Anne Devereux-Mills was a successful New York City advertising executive when the perfect storm of health crisis and economic downturn hit. Dealing with cancer, losing her job, and seeing her youngest off to college left her searching for a sense of self, of community, and of hope for the future–a search that led her to launch The Parlay House. What started as an informal group of women connecting through conversation quickly grew into an international network of women from every walk of life.
Not only did Anne find community in the women she was connecting and connecting with, but she noticed a social phenomenon, called the Parlay Effect, when small actions set off exponential positive change. Now Anne is sharing her insights into developing and nurturing your best self while positively impacting the lives around you in her new book, The Parlay Effect: How Female Connection Can Change The World www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07Y4D4Q1Z
All books have a back-story, what is the back-story that inspired The Parlay Effect?
For most of my career, I was the CEO of a number of large advertising agencies in New York City. I was also a single mom, an avid athlete, and I supported several charitable projects that I found really fulfilling. In a matter of a few weeks, that all came to a grinding halt.
I had just celebrated my 50th birthday when I learned that I had a recurrence of cancer. It was the recession of 2010, and instead of giving me time to heal from surgery, my boss chose to replace me with another leader. At the same time, my youngest daughter left home for college. I felt lost.
As I started to reflect on my life, I noticed something surprising. Many of the people I considered friends were suddenly gone, having faded away when I was sick and after I lost my job. What I realized is that those relationships had been more about an exchange of favors than genuine connection.
That’s what led me to start Parlay House, an organization dedicated to bringing together diverse women to connect on topics they care about and have few other safe spaces to address. As I started networking and looking for new, authentic relationships, I realized I was not alone. In fact, there were many people out there like me, who were at an important inflection point in their lives. We were essentially “parlaying” one thing in life to another, and that action was impacting on our sense of self, of community, and of hope. The message resonated and today the Parlay House works internationally.
Something else interesting happened in the evolution of The Parlay House: a reverberation of positive impact between and beyond the women who participated. I called this The Parlay Effect: the gatherings triggered a series of micro-actions among the participants that resulted in waves of connection, support and strength. One woman helped another in some small way, which carried on to a third.
Can you talk a bit about how women can use the information in The Parlay Effect to not only make small changes that create change, but also feel more empowered in their lives?
I wrote The Parlay Effect to help people learn how to start making change for others. The first step is about looking inwards, understanding and valuing who you are, and identifying the unmet needs and unresolved issues that could be holding you back. For example, many of us feel the need to be perfect and may hide and bury our vulnerabilities as a result. By looking inwards, you become a stronger you.
What’s more, Parlay House was born out of the realization that the disconnection and isolation that I was feeling during a life transition was not unique. By talking openly with a range of women whose lives did not look just like mine, we found connection and meaning in our shared truths. Those revelations made us feel less alone, more connected, and more empowered to move ahead as part of a supportive and diverse new community.
While writing The Parlay Effect, what is something new that you learned about yourself as a person, an individual and as a leader?
I learned that the greatest thing a leader can do is to help those around her find their own footing; to become leaders and agents of change themselves. Everyone can be a role model–no matter your career, age, experience or background.
I learned to redefine success as the feeling of doing something everyday to help push another person forward. And if, at the end of the day, you can’t affirm that you did one small thing on behalf of someone else, the next morning is another chance to try. It’s never too late to start again.
The Parlay Effect includes personal stories and scientific research. Why was that an important factor to you when writing this book?
Personal stories help us to relate to each other as human beings. The opportunity to be open about our own paths, including the bumps along the way, provides comfort to others whose paths are just as rough and meandering.
But tying these personal experiences to scientific research revealed a much broader impact and relevance. Our research helped define the multiplier effect: that is, when someone witnesses an act of kindness, empathy or generosity, and then incorporates that behavior into their own lives; and proves that we can create cascades of change that are far greater than a linear chain reaction.
Let’s change things up just a bit. If you could have dinner with any three people in the history of time, who would they be and why?
Ooooh la la. Since the three things I most care about in people are authenticity, empathy, and action, I would invite:
Brene Brown, the social scientist and research professor who inspired me to expose my truths and take pride in living an openly vulnerable life.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the novelist whose empathy about the brutal treatment of slaves on plantations set an example for championing the needs of others and ultimately created a cascade that helped reframe people’s worldviews and actions.
Emma Gonzalez–and I know this makes way more than three, but let’s invite Malala Yousefzai, Greta Thunberg, and Megan Rapinoe, too–who represent the next generation of women who have found their voice and will set the standard for women’s empowerment, activism and leadership in the years to come.