Helping content marketers more confidently navigate the world of brand storytelling.
Aug. 26, 2020

Growth Mindset: Small MN Farm Town to NYC

Growth Mindset: Small MN Farm Town to NYC

My journey from a small town farm girl to New York City fashionista, and how a growth mindset helps you professionally and personally.

I packed 3 suitcases, said goodbye to my Minnesota family, and boarded a plane to attend fashion school in New York City. I'd only ever been to NYC in my mind. This was it. I was moving to NYC to pursue a career in fashion marketing; a dream I'd envisioned since I was a little girl growing up in a small Minnesota farm town populated by less than 1,000 people.

Hi, I'm Sarah Panus, and this is a bit more of my story.

What is A Growth Mindset?

You hear a lot about having a growth mindset. "Growth" means different things to people at different times in their life. Your growth is internally-focused, externally-driven, or a combo. But, it's always about keeping an open mind. Pushing for something beyond your current state that will improve your life or work in some way.

What Farm Work Taught Me

I grew up on farm with beef cattle and crops and a huge garden. Here, I walked the fields pulling weeds, picking up rocks, driving tractors, fixing things to make them last longer, learning which tool my dad was asking for, volunteering at church, and eating fast so we could get back outside to work some more before it got dark outside. I sorted cattle even though I was terrified of getting charged by one. Man, I really hated sorting cattle.

This taught me the value of hard work, and gave me an appreciation for nature (minus the bugs). But, it also made me long for the glamour of the pictures I saw in my monthly Seventeen and YM magazine subscriptions. I knew I was meant to explore and do other things. Fashion called for me and I knew I'd always move away, drawn to the conquest of my dream.

NYC Fashion School Here I Come

So, after I graduated from St. Cloud State University, in Minnesota, with my undergrad degrees in Mass Commmunications/PR and Business Management, I was accepted into one of the best fashion schools in the country: FIT, the Fashion Institue of Technology. Here, I specialized myself with another degree in Fashion Merchandising Management. My dream was to work in fashion PR for a designer and I was on my way to making that dream a reality.

While at FIT, I earned a job as the Communications Manager for high-end wedding gown designer Christos Bridal. Here I traveled the country managing B:B retail accounts, ideated with bridal magazine stylists to feature Christos gowns, and helped plan two bridal market fashion shows per year. It was so much fun and I learned a lot about business and people personalities.

Next Stop: Beantown

After three years, I realized I didn't want to live in NYC my entire life. It was an amazing city, but it was also amazingly expensive, and I couldn't see myself raising a family and hauling a stroller up and down the subway stairs. I wanted to work with other high-end consumer brands, so I took a great job in Boston at integrated marketing agency, Cone Inc. My three suitcases grew to a mini UHaul truck. This time, I wasn't moving by myself either. My New Jersey boyfriend (now my husband, Dave) and his best friend helped me move into my first Boston studio apartment. My Beantown adventure and continued growth had begun!

At Cone, I technically took a step back in terms of titles, but I knew it would pay off because of the variety of agency clients and peers I was going to lwork with and earn from. I wanted to immerse myself in the PR/integrated marketing space and Cone felt like home to me. I worked hard and wasn't afraid to put in long hours to drive results for my clients. My largest accounts were: Starbucks New England, Nestle Waters North America (Perrier), Lindt Chocolate, Game Crazy, and the American Heart Association. I earned yearly promotions going from the entry-level Assistant Account Exec, to Account Exec, to Sr. Acct Exec to Acct Supervisor. Why? I had a growth mindset. I leaned in. Asked questions. Worked hard. Helped coach those junior to me to pass along what I'd learned.

Then, I got married, and fate guided us back to my home state of Minnesota where we still live. But, I'll save that part of the story for another time...

What's Your Growth Mindset?

A growth mindset doesn't stop. Your vision and plans ebb and flow, yes. But, those ideas in the back of your head are things you can always work toward in your professional and personal life. Just avoid perfectionism paralysis. Massive action is better than perfectionism any day. As a recovering perfectionist, this is something I'm always working on. For example: How can you get that content campaign live to learn from it? Experiment with this influencer and if it goes well, you can extend their contract. Do a mini-run of your new content series idea to gauge audience engagement. Plan one season of a branded podcast and see what you can learn before deciding if you'll do more seasons. Push that story out on your blog and emails with a question to gather audience insights for the next thing you create.

Even though life may feel crazy for you right now, what's one thing you're excited about in your professional or personal life right now? Send me a DM on my instagram page with "Growth Mindset: [your details here]". I'd love to see all the things people are leaning into these days!


Sarah Panus is a content marketing strategist, Minnesota mom, and owner of Kindred Speak, LLC, a remote consultancy that helps brands with digital content marketing, influencer marketing, and brainstorming. She’s spent 17 years helping brands including Sleep Number, Starbucks, Nestle Waters, Christos Bridal, Game Crazy, Cone Inc, etc. speak a kindred language with their audiences, driving brand advocacy and millions in revenue and brand engagements. Email Sarah at to book a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your brand storytelling questions and needs. Follow Sarah on Instagram or LinkedIn as she helps parents working in content marketing-type roles who struggle with overwhelm or confusion at work. Learn more at

Photo cred: my mom (yup, that's me playing dress up with my mom's jewelry as a little girl)