Transitions–in work, personal life, and beyond–are a natural part of life. But these experiences can often be stressful and painful detours from the goals we have in mind.
Anne Devereux-Mills experienced her own detour when her health, her career, and her home life shifted–all within months. She began to see that both her relationships and her identity had been wrapped up in her career in advertising and as a result, she had very few supportive female relationships on which she could rely. After connecting with other women, most of whom were at similar turning points in their lives, Anne founded Parlay House, a salon-style series of gatherings in 2012. Today, the organization counts over 5,000 participants and operates in seven cities across the U.S. and Europe.
As her second career emerged with the now-global Parlay House, Anne has worked to bring a message of encouragement, hope, and empowerment, particularly to women. As a dedicated mentor for SHE-CAN, she is helping to foster the next generation of female world leaders coming from post-genocide countries. Anne was also a key member of the team that helped pass California’s Proposition 36, which brought fair sentencing to thousands of non-violent inmates as part of California’s Three Strikes reform. Today, she is publishing her first book, The Parlay Effect: The Transformative Power of Female Connection, a collection of insights and stories on the positive, multiplying effect of Parlay-style communities along with research findings on the phenomenon.
What effect did building such an inspirational career in New York City have on developing the concepts in The Parlay Effect? Why is empowering women important to you?
Coming off the high of being a multiple-time CEO in the world of advertising, I hit a real low when I lost my job. I realized that without it, I had no other way to define who I was. I realized that the majority of relationships I had built in the business world had been transactional and that when I lost my power, I lost my personal currency as well. I felt isolated, disconnected and lonely. I felt especially disappointed to see that after my years as a sister to sisters, mother of daughters, and a graduate of Wellesley College, that I had very few female friendships coming out of a male-dominant career.
I decided to try to live the second chapter of my life by truly connecting to a few individuals, where the relationships allow for vulnerability and authenticity while existing without the expectation of “payback” and transactions.
The result of my quest was the creation of Parlay House, a now-global organization that gathers small groups of women together to have the conversations that aren’t being had in other spaces, and that fosters the connections among diverse groups of women who might not otherwise meet.
When I began to observe that Parlay House was flourishing because thousands of other women shared my unmet needs, I decided that it was important to pull everything together in a book so I could extend the ideas globally. It’s another way for me to encourage women to not only accept themselves but to start replicating the inclusive communities that we are building. It’s a way for us, individually and collectively, to find meaningful power.
Writing a book is a huge undertaking, why did you feel that writing it now was the right time to share your message with the world?
Most people I know right now feel that their challenges and the problems in the world around them are insurmountable. Obstacles feel too big, too broad and with no clear place to start. I know I felt that way when the world I knew collapsed around me.
I wrote The Parlay Effect to not only track my journey, but to provide insights and guidance for other people who might benefit from identifying personal strengths and translating those strengths into growth and empowerment. I wrote the book to be an antidote to our current disconnection and dislocation, and to provide hope at a time when things feel grim.
How can the information in your book help women empower themselves and make a change?
Most of us are in some sort of transition. It might be from one stage of life to the next, or an evolution in our personal relationships. We might be shifting gears at work or moving to a different stage of parenting. Whatever that transition, it’s crucial to spend some time in the space in between rather than just jumping ahead into doing the next thing. By “space in between” I mean the crucial moments after what was and before what will come next.
It is at these times that we can feel, think and process internally, to really look not only forward but also backward, with a 360-degree degree view before plowing straight ahead.. By stopping to feel and to process before just jumping into the next thing, you may find new truths about yourself, your needs and your abilities that take you on a different and more interesting path.
You’ve been called the “21st-Century Gertrude Stein” due to your passion for helping women. Part of this includes founding Parlay House, a modern-day salon for women. You recently hosted a salon in NYC on Human Trafficking. Tell us more about the event, and why these salons are important to women throughout the world?
Gertrude Stein was not only a novelist and creative person, but she hosted infamous salons (in Paris) where a range of artists like Picasso, Matisse and F. Scott Fitzgerald gathered to exchange ideas, insights, challenges, and opportunities. She facilitated conversations about things that couldn’t be discussed in more public forums.
The Parlay House gatherings have been created for a similar reason: to bring diverse groups of women together to talk about experiences, needs, and interests that aren’t usually discussed in other parts of our lives. It’s a safe place to realize that we aren’t alone with our challenges and to spend time with people who are not part of our daily lives or immediate communities.
Sex Trafficking, which happens all over the world and in the least-expected places (including New York City) is an issue that most of us don’t know about. Our panel included both activists and a brave woman who was able to extricate herself from that life They spoke about the real issues faced by women whose lives evolved into inconceivable situations, and they provided hope that there are people working to bring solutions and opportunities that will change the trajectory of those lives.
We address dozens of topics in our gatherings around the world. We’ve talked about how to deal with narcissists, the challenges of being a perfectionist, optimizing self-presentation in terms of speech patterns and body language, and non-traditional approaches to mindfulness. As we launch new chapters, the conversations expand and the connections grow.
From your bi-coastal life on the East Coast in NYC and the West Coast in California, what was your favorite writing spot in each location and why?
My favorite writing spot wasn’t a location. It’s was a mental place where I could clear away all of the external and internal noise, and to hone in on my own journey to understand how it was inextricably connected to other people’s truths.
But your question isn’t off-base. We all find “creative fuel” from different external sources as well, and I got mine when I looked across San Francisco Bay to see the beauty across the water. I got mine when I walked the streets of New York and felt energized by the diversity and intensity of such a vibrant city.
And wherever I was, I found my voice by listening to and learning from my incredible friends and family who gave me the safe space to be seen and to be my most authentic self. It’s the greatest gift we can give each other.