At only 17-years-old, Alexa Carlin was a CEO. And at 21-years-old, she had only a 1% chance to live. Both incredibly improbable, but both were Carlin’s reality. The now 26-year-old takes it all in stride and uses her experience to empower other women to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality by hosting Women's Empowerment Expos.
Carlin grew up South Florida and earned a Bachelor's in Business Administration from the University of Florida. She is the Founder & CEO of the Women Empower Expo, as well as a frequent public speaker, and the creator of BeAPublicSpeaker.com
She says that she’s wanted to be a CEO ever since she was a little girl. “Even though I never knew what CEO actually stood for,” Carlin says. Still, “There was this knowing, internally, that I was meant to create and lead.”
In fact, ever since she was a kid, Carlin says she’s been an entrepreneur, always creating businesses and turning ideas into reality. Her first true entree into entrepreneurship was when she was 17 and she became the sole licensee to design jewelry for the L.A. based fashion company, OmniPeace. She even donated a percentage of proceeds to help build schools in Africa.
Since then, she’s been on a mission to use her entrepreneurial endeavors to create positive change, for one person, for her community and for the world. Her work with OmniPeace led to her next passion project, a blog called Hello Perfect. The site’s mission was to “redefine perfection” and garnered support from Mark Cuban, Michael Kors, Rebecca Minkoff, Steve Madden, and Whitney Port among others.
Carlin’s future was a bright one. Until it took a very dark turn.
When Carlin was a senior in college, just a few months before graduation in fact, her body went into septic shock and doctors placed her in a medically-induced coma. She was given a 1% chance to live. Six months later, she was then diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which she now lives with every day.
Carlin says she believes “things don't happen to you, they happen for you, and when you can learn to perceive your challenges as hidden opportunities, everything changes. I decided not to wait until my life changed but rather change my own life.” That, Carlin says, is how she overcame a health crisis that had a 99% chance of ending her life. That is how she came to found WEX.
Women Empower Expo (WEX) is a one-day event comprised of workshops, panels, breakout sessions, a pitch competition, a networking lounge, a woman-owned marketplace and the like, designed for women entrepreneurs and thought-leaders. The mission for WEX is “to empower, educate and equip women with the knowledge and community to create and grow
successful businesses.” At WEX, women can “learn from industry experts and female leaders, network with entrepreneurs and change-makers, discover tools and strategies to take your business to the next level, and feel empowered to create a positive change.”
Photo Source: Women Empower Expo
While speaking at a variety of companies and women's organizations in her local community, Carlin became aware of the huge disconnect between women. “All of these women were doing amazing things but no one knew each other. Everyone just stayed within their own membership group or industry.” Obviously, networking with and connecting to women from different industries and backgrounds is vital for both entrepreneurs and business leaders. That, Carlin says, was the inspiration behind WEX, “to create a community of women who felt empowered to connect and collaborate and create real change in their own lives, in their businesses, and in the world.”
Carlin says she has always been passionate about making a difference but it was never focused on women until she created her first blog, Hello Perfect, in 2011. She was in college, interning in NYC one summer, and she became very aware of how common it was for women and young girls to criticize themselves and one another.
“I hated how self-doubt and low confidence was a common thing among young women, and I wanted to change that. That's when I began really focusing on instilling confidence in myself and young women and from there my passion grew to really make a change for women everywhere,” she explains.
To start WEX, Carlin took $2,000 from her savings and put a down payment on a venue. “I didn't know how to put on an event of this size or even how I would pull off getting 2,000 people to attend. But I believed in myself and in my mission so I went for it and learned during the process.” Carlin believes that waiting is what kills most people’s dreams. “You must execute your ideas if you believe in them.”
Carlin says that seeing thousands of women come together for the first time to collaborate, learn, and grow was unlike anything else. “It was truly remarkable. Not only seeing my idea turn to reality, but to see how much of an impact it was having on the women in attendance. It's what drives me to keep going still to this day.”
Delegation and finances are the greatest challenges Carlin says she has faced in terms in getting WEX up and running. “I've been an entrepreneur for ten years now, running my companies as a one-woman show. But for an event of this size and how fast we are growing as a company, I knew I needed help to take it to the next level.” Carlin says she finds delegating difficult for her as she wants to ensure that everything is set to the brand’s standards. “But it's been the best thing for me as an entrepreneur and for the company in general.”
Naturally, she says, the other challenge is funding. She owns 100% of the company and has supported it since the beginning. “We have been profitable but with any growing company who needs to bring on staff. It's always a bit challenging in the beginning years.”
Carlin says there have been many happy moments, but the happiest have been the stories she hears from attendees after she’s done speaking. Attendees tell her how much she has inspired or impacted their lives. “One of the happiest surprises was when a few people that have been following me online for years now showed up at WEX and they were wearing my bracelets I had created or brought me the cookbook I wrote to sign it for them, sharing with me how I've made a difference in their life.”
Carlin says her health crisis actually helped her to discover her greatest potential and, she adds, “It changed my perspective on everything. It made me realize how strong I am and just how capable we all are of achieving anything we dream.” When she looks back at that 1% diagnosis she received while in a coma in a ICU she thinks, “If the odds were that against me then, it doesn't matter what the odds are moving forward, in business or life, because I am the 1%.”
Carlin now calls her health challenges a blessing because, “I now get to share them with others and through this experience, I found my passion for public speaking.” Although Carlin says she never imagined herself running these huge events or even being a public speaker, she did know deep down that she’d be running her own company.
Looking toward the future, Carlin hopes to meet some with whom to share her life; to get her book published; to continue growing the Women Empower Expo to multiple cities; and to “see a shift in the way things have been with women, equal rights, school shootings, and leadership in government.”
When it comes to women turning their dreams into their realities, Carlin says that mindset, community, and execution are the keys to success. Confidence in yourself and your dreams is imperative, as is surrounding yourself with people who “inspire, empower, and believe in you.” Massive amounts of action is required as well, she says, and although you may never feel 100% ready, you have to simply, “Go for it. Don't wait until outside circumstances change. You have everything you need right now to achieve what you want in life. It is your job to find a way.”
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."