling like I'd found my purpose once already, and that's quite, again, an emotional journey for me to figure that out.

[06:44] Joel: I imagine it did and we'll get into that a little bit, later on in the show. Thank you, by the way, for being willing to be open and share that with us. So, if we go back to teenage years or maybe even before that, Anne, you're talking about some of the struggles and the addictions that you were exposed to, what is your earliest memory, if you would? And then we'll go from there.

[07:15] Anne Mahlum: Yeah, the earliest memory was definitely when I was a teenager. My dad went through drug and alcohol recovery when I was really little, like before I was five, so I don't remember my dad ever struggling with those behaviors and I never saw him. Obviously. As we get older, parents and adults would be drinking and my dad wouldn't be, and it always was just like, “Cool, my dad doesn't drink and it doesn't seem to be a problem.” But the addiction with the gambling was really apparent and it was really hard to understand, especially as a kid, right? You're just like, “Hey, about you stop doing that and we can go back to everything being normal?”

[07:56] Joel: Right.

[07:56] Anne Mahlum: So addiction took a little bit of time for me to comprehend and understand the behavior behind it and what my dad goes through in his head and not being able to think rationally about some of his choices, obviously, because my dad found himself in a whole lot of debt that my family just wasn't able to support, and my parents didn't have the money to pay off the debt. And it just ripped apart my parents' marriage and made me question a lot of things and made me be really resentful, not just to my dad but to my mom for not sticking with my dad. And I felt like I had to grow up really fast as a teenager and, obviously, now I can look back and be grateful for going through that stuff. But when you're in it, you never wanna be in it, right?

[08:40] Joel: Right.

[08:40] Anne Mahlum: No one ever wants to go through the hard stuff. You can look back and tell you how much it shaped your character, but when you're in it it's a little bit miserable.

[08:48] Joel: Yeah, indeed. It is. So let me ask you this, as you were watching some of those things that were happening under your own roof and then you were growing up very quickly is what you said just a second ago, what are some of those things that you learned or re-learned about your own possibilities, of potential, of value as a person? Because I'm thinking in that environment, and I wasn't there so of course this isn't fair to say, but I'm thinking that you had to figure out quite a few things on your own based on what you've been sharing.

[09:29] Anne Mahlum: Yeah, running for me was a huge salvation and it helped me make sense of a lot of things. I started running when I was 16. For one, I liked being active anyway but when I was running, it just has a whole lot of life lessons that you almost can't hide from, right? When you go out for a run, you have to take things one step at a time, you have to put one foot in front of the other, you have to make decisions when there's a hill in front of you, are you gonna go up the hill, are you gonna look for ways to turn around? Are you gonna go left, are you gonna go right?

[09:58] Anne Mahlum: You can't go out in a run 10 miles and do the first and then the last one. You've gotta do all the hard work in between. So I made a decision pretty early on in my teenage career that I wasn't gonna be a victim of my dad's choices, that I wasn't gonna use this as an excuse to misbehave, I wasn't gonna use it as an excuse to not do well in school. That just wasn't in my blood and I thought, how do I move forward from this?

[10:28] Anne Mahlum: And for me, it was almost about this obsession of being perfect, that I had this area of my life that I didn't plan, that I didn't pick. I grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota, so everybody knew what was going on with my family and I just thought if I could cover it all up with looking perfect and being perfect and being so good at sports and so good at school, that no one would pay attention to the fact that my family was so messed up and had so many different dynamics.

[10:57] Anne Mahlum: So maybe that wasn't the best motivator. There was obviously insecurities that were driving me, but I did decide that I was in control here, I get to decide about my life and that's kind of been my approach at everything I do, since being a teenager, and I don't look for excuses on things. I try to empower myself and say that I get to make these choices about my life, I get this opportunity in front of me and I just don't allow the excuses to play a factor when it's not gonna do me any good anyway if I let that happen.

[11:32] Pei: Yeah. So, Anne, I'm curious, running has been just extremely significant in your life and your career, not just physically obviously, in those situations. So could you share with me or with our listeners here, when did you, at a young age, realize… Or how did you make that transition, just like a-ha moment that running wasn't just physical for you?

[12:03] Anne Mahlum: It was pretty immediate, and I think anybody who's a runner will tell you that. There's a real spiritual aspect about the movement. I mean, you think about it, right? Nobody had to teach us how to run. It was what we did for survival, whether to hunt or whether to run away from something that's hunting us, it was a tool. And all the other sports, basketball, or soccer, like someone invented that and they invented the rules and the rules had been… That's what the rules had been since somebody said those were the rules.

[12:35] Pei: Right.

[12:36] Anne Mahlum: But running, there are no rules and it's just about moving your body in a very primitive and natural way that I think makes you feel connected to yourself, to something bigger than you, to the Earth. And it's I think very hard not to get a little profound when you're out running, especially when you're running for long periods of time.

[12:58] Joel: What a great answer. And you know what, I think you're right on track there. I run too and gosh, some of my best memories in high school come from when I was in cross country. And going to the meets was fine, and you'd have races, and you'd be in the bus with your team going to this event or that event, and that was all fun. But what I really remember is the practices. When it was me against me, or you against you, and really, the goal here, or at least for me, was to establish a greater connection and to maybe shave a couple of seconds off of my previous time, or just to better the experience that I did last time. Was it like that for you?

[13:49] Anne Mahlum: Yeah. It was interesting, I'm a pretty competitive person specially when it comes to business and team sports and whatever else. But running for me, I never would allow myself to be like, “I need to get 10 seconds off my time, otherwise I'm not good enough.”

[14:07] Joel: Got it.

[14:07] Anne Mahlum: I just… There's so much beating ourselves up in everything, and for a woman, and many women out there have body issues, and we spend enough time beating ourselves up in the mirror, but, “Oh, if we were just one inch thinner,” or “If I was five pounds less heavier.” And I'm thankful that running never became that for me because I don't think it would have been as special, and I don't think I would still be doing it if I let it beat me up like that.

[14:31] Joel: Very good.

[14:31] Anne Mahlum: I just would always go out and run, and I would feel good about the effort. I would go fast if I wanted to go fast. I would take it slower if I wanted to go slower. And it was just the movement that I found that's comforting.

[14:44] Joel: What a great answer. Okay, very good. I appreciate you sharing that. Tell me about this, Anne. You talk about motivators, and when we were talking about a little bit of your childhood, and some of our experiences, you mentioned that maybe they weren't the healthiest or the best of all motivators, but it was enough to get to you moving. And I think that's what really finding motivation is all about. Finding what it is within you that is going to get you out the door, that's gonna get you to lace up your shoes, gets you to go that extra mile or to take that hill. So if you would, talk about finding motivation and how it's not based on what other people think should be motivating you, but it's on what actually motivates you.

[15:34] Anne Mahlum: Yeah. I think it all comes down to emotions and feelings, right? I remember my mom. My mom is interesting because she goes to the doctor every year, gets her check-up, takes vitamins. She does all the things by the book, but she smokes. And for her, she's like, “Oh, it's just my one thing.” And I'm like, “You know, mom, but it doesn't negate everything else.” Right? Your lungs aren't saying like, “Okay, cool because you workout and you do all these other things right, that we're not gonna take adverse effects of you smoking.”

[16:04] Anne Mahlum: And I always have said, whether it's people working out, or having their own business, I'm like, “I just wish you could get people a taste of what that feels like to not do something or to do something.” So for my mom, I wish I could put her in a tank and say, “Breathe this air. This is the air that you're missing, and now that you have a taste of it, let that be your motivator.”

[16:24] Anne Mahlum: And there is gonna have to be nobody to tell me, “Anne, you need to work out.” Or like, “You need to be moving your body.” I know how good that makes me feel and I will be self-motivated the rest of my life to move my body and stay healthy because I feel so strong and I feel happy when I'm doing that stuff. And it's the same for me with business, I love working for myself, no one needs to motivate me to do that, I love creating an experiential brand, I love creating community, I love creating opportunities for people around me, and that gives me a lot of joy.

[17:01] Anne Mahlum: So the joy and the happiness is the motivator. And so if you're unhappy, whatever it is that you're doing right now, if you're unhappy with your body, if you're unhappy with your spiritual practice, if you're unhappy with your job or your relationships, you have to believe there's something better, and “I'm not going to let fear overtake my ability to empower myself and at least take the first step.”

[17:28] Anne Mahlum: And most people do that. And if you talk about relationships, Joel, that's a very easy one. People are so freaked out to be alone or starting over. “Oh, I've invested four years in this relationship… ” And I was in a relationship recently, for four years and it's like, “This isn't gonna work.” And was it a bad relationship? No. But it was about a six, I'll give it a six out of 10. And I knew that I wanted something deeper and more, and I was willing to risk being by myself for however long because I owed it and I felt I was deserving of being in a relationship that I rated as a 10.

[18:04] Anne Mahlum: And that's what people do with their life. They put themselves in a comfortable place… And it's interesting because our parents, at least my parents, right? My parents worked for the same company their entire life and that's what they were told as they'd grow up. “Get comfortable. Get security. Find a job and just stay there and keep climbing that ladder.” Well, that same security and comfortableness that, you know, we were told to build and create in our lives also is what robs us of our ability to be brave and bold and experience life.

[18:34] Anne Mahlum: If you're never gonna be nervous, if you're never gonna take a risk, if you're never gonna get to that place where you're unsure if something's gonna work out and feel that adrenaline, you're never gonna understand your potential or capabilities. So, the first step is the most important thing and asking yourself, “What's the worst that can happen?” And that's what motivates me, is just this feeling of joy and happiness and going after what I want and the exhilaration of going into a new place, professionally, personally, that I haven't been before and feeling a new feeling.

[19:07] Joel: Awesome. Go ahead, Pei.

[19:07] Pei: Yeah. Yeah. Earlier when you said out of your personal relationships, it's not about relationship. You know you desire and you deserve that 10. So, talked about earlier, you kind of mentioned a little bit of your most recent transition launching this…

[19:27] Joel: Business.

[19:27] Pei: Yeah, this business. So was that involved as well, you know, you want a 10 out of what you do? How you can contribute rather than it's already successful, but it's kind of a 6 and it's not quite…

[19:42] Anne Mahlum: Yes. So, Pei, I could have… Back on My Feet was this amazing organization, right? And it was doing very well. I mean, we grew from… There was literally zero dollars from six years to $6.5 million dollars and it's a nonprofit. It's not like we created something that people were buying. That's people giving us money and contributions, and then there was this story behind Back on My Feet that everybody loved and everybody would always tell me how amazing I am and, “You need to meet Anne and hear about her amazing story and you know how amazing she is.”

[20:12] Anne Mahlum: And it was like a drug for me and I felt really good and there was part of my ego that was getting involved and I felt really special and everybody else always told me how special I was. And so when I started to feel this wasn't the right thing for me anymore, I was really insecure about my emotions, and like, “Man, if I'm not the CEO of Back on My Feet, who am I, for one?” So I had my identity crisis, “And two, are people gonna think that I'm so special anymore? And three, how do I top this? How am I supposed to top this and do something even more extraordinary to, again, surpass Back on My Feet?”

[20:56] Anne Mahlum: And it became a competition for me and it was really… It has really… I knew that I needed to go, right? But my ego was still involved and like, “Man, Anne, you can just ride this wave for the next 20 years and no one would question your life story or if you were doing great things or amazing things and doesn't that sound easy?” And I'm like, “Yeah, that sounds easy, but it was the wrong thing.”

[21:17] Anne Mahlum: So when I decided, “I want to start a for-profit company, I want to start my own business. I want to do this differently than Back on My Feet for numerous reasons,” that if we have time to get into, we can get that. But when everybody found out that I resigned from Back on My Feet, CEO and I was moving on, the reaction was, “Oh, you must be moving to Africa to save all the children and you must be going to do God's work and this must be too small for you because you have bigger plans to do charity and… And Anne is this angel.”

[21:51] Anne Mahlum: And so when I would say, “I'm starting a for-profit business,” people… I could see the disappointment in their face and that was challenging for me for a little while that I was disappointing all these people who thought that I was one thing and because, again, I was getting in this for-profit business, it was like, “Oh, Anne's not as good a person as I thought she was.” So that was an interesting thing for me, but I knew the purity behind what I was trying to do, even though obviously, the company, when you create a business, making money is part of that.

[22:26] Anne Mahlum: You want to be able to make money and pay your bills and make a profit and have employees. But I wanted to build a community that was gonna help people love themselves and create the strongest version of themselves. So, it's been a wild ride and I've learned so much and I wouldn't have changed my decision for anything. And Pei, I wanted to know the difference between for-profit and nonprofit and I wanted to see if I was capable of doing this. I wanted to test my limits as a person and I wanted to challenge myself.

[23:01] Anne Mahlum: Complacency is the kiss of death and I think it's also important to surround yourself with people who are not gonna let you get complacent. Anybody that I allow into my life better show up to that relationship the same way that I'm willing to show up to that relationship for them.

[23:17] Pei: Love it.

[23:18] Anne Mahlum: And they better push me, they better challenge me, they better be willing to, you know, speak their mind if I'm not doing something and that's because they love and care about me.

[23:28] Anne Mahlum: And I think so often, we find ourselves in relationships, intimate or not, where the other person isn't challenging us and we allow that or we're not challenging the other person because we get hung up on the title, right? “Oh, that's my husband. He has to love me.” When I think you've got a responsibility to show up to that relationship, and love and respect and admire the other person and make sure those emotions on the other side are just as true and just as strong.

[23:54] Joel: Absolutely. Show up in your relationships. I love that. And you know what, Anne? I'm coming in for a landing on this one. I really appreciate your time with us today. But I love the word that you used a few minutes ago, “Purity”. And you know, having a not-for-profit business, there's purity in that, but also establishing a for-profit business is equally, if not more pure, because the motivation that she has behind it and the message that is equipped, that's tucked in to the folds of your business. And I so much appreciate you seeing that vision through. And I believe that the way to touch people in ways that they haven't been touched before, is through the opportunities that are available in commerce, for-profit businesses. So I appreciate you talking about that.

[24:56] Joel: We're gonna have to have you back on the show, because I definitely want to talk a little bit more about Back On Your Feet, you're experiences there but also about the business that you're now just moving full-speed into. Pei, did you have your hand up over there?

[25:11] Pei: Yeah. Actually, Anne, if you could share, what's most exciting about your business right now?

[25:19] Anne Mahlum: Most exciting about the business right now is the growth that we're going through. We've only been around for 13 months and we have five locations, and the next one is opening next month. And so, we're looking at more of a national expansion and doing some joint ventures, which is a brand new thing for me, too. So, I think the most exciting thing is how much I'm learning and how much I know that my team is learning, and of course, the experience that we're providing for a lot of people. So the business is called [solidcore], if you wanted to check it out, but it's just in DC and Virginia, right now.

[25:53] Joel: Awesome. We're gonna put, of course, all the social media hotspots and go-to places in the blog article that accompanies this episode. Anne Mahlum is our guest, annemahlum.com. It's kind of hard to spell, that's why we're gonna have all of the links right there for you to get to in our accompanying blog article. Anne, this has been a pleasure. We look forward to having you back on the show. Thank you so much for making time to be on ReLaunch today. Have a wonderful…

[26:23] Anne Mahlum: Of course, thanks so much for having me.

[26:25] Joel: All the best. Bye-bye.

Follow Anne on Twitter, Facebookbusiness and personal site.

Joel Boggess

Motivational Speaker | Podcast Host | Bestselling Author. I help entrepreneurs focus, build confidence, and drive success with interactive keynotes, workshops, and executive coaching. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.

1 Comment

  1. Erica on February 10, 2015 at 6:16 am

    I LOVED this interview with Anne Mahlum! Her story and success are both very inspiring.

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