Why Intention, Self-Care and Facing Your F.E.A.R. Creates Stronger Leaders
As a business owner, the old adage—expect the unexpected—rings true time and time again.
Jessica Rovello, the C.E.O. and co-founder of Arkadium, an award-winning agency that creates interactive digital content for some of the world’s biggest brands, might know this better than most. Although Jessica has achieved the highest of highs with honors from Forbes, Inc., Crain’s, Ad Age, and more, she has also persevered through hardships that would’ve ended most organizations.
Just a few years ago, her company found itself caught in an international conflict that nearly destroyed everything she had been building for over a decade. However, thanks to her longtime dedication towards both her employees—and herself—Jessica was prepared to confront her biggest challenge yet.
Discover how Jessica guided her team through rough times and ultimately emerged stronger than ever.
Why Intention Works
Jessica tasted her first big success back in 2001. She designed the viral website for the famously low-budget thriller, The Blair Witch Project, and knew a career creating innovative online projects was her calling.
That same year, she and her husband, Kenny Rosenblatt, launched Arkadium. They built more than a creative agency that would eventually create digital games and interactive content for clients like USA TODAY, Microsoft, and CNN. They made it with intention.
Jessica knew success rarely happens by chance. Over the years, she’s honed her intentional planning not just at work, but within the rest of her life. After all, she’s not only a business owner, wife, and leader—she’s also a mother of three.
To achieve this balancing act, Jessica’s learned to strategically map out her visions, goals, and priorities far in advance. Then, she actively creates any foundation necessary for her plans to succeed.
“I’m a big believer that for life to turn out the way that you want it to—that you dream it will—it is a combination of luck, happenstance, and spontaneity,” Jessica says. “But, it’s also setting yourself up for that luck and spontaneity to happen.
“That means being intentional with everything you do. Not just as a spouse, mom, or business leader, but also how you want to develop as a human being.”
For Jessica, this means writing out a detailed list of five-year goals. The list encompasses everything from parenting to leadership. “When I lay those out,” she says, “I think about what’s most important to me. Then, I try to schedule the time to make it all happen.”
By glancing at her calendar, you’ll see not only project deadlines and team meetings, but also date nights or her kids’ sports games. Some events are even scheduled years in advance!
Planning a meeting two years out might sound excessive. For some people, it probably is. However, in today’s nonstop world, maybe it is the best way to honor our commitments and cement the relationships to those we care about the most.
“I’m not hoping that by just showing up, things will happen,” Jessica says. “Being a great manager, friend—and a great human being—takes effort.”
And with this effort, Jessica has exceeded every expectation.
Jessica Faces Her F.E.A.R
On the surface, Jessica appears every ounce the confident leader she is, but that doesn’t mean that she’s unflappable. Instead, she’s the first to admit that under it all, she’s human with fears like any other.
“I’ve felt plenty of fear,” says Jessica. “I’ve felt fear in my family life—in wanting my children to be healthy, happy, and well adjusted. I felt fear in business. I’ve felt fear personally.”
Over the years, she’s developed many tools to counteract these fears. One of them is with a mindful meditation practice. She also finds ample time for self-reflection. This practice allows her better tune into herself and her emotions—especially when those emotions get negative.
She’s found that many fears stem from a place of comparison or judgment. In the tech world, “The amount of keeping up with the Joneses is pretty excessive if you allow it to be,” she says. “I’ve generally found that I feel the most fear or anxiety when I’ve allowed myself to fixate on those things.
Aside from mindful practices, Jessica also puts her fears into perspective with this acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real. To her, that phrase is what F.E.A.R. truly stands for.
“It’s how I pull myself out of things,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘Is this actually happening, or am I just anxious that this potentially could happen? Am I anxious that somebody misunderstood something I’ve said, but they haven’t told me they have?'”
By reexamining her thoughts and analyzing whether they genuinely deserve scrutiny, Jessica almost always realizes there was nothing to fear in the first place. “The ‘real’ tend not to be nearly as bad as the imagined or perceived,” she says.
She also regularly gifts herself with guilt-free time for self-care. “If I wasn’t going to prioritize caring for myself,” Jessica says, “then things could quickly fall apart for those around me. And caring for those around me meant unequivocally that I had to care for myself.”
Today, if Jessica feels like she needs to leave work for a few hours a week to get a facial or go to a doctor’s appointment, she’ll let herself go without judgment. “That’s what I need as a human being,” Jessica says, “I’m not going to judge myself on the frivolity of it.”
After years of integrating these techniques into her life, Jessica now considers them standard parts of her routine. “It’s just kind of there,” she says. “It’s a tool in my Swiss Army Knife. It’s part of the package that helps me be my best—or get through the tough times.”
These tools especially came in handy when Arkadium faced its greatest challenge yet.
Loyalty, Leadership, and an International Conflict
When Jessica and Kenny first launched Arkadium, they chose to grow slowly and independently without outside investors or financing. As a way to increase profitability, they began searching for talented employees overseas and succeeded in doing just that with a team from Ukraine.
Eventually, Arkadium established a representative branch in Ukraine—specifically in the region of Crimea—and it ultimately expanded to around 100 employees. With another fifty employees based at the New York City office, the Ukrainians made up nearly two-thirds of the workforce, and they were treated no differently than their American counterparts.
“These are our full-time employees,” Jessica says. “We own an apartment [in Ukraine]. We were going there quite frequently. We would go and spend a month over there at a time. It felt no different to us than our New York team. They were just located in a different place.”
For over a decade, Jessica and Kenny seamlessly led this cross-continental team without complication. Then, in 2014, Russia set their eyes on annexing Crimea as part of their own country, and everything began to crumble.
“Suddenly, government buildings were being taken over by the military. The airport got shut down. Then the internet got shut down,” Jessica remembers. “It was terrifying because, for days at a time, we stopped being able to communicate.”
The inability to connect with your employees isn’t ideal for business. But much more than that, these people were part of the Arkadium family. For over a decade, her Ukrainian team worked tirelessly to build her company to the success it now was. Now, they were stuck within a warzone.
“That was a moment of fear,” she says. “For days, you couldn’t get in touch with people. You knew there were soldiers with machine guns outside of the office.” However, Jessica credits the Ukrainian employees for keeping her mind at ease so she could continue effectively leading.
“They were calm and had a lot of resolve,” she recalls. That really helped me emotionally—just knowing that they were okay.”
Eventually, Crimea was annexed by Russia, and the U.S. Government sanctioned the entire region. Essentially, Arkadium became an illegal organization. To keep their doors open, they’d have to abandon the place they’d considered a second home.
However, it wasn’t as easy as picking up, setting up shop in a different city, and finding new employees. They felt true loyalty to their team members and weren’t willing to let them go.
Jessica, Kenny, and the rest of Arkadium’s leadership team decided to relocate their formerly Ukrainian office—and 55 employees and their families—to a new city called Krasnodar in mainland Russia, which had no sanctions.
“It was probably the most difficult moment of my life,” Jessica says. “Definitely the most difficult moment for our business. Hands down. We had to lay people off in the United States to afford it. We were unsure if we’d be able to get through it because it was a massive expense for the business.”
With people’s lives and livelihoods in her hands, the stress began to take its toll on Jessica physically and mentally. “It was very, very difficult,” she says. “It was extremely emotional and extremely draining.” Still, she knew her team not only could get through this struggle. They’d flourish.
“I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that if we could rise to the occasion, there was no doubt that I’d be a stronger individual, and we’d be a stronger company—and we absolutely were.”
Today, Arkadium boasts a passionate, innovative international team who remains devoted to the organization that stuck with them through everything. After all, if they can weather through a major international conflict, what can’t they do?
Looking back on the turmoil of 2014, Jessica says, “I’m really proud of how the company showed up. With any relationship—personal or business…you have to invest in them.
“I was making my deposits, if you will, every single month in the form of building trust, showing up, and leading with integrity. When I needed to cash in those deposits, those people were there. That was really inspiring and heartening. It was like, ‘You’ve had our backs for fifteen years.
Now, we’re going to have yours.'”