Alexia Vernon is Goddess of the Week!
"Because women leaders – through a combination of biology and socialization – tend to be very good at thinking and performing holistically, building the relationships necessary to move ideas forward, and have the perseverance to stay the course and shift obstacles into opportunities when they emerge, we need more of them."
- Alexia Vernon, creator of Moxie Camp
Speaker | Coach | Trainer | Author
Alexia Vernon is on a mission to build a new generation of leaders, particularly women, who are heart-centered, high-impact communicators and public speakers.
With over 10 years of experience as a public speaker and educator, she is committed to helping women find their authentic voice, sculpt their dynamic message and share their power with the world.
The author of two books, 90 Days 90 Ways and Awaken Your CAREERpreneur, Alexia has been featured by CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, among other prominent media.
Alexia earned her Master's degree at New York University’s Gallatin School in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on gender, leadership, social change and theatre. She earned her undergraduate degree in women’s studies with a minor in theatre from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
Tabby Biddle: You are setting the bar for America’s next generation of leaders. What do you think are some of the most valuable skills an upcoming leader should have?
Alexia Vernon: I believe that the single most important leadership skill is authenticity. So often we think of authenticity as something innate, or an adjective for how we do what we do, but I see it as a muscle that takes intentional, daily-practice to buff up. When we show up as 100 percent of ourselves, we become irresistibly attractive to the people who are meant to “follow” us. We speak our message, engender trust, and inspire commitment and peak performance with ease. Of course given the focus of my work, I also place great importance on effective communication – which to me is always heart-centered and high-impact. It’s the how for communicating our who, what, and why.
TB: Have you ever struggled with being authentic?
AV: Oh hell yes. In college, I was so comfortable with who I was (I was a women’s studies major). If you asked my opinion, I gave it to you and usually I did a good job of it. Then when I got into the workplace, this inner critic that had never emerged before was suddenly on the hot seat 24/7.
I think about that a lot as so much of the work I do now is around setting young professionals up for success in their first jobs. I think in many ways the number one reason why I had such a hard time listening to my voice, finding the messages that I wanted to share and then speaking them with power and impact is because I kept asking: Well what does everyone else do that is appropriate and am I doing that? While I don’t necessarily think it is wrong to want to fit into one’s professional culture, I think that there is a danger for women when we are trying so hard to follow the rules that we forget the whole point of why we are following them in the first place.
TB: Through your work, you are empowering young people to build careers that are successful, sustainable and full of soul. How would you describe a career that is “full of soul.”
AV: Full of soul means that your career lets you live your sense of purpose, is in alignment with your core values, and allows you to have integration between each of your life spheres.
TB: You won the Miss Junior America competition in college. There is a lot of stereotype around this type of competition. How would you describe your experience?
AV: I know … I left out “Miss Junior America” from my professional biography for almost a decade. But when I realized that my experience was transformative for me, I simultaneously realized that I had a responsibility to talk about it openly and resolve my own mixed feelings about being a pageant winner. The reason that MJA was so fabulous for me is that it enabled me to embrace all of the parts of myself. I got to dance, speak publicly in front of an audience of thousands and individually with the judges, improvise with the pageant host … but above all else, speak about my passion – shifting the culture around sexual abuse and sexual assault. I’ll never forget the look on the judges’ faces when I started spouting out sexual assault statistics and talking about making men a part of the solution. I know that my passion and transparency is why I won. So while I never entered a pageant before and will most likely never enter one again, I am grateful for MJA for jumpstarting my career as a women’s empowerment public speaker.
TB: You have shared that for the first quarter of your life you were just “plain ole angry and cranky.” Can you say more about this?
AV: During the first quarter of my life, I danced between being a hyper-overachiever who was told she would change the world and a little girl with headgear who watched her family crumble in the aftermath of speaking out about her familial sexual abuse. I wanted to prove to my family, the world – but above all else – to myself, that I could use a difficult narrative as my springboard for success. And what that meant for me was that when I was getting straight A’s, winning competitions, earning accolades for my dancing and acting, and so forth, I felt like I was victorious. Unfortunately, for every ten “wins” I’d experience, there would be a “loss.” And I would replay those losses over and over again and lose sight of who I was underneath the external achievements.
It wasn’t until my husband proposed to me – yes, I really am that cliché (two of my biggest ‘aha’s’ came from a pageant and a proposal) – that I realized I needed to redirect my attention away from What do I want to do? and instead ask Who do I want to be? As a result, I made some big choices in my life to better align my core values – family, contribution, justice, and achievement. I left my full-time job to launch my own business. Moved cross-country to be in the same city as my mother. Started working with sexual offenders in order to help them heal from their own traumas and protect future women and children from unnecessary abuse. Launched a platform for empowering women’s voices—Step Into Your Moxie.
While I’ve published two books in 2.5 years; interviewed with dozens of national and local TV, print and online media; and spoken at companies, conferences, and campuses from coast-to-coast – meaning I’ve hardly let go of the desire to achieve – the way I measure my success and create my own self-narrative is completely different. The driver now is being clear on the legacy I want to leave behind – creating a world where women and men make heart-centered, high-impact communication a way of being – and I build my movement day-to-day based on the opportunities the universe sends my way.
TB: You have launched a platform to empower women’s voices through your Step into Your Moxie program. What have you found are some of the major reasons women hold back with their voice?
AV: Nowhere did I find this more evident than at a conference that I spoke at recently for emerging social entrepreneurs. One of the things the conference prides themselves on is that 50 percent of the people in the room are men and 50 percent are women, and that they come from multiple countries. Part of the conference is a pitch fest where all of the participants have about two minutes to pick some idea they are passionate about and pitch it to the audience of their peers. Then the audience votes on who they feel gave the most effective pitch, and those people go onto the finals.
Out of the 10 finalists, all 10 were men. Remember, they were picked by their peers. These are young professionals – so in terms of the statistics, we know that the women in that room are probably making slightly more money than the men, and more women are going on to grad school. Yet when we are looking at who is an effective communicator, why the heck are we as women and men all voting for the men?
I got on my Twitter feed and started asking some of these questions. It made me slightly unpopular, but the themes that came out were these: First and foremost what everyone thought made for a “good” pitch was something that was a more masculine model of communication – having a very strong, almost staccato voice; having lots of energy and bouncing around the stage like Tony Robbins (who I adore, by the way); and having a very linear way of making their points. And so if you looked at who was doing that, it was the men.
TB: And what else?
AV: The second thing that came up was that when some of the women talked, both men and women would say: Those were really powerful pitches. Those were some of the ones I remembered. There was a lot of emotion - in terms of the stories being told, but also emotions moving through those women’s bodies. Even though both women and men individually felt more connection to some of the women speakers, there was the notion that – that can’t be good because that is not what we are taught is effective communication.
"I’m really passionate about changing what we think of as effective public speaking and letting people be right in terms of who has moved them and understanding why."
TB: How do you feel more women in leadership could change our world?
AV: Whether she is a government, corporate, or community leader; runs her own business; or is a cultural creative or educator, a changemaker is someone who can keenly identify the social problems that exist, but more importantly, she knows how to harness her values, strengths, resources, and enthusiasm to find and implement lasting solutions. Because women leaders – through a combination of biology and socialization – tend to be very good at thinking and performing holistically, building the relationships necessary to move ideas forward, and have the perseverance to stay the course and shift obstacles into opportunities when they emerge, we need more of them. As President Obama said in what I found a breathtaking call to action to Barnard graduates last week, “After decades of slow, steady, extraordinary progress, we are now poised to make this the century where women shape not only their own destiny but the destiny of this nation and of this world."
We know that in this country women are half the workforce. In their first jobs, Gen Y women are now out earning Gen Y men. We’re walking away with more graduate degrees. Making the majority of the household purchasing decisions. Yet what I believe stands in the way between the promise of women leaders and the reality of our leadership is still a limiting self-concept of who and what we can be. And that’s what inspired me to create Moxie Camp – the need for a playspace for women who feel called to find solutions to our world’s greatest problems to get up on their feet, practice sharing their vision and voice, receive hands-on coaching, and most importantly get comfortable in their power to facilitate the big-time, scalable social change they are capable of making.
TB: You’ve been out there speaking as a leader from a young age and now you are holding space for women to come into their own leadership. How would you say that your leadership has evolved over time?
AV: I no longer measure my success based on how “good” I am as a leader. I look at it rather by how many leaders do I leave behind. That might sound incredibly cliché, but for a long time I was great at inspiring people and giving them strategies and techniques to play with. If it didn’t translate into them actually taking action and being able to consistently use those in their work and in their life, that wasn’t leadership. Now I really ask: How are people living their lives as a result of our engagement? If I’m able to say: They are able to live these principles when they show up to their lives every day -- that to me is success.
TB: You have a very busy speaking and teaching schedule. How do you keep yourself grounded and centered amongst all of that?
AV: You couldn’t be asking this at a better time because two days before I left for my book tour, I got laryngitis. There is not a doubt in my mind that came from being a little loosey goosey with my self-care. I was taking red eyes and then going immediately into speaking and training. So what it meant was that my body was really paying a price. And so I’ve made a new commitment to myself – and you may see some changes on that speaking schedule – that 1) I have to have 7 to 8 hours of sleep before I am going to open my mouth to anyone about anything. 2) Before I am going into a crazy spell, I need a lot of me time, which means yoga, meditation, plant-based diet, juice, and just silly stupid fun. Not just because that’s the right thing to do, but because my body needs me to do that.
TB: You write a newsletter about turning obstacles into opportunities. What have been some obstacles that you have turned into opportunities for you?
AV: Oh my gosh. I could go on for days about this. But definitely the biggest obstacle I was given was my sexual abuse. I feel a lot of resistance in calling it an obstacle because I really feel like I am in the opportunity space about it now, which has certainly offended a lot of people, but I own that. For me, my abuse was an opportunity. In terms of the aftermath, it allowed me to be able to practice forgiveness and be able to take responsibility for the story that created my life and to have the opportunity to have a story that I have discovered has opened up so many doors for other women and men who have been stuck in their shame or stuck in silence and not even talking about it. It has also allowed me to recognize that in our garbage is usually our gem. What I mean by gem is our soul’s work, our professional work. When there’s that stuff that hits us, we’re supposed to do something with it that is bigger than ourselves.
TB: What does being a Goddess mean to you?
AV: Well, I’m Greek, so I come from a long line of goddesses. I see it as loving your femininity and seeing your femininity as the source of your power and influence in the world. To me a Goddess is somebody who has a connection to something bigger than herself. For me that is God, but I recognize that for other people it’s not necessarily and that is a-okay, but there is some life force that is bigger than you that helps you be bigger than you.
TB: Are there any particular goddesses that you associate with or turn to for connection to your own strength and power?
AV: I connect with the relationship between Persephone and her mother Demeter. It is perhaps the most powerful one for me because my greatest initial experience of love growing up was what I had with my mother. I feel like she went to the underworld to make sure that her daughter was never abused again and then healed. What she had to go through in my family to make sure that happened is unspeakable. I’ve always looked in every relationship to try and show up with as much love as my mother showed up with for me. Those are some really big shoes to fill because she is just a phenomenal selfless person.
TB: If you had a loudspeaker that could be heard by all women and girls around the world, what is the message that you would impart?
AV: What scares you most is most what you need to say. Allow yourself to embrace that fear as your power. Give yourself the quiet to find exactly how you want to unleash it and then put on some red high heels and go out there and spread your message to the world.
Alexia's Moxie Camp is happening in New York City from June 29 - July 1. To learn more and register, visit moxiecamp.com.
To learn more about Alexia and how she can support you in your growing leadership, visit alexiavernon.com
Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a well-known voice speaking out for the human rights and empowerment of women and girls around the world. As a writer and speaker, she has been featured by The Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, UN Dispatch, NPR, among other international media. In 2011, Tabby was the recipient of a Press Fellowship from the United Nations Foundation to expand the dialogue around global health issues affecting women and girls. Through her work as a coach and workshop leader, Tabby is committed to giving women and girls a greater voice in the world. For more information, visit tabbybiddle.com.