How many of us long to build closer and more meaningful relationships but don’t know where to start? With smartphones, social media, and round-the-clock office hours, many of us are more connected and more isolated than ever.
Anne Devereux-Mills set out to combat some of our social disconnectedness when she founded The Parlay House, an international network of salon-style conversations meant to bring diverse women together over shared values and experiences. Motivated by her own self-reflection and personal challenges, Anne built a worldwide movement of individual women affecting small changes that rippled through communities and across the globe. Now Anne is sharing how she did it and guidance for others to follow suit in her new book, The Parlay Effect: How Female Connection Can Change The World https://amzn.to/2LRtPSx
Your story is inspiring in so many ways. You lost your health to cancer, your child as she grew up and left for college, and unfortunately your job as well to the recession, yet here you are pushing forward as a leader in the modern world. For those who are reading this article, what life lesson can you offer as it pertains to perseverance despite all odds?
My story might be extreme but everyone faces significant challenges and hardship at some point in their lives. Those experiences are humbling, but when you come out of them, they provide a lot of information that you can use to grow.
My challenges and failures helped me see what I had taken for granted before cancer and job loss. Now I appreciate those more. My struggles also helped me see what I really value and what had been missing in my life. I hadn’t realized how badly I was missing real and authentic connection rather than work-oriented transactional relationships.
Now I limit my interactions to people and situations where I can be my authentic self. I have stopped valuing relationships based on the achievement of reciprocity, and I have accepted people who might not return favors or participate equally in relationships. They still have a lot to offer. Finally, I have learned that I feel better about my empathetic self than I do about my CEO self. The values, rather than the achievements, drive me.
Coming from such an extensive executive background, what was the process like in starting up Parlay House? How many people normally gather together at one of the events?
Parlay House started out as a rag-tag group of a dozen strangers that I met through friends of friends. As we got to know each other more, we started to identify some shared values. One of those was having one woman make the next woman a member and bringing her into the fold, which multiplied our membership exponentially.
A dozen women quickly became 50, and now we have numbers in the thousands. But we intentionally keep our gatherings small (e.g. 25-70 people, depending on the venue) so that participants can really talk and have intimate conversations. We are all about the depth of connecting, rather than the breadth of networking.
The experience of building Parlay House from the ground up made me an entrepreneur and showed me that growth isn’t always linear. Before Parlay House, I made my career building businesses on behalf of mammoth holding companies.
With Parlay House, I was hypothesizing, testing, and iterating on my ideas and, instead of climbing the corporate ladder, relying on the input and experiences of people around me. I had to be open to the possibility that opportunities for growth and relevance might actually be next to me, or even behind me, rather than straight ahead.
Dr. Serena Chen, a tenured Professor of Social Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, provided key research that led to the findings in The Parlay Effect. What was your experience like working with her on this project?
Working with Serena was magical. We have very different areas of expertise and we have complementary ways of thinking about, and approaching, the questions we set out to answer. Underneath our differing roles of scientist and CEO, we found a million commonalities.
We shared our experiences going through divorce and acting as single mothers, how valuable it is working with people dramatically younger than ourselves. We also shared a quest for performance and perfectionism that sometimes thwarts our efforts or interferes with our self-esteem. We did great work together and built a friendship at the same time. It doesn’t get better.
If you had to pick one thing you wanted readers to take away with them when they finish The Parlay Effect, what would it be and why?
Even though our world’s imperfections loom large and problems too big for the individual to tackle, we CAN impact change. We DO have the ability to create cascades of change for other people. We can redefine communities and restore a sense of good in the world. And it all begins with one small thing.
What is the favorite drink of choice during one of the Parlay House meetings?
No question: Champagne. We drink champagne because it is our time to celebrate ourselves and each other. It’s an opportunity to have an evening where each one of us gets pampered and is appreciated. It’s a celebration of the power that can happen when diverse groups of women gather and find out how many truths we share and how our wonderful differences make us collectively stronger.