Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Anne Devereux-Mills follows a nonlinear path of life, exploring and succeeding across multiple careers and interests. Anne discovered that she was a leader as a Wellesley College undergraduate student and parlayed that into a terrific career in advertising, rising to become CEO of several companies.
The triple threat of cancer, an empty nest, and job loss caused her to reexamine her career and life choices. She figured out where her passion met her prowess, founding Parlay House, a national salon-style gathering for women.
Today, Anne is a noted speaker, author, philanthropist, and chief instigator at Parlay House. The question is, what can she not do?
(02:11) Wellesley and finding her way
(04:16) Insurance, what i was supposed to do
(05:10) Advertising: the best of both worlds
(06:38) The short window of time to lifelong opportunities
(08:59) Life inflection point: progressive cancer, empty nest, job loss
(11:47) Moving cross-country in a nonlinear fashion
(13:56) Parlay House in San Francisco
(14:28) When the going gets tough, different perspectives rise up
(16:11) Twelve strangers and a common thread of poetry
(18:15) Losing power and transactional friendships
(19:19) The Parlay Effect
(24:17) The pandemic and lasting impacts of change
(27:14) Equaling the playing field through philanthropy
(32:30) The intersection of who you are and what you value
(35:05) The blind date and its foundation of philanthropy
(38:47) Rediscovering my 18 year old self
Visit www.parlayhouse.com to listen to the podcast Bring A Friend, read the book Parlay House: How Female Connection Can Change the World, or contact Anne herself. You can also get involved with SHE-CAN, an organization fostering women’s global leadership, or watch the Emmy-nominated film, The Return. Hear more stories of people who found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi. This is Liz Tinkham, and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends but your show’s just not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:34):
On today’s episode of Third Act, I talk with Anne Devereux-Mills, the power connector. Anne discovered that she was a leader as a Wellesley undergraduate and parlayed that into a terrific career in advertising, rising to become CEO of several companies. But, the triple threat of cancer, an empty nest, and job loss caused her to reexamine her career and life choices. So, she figured out where her passion met her prowess, founding Parlay House, a national salon-style gathering for women. Today, she is a noted speaker, author, philanthropist, and, my favorite, chief instigator at Parlay House.
Liz Tinkham (01:11):
Anne, welcome to Third Act! Great to have you here.
Anne Devereux-Mills (01:17):
Hey, Liz. Thanks for having me.
Liz Tinkham (01:19):
You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who’s got her own Wikipedia page, so it was a bit intimidating. Your life’s incredible. Can’t wait to hear more. But just to get started, you’re originally from Seattle. Is that correct?
Anne Devereux-Mills (01:30):
I am. But, Seattle was a very different Seattle when I grew up there. It’s changed an awful lot.
Liz Tinkham (01:37):
Yeah. I’m from there as well. Do you miss the rain at all?
Anne Devereux-Mills (01:41):
I don’t miss the rain. When you’re growing up in it, I’m sure you felt this way, you don’t notice that it’s raining all the time…
Liz Tinkham (01:47):
Anne Devereux-Mills (01:47):
…because that’s just life. Then, when you live somewhere where it doesn’t rain all the time and you go back, it’s a lot. There’s a lot of rain.
Liz Tinkham (01:54):
It’s three o’clock here, 3:00 PM, and we’re in the infamous winter sun break. When I first moved out here, they’re like, “Oh, yeah. We’re going to have a sun break. It will last for a half hour every once a day in January.” That’s about right. But moving on, you went to Wellesley as your first act.
Anne Devereux-Mills (02:10):
Liz Tinkham (02:11):
So, why did you pick Wellesley? And what did you expect to do when you came out of Wellesley?
Anne Devereux-Mills (02:18):
As someone who now knows Wellesley was absolutely transformative for me, I didn’t choose to go there as my first choice. Just to be very frank, I went to Lakeside School in Seattle, which is where Robert Fulghum, who wrote Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was my English teacher. And Bill Gates was a few years ahead of me changing the world. It was a very creative co-ed place where my definition in high school was kind of being the pretty girl.
Anne Devereux-Mills (02:52):
And I did not think of myself as a woman’s woman until I didn’t get into Yale. When I was looking at my options, and my mother had gone to Wellesley as well, so it was sort of a legacy situation, I just decided I’m ready. Seattle was a small town then. It’s not like it is now. I thought, “I’m going to try something totally new,” and I jumped out of co-ed education into an all-women environment. It ended up being perfect for me.
Liz Tinkham (03:22):
Anne Devereux-Mills (03:23):
Because without being distracted by … I did have a great social life, but without sort of playing a role that I think many women fall into in a young co-ed environment where there’s a whole lot of focus on getting the attention of or being intimidated by men. I was able to come into my own in a way … I don’t think I realized it was happening at the time. But would I have become involved in college government? Maybe not. Would I have become senior class president? Maybe not. But, I sort of was able to figure out who I was with the support of women around me in a transformational way.
Liz Tinkham (04:02):
That’s great. You said you found your leadership chops when you were at Wellesley.
Anne Devereux-Mills (04:07):
I did. I did. When I got the Wellesley, there was not just one circle, and I found mine. I found my people, and they’re still friends to this day.
Liz Tinkham (04:16):
After you graduate, though, you go into insurance, which you said was not a fit. But, it taught you what you don’t want to do, which, by the way, I’m pushing my youngest one to get an internship for that exact reason. I’m like, “It will at least teach you what you don’t want to do.”
Anne Devereux-Mills (04:28):
Well, I think that’s career life. You try something. You think it’s going to be one thing. It ends up being something else, and so you throw out the pieces that you don’t like and don’t work for you, and you do more of the things that you do like and do work for you until you find the perfect fit.
Anne Devereux-Mills (04:47):
I studied political science and economics because I thought I was supposed to, not because it was what I was best at. And when I was looking for a job in 1984 when the economy was pretty terrible, I took the one job that I could get, and it was in totally the wrong industry for the creative, dynamic feminist, outspoken person that I am.
Liz Tinkham (05:10):
How did you end up in advertising, which ended up being a great fit for you?
Anne Devereux-Mills (05:14):
It was. It was a coincidence. I first, when I was trying to get out of insurance … And I was only in that industry for a couple of years. I had developed some friends in New York City, which is where I was working. Just by networking through friends, I got a job in corporate communications, which was closer to the right fit because it was communications oriented, but it was more of a sales role, and I’m not a natural salesperson in the traditional sense. But, I liked the communications piece and the creativity.
Anne Devereux-Mills (05:47):
So, it was sort of a series of three or four pivots until I honed in on the world of advertising, and it just stuck. I mean, I think my brain is one of those that’s sort of a pretty good balance between left and right and good at getting things done, but I loved to be a creative person. So, advertising, especially on the account services side before I became an executive, was the best of both because I was sort of the conduit between the needs of the client and the ability of the creative team to turn that into communications magic.
Liz Tinkham (06:21):
you had a great rise up through multiple companies, all in the health care side of advertising, becoming president, CEO of multiple companies. I mean, did you have any kind of end goal in mind? Any thoughts on where this career might take you?
Anne Devereux-Mills (06:38):
No. And I don’t think that’s how my brain works. I’m not a super linear person that some day I want to be in the C-suite. I’m more the kind of person that always wants to try the thing of the person who’s a step ahead of me. So, I live much more in the, “Am I challenged, interested, engaged, optimized now?” If yes, I’m happy. And if no, I’m looking to take that next step. So, I live very much in a shorter window.
Anne Devereux-Mills (07:09):
And that speaks, Liz, to an important life philosophy that I have, which is when you get on a path where you think the only progress is straight ahead and up, it tends to limit your choices a lot. So whether it was pivoting from geographies as I was a young person to career paths from insurance to corporate communications to health care advertising … And then I did some beyond health care advertising as well. If you just think, “I want the next higher job in doing whatever I’m doing,” you might miss opportunities to do things that you had no idea you would love and were good at.
Liz Tinkham (07:58):
To be honest with you, you’re unlike a lot of the other people I’ve interviewed who have followed a much more linear path. They got good grades in school. Then, they got into college and grades, grades, grades, grades, A’s, A’s, A’s. Then, they got the best job they could, and then they just followed that path up. It’s interesting because everybody’s about the same age whom I interview. Is there anything that … Was it Wellesley or is it just the way you’ve always been that you were looking at sort of different paths to take?
Anne Devereux-Mills (08:30):
I think the reality is I get bored really easily. If you said, “I want to take you to your favorite place for dinner,” I would want to go someplace I’d never been. If you said, “What’s your favorite vacation spot?” I can tell you what I love. But is that where I want to go next? No. I’d rather go somewhere … That’s who I am, is I get most stimulated when I’m figuring things out and trying new things.
Liz Tinkham (08:59):
Well, we’re going to hear more about that as we go on. Tell us about this triple threat of progressing cancer, empty nest, and then unexpected job loss. What happened?
Anne Devereux-Mills (09:09):
Oh, my God. This was an insane life inflection point when you think about what the world was like in 2008, 2009. Compound the mortgage crisis and the economic hardships being faced by everybody with me having recently gotten out of a really unhealthy marriage, being the mother of two daughters, having had cervical cancer during that divorce. I was alternating between Memorial Sloan Kettering and the court to try to get through that. I got through it. I felt like, “Okay. That was tough.” Now, it’s 2008, ’09, I’m running a turnaround. Turnarounds, as you know, are challenges in and of themselves.
Liz Tinkham (09:57):
Just a few hours a week.
Anne Devereux-Mills (09:59):
Exactly. My oldest daughter was off in college. My second daughter was about ready to go to college when I got a very unexpected call from my oncologist who had been following up with me. He said, “You know that last biopsy? I know you have them all the time. This one is not so good. The cells are accelerating. We can stop this, but we need to remove another significant part of your body, and we need to do it now.”
Anne Devereux-Mills (10:26):
So, what do you do? You say okay. I’ve had cancer before. I’ve been through this before. I’ve had hardships before. I’m just going to take a couple weeks off work, have the surgery, go back and continue to run the company. This is what we do.
Anne Devereux-Mills (10:42):
So when I walked into my boss of 20-plus years … I had built a number of companies for him, and I said, “Got to take a couple weeks off, but you know me. I’m tough. I’ll be back. No problem.” He said, “Meh. I’m going to have someone else run the company.”
Liz Tinkham (10:55):
Gosh. It’s unbelievable.
Anne Devereux-Mills (10:57):
I know. In that moment, not only did I lose my job, I had already had my health at risk. My last kid was about to go to college. But, I lost my sense of identity. Because when you’re in that work world and your primary self-definition is what you do for a living or whose mother you are, secondarily, I didn’t have those things anymore. That was a really pivotal moment.
Liz Tinkham (11:23):
And I’m assuming that … I’m also a cancer survivor. The last identity you want to take on at that point is cancer patient.
Anne Devereux-Mills (11:29):
Oh, yeah. Whenever I went in for whatever I was going in for, I would always look around and say, “Yeah, luckily I’m not like them.” It was total denial and avoidance, and just put it in a little box, and close the box, and go on with your life.
Liz Tinkham (11:47):
That series of events leads you to make some pretty major career and life changes, and you end up making a cross-country move as well. What happened there? And what was your thinking?
Anne Devereux-Mills (12:01):
Panic. I mean, absolute loss of footing, loss of self. The only thing that sort of didn’t get destroyed in that series of months was a new relationship. I had been dating for a couple of years a guy who was based in Northern California. He came to New York all the time. We had a great long-distance relationship. He was with me during my surgery. As I was getting better, he said sort of like, “What are you going to do now?” I said, “I’m just going to go get another job running another company.” And he said, “You know, no offense, but this is kind of killing you. It doesn’t seem to be making you particularly happy. They’re not treating you well. Why? Why would you do that linear thing?” I sort of thought about it and said, “Yeah, you’re right.”
Anne Devereux-Mills (12:53):
To be very frank, I had been successful on probably any measure except not at the financial level that he was. Moving across the country, he gave me the freedom to not have to move for a job. What I was going to next could be what I wanted to do next, not what I had to do next. And I recognize that that is a very privileged position to be in. Although, to be honest, I was feeling so sorry for myself because I was so lost. I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as I do now.
Liz Tinkham (13:29):
Well, I think, too … I mean, you had been a high earner. I think it’s very hard to let go of that.
Anne Devereux-Mills (13:36):
It still is to this day. I mean, I’ve been with him now for 10 years, and I still sometimes feel less than despite being successful doing other things because of that.
Liz Tinkham (13:47):
So you get to San Francisco, a beautiful place, with the new boyfriend, and you’re financially okay, but you don’t have any friends.
Anne Devereux-Mills (13:54):
Right. Right. I don’t know one person in the city.
Liz Tinkham (13:56):
Know one person. So you decide to create your own group that ends up being Parlay House. How did that happen?
Anne Devereux-Mills (14:04):
I had this downtime to, A, put our nest together. We bought a home and furnished it. It was beautiful. I was standing on the roof, and we have this gorgeous view across the bay looking over at Marin. I was thinking, “Oh, my God. Look. It’s such a warm afternoon. The sun is setting. I want to have someone to have a glass of wine with,” and I knew nobody.
Anne Devereux-Mills (14:28):
When I was trying to figure out what I would do to find friends, I kind of drew from past experiences that had been meaningful to me. One of the experiences was Wellesley, which we’ve talked about. Another one of the experiences was having been a fellow of the Aspen Institute. The Aspen Institute, Henry Crown Fellowship, I was in a class, sort of a prestigious leadership, values-based leadership training program where 20 of us were together on and off for two years studying what makes a really good leader, and what our values are, and what we wanted our legacy to be. And in that class, there were people that were so different from me. They might have been politically different. They were from a different country. There were men and women. There were public sectors and private sectors. The depth of connection we had because we were not all in the same bubble and all the same was profound. Those were the people that when the going got tough for me who were super, super supportive and are still people I would turn to to this day.
Anne Devereux-Mills (15:37):
I sort of thought, “Okay, if that plus Wellesley felt among the most supportive times and the place where I could be my vulnerable and authentic self, how do I get more of that for me? And how do I create more of that for other people?” I’ve always been keenly aware of the privilege that I have and very disappointed that I don’t get enough exposure into situations that are less familiar. And this goes back to … At my essence, I want to be learning, growing, trying new things.
Anne Devereux-Mills (16:11):
I just did this random thing, and I asked some of those people from the Aspen Institute, and some of my friends from Wellesley, and friends of my sister’s, and I said, “Who do you know in the Bay Area that might want to come over to my house?” And these were complete strangers. “And let’s just have someone talk as giving us sort of shared content, and let’s get to know each other.” I literally found myself with 12 strangers in my living room.
Liz Tinkham (16:36):
That would never happen in Seattle. You’d get the Seattle freeze for sure. But, good to know it happened in San Francisco.
Anne Devereux-Mills (16:44):
Yes. Maybe. I do have some friends in Seattle who are doing similar things, and I think you’re right. It started with a group who already knew each other. But, we ended up with a friend of mine who is a poet talking very, very loosely about how there’s no way when interpreting poetry that you can be wrong. Whatever it means and feels to you is what it should be. It had nothing to do with anything except that it was a conversation everybody could have. I think we talked for maybe 20 minutes about that.
Anne Devereux-Mills (17:16):
The common grounding of a topic then allowed us in groups of people who are just meeting each other to actually talk at deeper levels. And it was pretty cool. There was a buzz in the room. We served champagne, so there was a buzz, but there was also just a friendship buzz that happened. We said, “Do you want to do this again?” And everyone said, “Yes.” The next time, everybody brought a friend. We had 30, and we had 50. And we’re now nearing 10,000 around…
Liz Tinkham (17:45):
Anne Devereux-Mills (17:45):
… the world in 12 cities.
Liz Tinkham (17:47):
Wow. Wow. One thing I wanted to ask you about, because the same thing happened to me, you said that you had … You have great jobs. You must’ve had a lot of friends in New York, male and female. Like I used to say about the people I work with, they were my mostly brothers and a few sisters. And I feared when I left my job that I’d never hear from again, even though I talk to them every day, every other day. And it’s true, especially the guys. I mean, did you find the same thing?
Anne Devereux-Mills (18:15):
You know, it was one of the most crushing elements to not only be sick again but losing my job. I realized that of the thousands of people I’d work with and the hundreds of people I was working with then and was, what I thought, close to and friendly with, almost none of them were there for me when I lost power.
Liz Tinkham (18:39):
Isn’t that incredible?
Anne Devereux-Mills (18:40):
It was incredible. So, I did not want a future of transactional relationships. So, I really set about … This whole Parlay House movement was based on one rule and one rule only, which is you cannot come to one of our events with an ask. You can’t be starting a nonprofit and want to ask the marketing person for advice.
Liz Tinkham (18:59):
Anne Devereux-Mills (19:01):
That way, it creates a safe space that you can show up and be engaged without having to have your sort of shield of protection on for fear that something’s going to be transactional in nature.
Liz Tinkham (19:19):
So you’ve got 10,000 people. And you’ve written a book on it called The Parlay Effect. What is that?
Anne Devereux-Mills (19:27):
That was pretty fascinating. I had started to do more public speaking, and a lot of the places that I was speaking asked whether I had a book. I hadn’t really thought about writing a book until I realized that I was living a book. I wrote a book about this transformative moment in my life when I realigned values and give some good advice for people who don’t want to be constantly on a linear path or looking to create a new chapter about how to do that.
Anne Devereux-Mills (19:56):
I contacted a woman, who is now the head of the psychology department at Cal Berkeley, and I said to her, “I’d love to do some actual research into what I see happening within the Parlay House community.” What I would see happening is I would run into someone or meet someone, and through her I would hear a story of the thing after the thing after the thing that happened as a result of being at my house at one of our gatherings or at another one of the locations. It was not just an, I met her, and she met her. It wasn’t just this linear thing. It was very fulfilling at sort of a soul level and was inspiring people to be more inclusive and generous in their behavior.
Anne Devereux-Mills (20:45):
I said to her, “I want to track and see really what’s happening here.” So, we designed this research study where we had 437 online anonymous participants bucketed into one of three groups and answering questions for us. The first group we called the givers. We said, “Can you think of and tell us about a time when you did something for somebody?” Didn’t have to be a big deal or anything. But, it had a disproportionate effect on them. What was that? And they told us their stories.
Anne Devereux-Mills (21:17):
The second group of people we called the receivers. We said, “Was there ever anybody in your life whose behavior towards you, whether it was inclusion, or whether it was a gift, or whether it was empowerment or whatever changed the way that you lived your life?” And we called them the receivers.
Anne Devereux-Mills (21:33):
Then, we thought, “Oh, shoot. What if nobody can think of anything? What if we have people who can’t think of themselves as being generous nor lucky to have received anything?” So, we had this third bucket, and we called them the witnesses. We said, “Just tell us about something you’ve observed. Didn’t happen to you. You didn’t do it.” But, they were the witnesses.
Anne Devereux-Mills (21:53):
As you might guess, the givers were the people that are frequently generous. They could tell us stories of how small acts of bringing someone else into a meeting, or supporting her point of view, or donating something to someone who needed it, or coaching someone had meaningful impact, and that those people began to replicate the behavior. And the receivers validated that. Yes, somebody had done something for them, and they realized how big of a deal it was to transfer a skill or pass on something that was unused. These were not wealthy people. These people were talking about passing on diapers that their baby got bigger and they had this whole box, and the woman down the street really needed anything she could get. Then, she went on to donate something to someone else. These were small stories.
Anne Devereux-Mills (22:42):
The kicker, and what I think makes the book so interesting, is the witnesses. The witnesses would say … Sometimes they’d tell us stories that you’d be like, “Oh, yeah. That’s pay it forward.” They saw someone at McDonald’s pay for the meal of the person behind them. Those are nice stories, and we all know about paying it forward.
Anne Devereux-Mills (22:59):
But, what was more interesting was you’d talk to someone … And I remember this one so clearly. They said, “I was sitting outside of 7-Eleven. There were a bunch of homeless people around. And when a guy came out of 7-Eleven, he had bought an extra sandwich. He gave it to this guy, and then he watched as the guy walked across the street to the park, and I could see that that one sandwich was now being given to two or three other people.” So, one tiny action by one person was then feeding three people.
Anne Devereux-Mills (23:28):
But our witness who was not part of this, just observing it, said, “So the next week when I go to the grocery store, I’m going to help people who can’t afford their groceries to do that.” You had someone who all of a sudden was replicating the behavior of something they weren’t involved with at all. And that said to us that the result of these small acts of kindness, empathy, inclusion, empowerment, support are actually changing the way that people behave in a way that amplifies on an exponential level, not just on the linear level. That’s what that book was all about, and that’s really what we’ve seen at Parlay House and why we’ve grown so quickly and so globally is that the ability to include is so easy.
Liz Tinkham (24:17):
What have you seen the pandemic … Because you’re still going virtually? As we come out of it, hopefully by the end of this year, what do you think will be the lasting impact of the change, and where do you think you will go? Where are you headed with it?
Anne Devereux-Mills (24:31):
Well, the wonderful thing about being forced into a Zoom world is access. Even though we’re in London, and Paris, and Amman, Jordan, and across the United States, the limitations of the size of someone’s personal space mean that you have lovely, deep conversations on a community level, but you can’t have the global reach and the global expansion at the speed and impact that you’d want. And yet, during the pandemic, we have doubled in size. During most of our conversations, which are either once or twice a week, we have people participating from around the globe. Then, people say, “Oh, my goodness. In my town in Spain, women are still told to be essentially seen and not heard, and I want to change that dynamic.” So the fact that we have people around the world participating virtually means they see the relevance and want to take the lead in their location to extending what we do to their cities. And that’s just wonderful.
Liz Tinkham (25:37):
I assume you’re not bored with this yet.
Anne Devereux-Mills (25:39):
Oh, my God, no.
Liz Tinkham (25:42):
Because where are you headed? Is it just continuing to expand? Do you have other thoughts of where the salons may go or the membership?
Anne Devereux-Mills (25:51):
Well, yes. I hope they’re going in more and more places where women are still feeling exceptionally secondary and not able to have authentic, supportive conversations that empower them. Certainly that points to places in the south of the United States. I’ve done a lot of work in Uganda, which is a very male-driven place. Strong women, but they certainly have a secondary role in decision making and not always the support that they need. So, around the world, places where women really want to create supportive communities that allow them to become empowered is where we want to be. And we’re trying to further accelerate that by launching a podcast. So, bring a friend.
Liz Tinkham (26:43):
We’ll promote that in our show notes and everything as well. When does it launch?
Anne Devereux-Mills (26:47):
It launches February 3, so it’s literally … The trailer is out. We have phenomenal interviews with women, some of whom you’ll say, “Oh, my God. I can’t believe you got to talk to her.” And others will say, “Oh, my God. Where did you find that story? Because it just hits at my heart.” So, it’s pretty wonderful.
Liz Tinkham (27:14):
The third act is Parlay House. I mean, my God, you’re probably going to have 20 acts given your pace. But, you’ve been very involved in philanthropy. And I don’t know if that’s act two and a half. When did you get involved? Tell us about that as well.
Anne Devereux-Mills (27:29):
That’s a good question of where I got involved. I mean, I have parents who are very active in causes that they believe in, and so I think I had really good role models.
Liz Tinkham (27:40):
Did you do it as a kid? Were you involved in stuff as a kid then?
Anne Devereux-Mills (27:43):
Sort of, but I certainly watched them. There are different times in your life when you’re sort of able to take on things. When I was a single mom running companies and raising kids, I didn’t have an extra minute to go to the bathroom, let alone do something, aside from giving money. You can always be generous. But, I think the philanthropic projects that are meaningful to me are ones where I can really get in deep and they get to know the people, get to understand it, be up to my eyeballs in that thing I care about.
Anne Devereux-Mills (28:19):
Funny enough, after my divorce and first round of cancer, I had taken on this turnaround role and was being interviewed by a reporter who had just gotten back from doing research on the donation of AIDS and malaria medicine in Uganda and had met a local pastor, a British educator. They were talking about the huge numbers of children that they saw in the slums outside of Kampala who had no access to anything, food, education, health care. They decided to do something about it and to start a school. I sort of said to her, “Well, what the hell are you doing interviewing me? You’re doing the important work. Me running a healthcare advertising agency is nothing compared to the impact you’re having on these humans who I can feel and empathize with.”
Anne Devereux-Mills (29:13):
To make a very long story short, I joined their effort very early and was part of the launch and growth of this still going organization that is helping the poorest children in Uganda get a second chance at really living a meaningful and thriving life. That was transformative for me. This is for me. This is not universal for everybody. But when I am doing things for the motive of making money, growing businesses, sort of extracting in some form, it felt incredibly good to have a place where I could be additive.
Anne Devereux-Mills (29:58):
So for my company, when you’re running a turnaround and so many of the conversations are about downsizings, and rightsizings, and painful decisions, to be able to have this feeling of doing good for other people was meaningful on a lot of levels. Once I caught that bug, I have never been able to get it out of my system. Then the question is, how do you focus on what you care about? How do you choose what you’re going to do? I have three buckets that I focus on that are things that I care about, which continue to be the education of those who could thrive with it, and I’ve done that by mentoring young women as part of an organization called SHE-CAN, which takes girls from countries that have survived a genocide and wanting to make the next generation of leaders include women who have the ability to lead and contribute in meaningful ways.
Anne Devereux-Mills (30:57):
The second is joining my husband who has been a social justice activist his whole life. He’s chairman of the board of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. We have been focusing a lot on prison reform. And when we worked on the Three Strikes law in California, which he rewrote the language for Prop 36 and I did the marketing and advocacy work, and we were successful. That continues to be something that we do as a couple. Then, we did an Emmy-nominated film called The Return. That was great.
Anne Devereux-Mills (31:31):
Then, my focus continues to be putting women in places where not only do they get the emotional connect and support and empowerment that helps equal the playing field, but any place that I can lift other women, especially women of color, but women to give us a more equal seat at the table. I’m focused on doing that.
Liz Tinkham (31:55):
I don’t think you’re getting much sleep from what it sounds like.
Anne Devereux-Mills (32:00):
Sleep’s underrated. No. Actually, I really do believe in sleeping. I’m somebody who has a lot of energy, so it’s healthy for me to channel it.
Liz Tinkham (32:10):
I can tell. The whole board thing early on. I listened to your podcast that you did with Michael Gervais.
Anne Devereux-Mills (32:17):
Finding Mastery, yeah, yeah.
Liz Tinkham (32:20):
He asked you this great question, which is, what would you ask others who are masters of their craft? And you said, “When did you realize that you were at the intersection of who you are and what you value?” So, can I ask you that question? Ask you your own question.
Anne Devereux-Mills (32:38):
But yeah, it’s fascinating. I think when I was stripped down to my barest essence and new … I’d been successful enough that I know I’m a nurturer and I know I’m a leader. It’s impossible to put me into a situation without those two things where I would thrive. That intersection was when you’re stripped of everything that’s title and everything that’s responsibility, and you know that nurturing and leading is … It comes naturally and makes your heart sing. I only put myself in situations where I feel I can contribute in that way. Parlay House is that thing. It is absolutely that thing.
Anne Devereux-Mills (33:25):
It’s really hard when you care about a lot of things. Saying no is very important and very difficult. But, really important because I would rather do a few things that I understand well, know well, and can do something about rather than try to do too many things not well.
Liz Tinkham (33:45):
When I retired, somebody gave me the advice to say yes to everything the first year. Because just like you-
Anne Devereux-Mills (33:50):
Liz Tinkham (33:52):
Right. I had 3 kids, job. I had cancer. I said no to everything. Then, I said yes, which was really fun. Then, I got way overcommitted to a lot of things that, frankly, I had … I was like, “This isn’t me.” I had to go back and say no, which was so hard for me.”
Anne Devereux-Mills (34:09):
That’s a chapter in my book, actually. I think when you’re trying to figure out what your next life chapter is, starting by dipping your toe in the water a whole bunch of times till you can realize what pools feel great to dip your toe into and which kind of give you the heebie-jeebies, you’ve got to try a bunch of things. And that’s in any stage of our life. I would consider myself just sort of getting started with the impact that I think I can have and that I want to have. Each time I make a transition, it’s because I was willing to say yes to enough things that I could know whether it was I wanted to go in deeper.
Liz Tinkham (34:48):
I think to your point about insurance, you don’t know what you don’t what you don’t like until you try it.
Anne Devereux-Mills (34:53):
Liz Tinkham (34:54):
You probably figured that. I found that out as well by saying yes to a lot of new things that were completely different from my job.
Liz Tinkham (35:05):
With your husband, I want to ask a question. Because people who are sort of third act or moved off their big careers with their spouse, their partner…the philanthropy, is that … Was that something you were both interested in or was that something that was his and you got involved in? How did you both structure your lives with that?
Anne Devereux-Mills (35:24):
I’ll tell you a really cute story about that. We were fixed up on a blind date. I was running between corporate headquarters and a fund raising meeting for the school in Uganda when I had half an hour to meet this stranger for coffee. He was late. He’s always late. So then I had 20 minutes. I started to talk to him, and he was a pretty fascinating guy. But I said, “Look, sorry, buddy. Your 20 minutes is up. I’m going to back to the office.”
Liz Tinkham (35:51):
Anne Devereux-Mills (35:53):
“I got to raise money.” Yeah. Do you know how hard it is to raise money during a recession for a charity outside of the United States? So he said, “Well, let me walk you back to the office.” By the end of the walk, he said, “You know …” And I knew really nothing about him at the time. He said, “You know, I’ll give you some money. How much money do you need?” This is a first date. How much money do you need? How do you answer that question? So I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m going to throw out a number.” It was a burgeoning organization. Not very big yet. I said, “Okay, I’m going to throw out a number that when I tell the other founders they’re going to be psyched, but it’s not going to prevent me from getting another date.” I threw out a number.
Liz Tinkham (36:34):
Anne Devereux-Mills (36:35):
Yeah. I threw out a number, and he said, “Yeah, okay.”
Liz Tinkham (36:39):
Oh, my God.
Anne Devereux-Mills (36:39):
I took the elevator up to my office, and I said, “Damn. I totally undersold that.”
Liz Tinkham (36:44):
Of course. Of course.
Anne Devereux-Mills (36:46):
So when he called to ask for another date, I said, “That was so generous of you. I love that you’re willing to do it.” He had a great pickup line which was, “I really like putting money behind people who I have a lot of confidence in and I think are smart and going to do a great job.” So, of course, he totally boosted my ego. And I said, “Well, if that’s the case, we really could use enough money to fund our first full-time employee. So, could you do that?” And he did.
Liz Tinkham (37:12):
What a guy. You had me at hello, right? I mean, that’s a wonderful story.
Anne Devereux-Mills (37:16):
Exactly. So, the relationship began with philanthropy at its core. And as I moved out to California and he was starting to … We’ve both been appalled at our country’s use of the prisons as a way to solve problems. And we tend to only make things worse with that rather than better. He’s a law professor, and he had seen a legal way to make the law less punitive, the third strikes law less punitive. He was on a legal-minded quest to do that. Luckily, I know how to take projects and turn them into effective communications. So, we sort of merged on that.
Anne Devereux-Mills (37:59):
And I’ll tell you, with the third bucket of what we’re focusing on, which is female empowerment, inclusion, whether it’s getting more women at the helms of companies or included on boards or in the C-suite, he has really been supportive and partnering, as much as he can understand as a white male, in my doing that. So, we really do balance each other out very well in each of the things that we’re interested in.
Liz Tinkham (38:29):
That’s really cool. And I like the fact that you both found shared passion around different things. You might’ve had your school, but then the Three Strikes law. That’s very, very cool, something I’ve been talking to my own husband about like, “We need to come up with a cause that we both can support.”
Anne Devereux-Mills (38:45):
Liz Tinkham (38:47):
I always ask my guest at the end of the podcast what they’re not done with yet. And given what you’ve already done, I’m not quite sure how you’re going to answer this. It could take the rest of the two hours. But, what else is on the plate for your fifth, sixth, seventh, eight, 100th act that you’ve got in front of you?
Anne Devereux-Mills (39:04):
Well, I mean, an answer that’s probably relatively predictable, especially for the people that are tuning into this podcast is I have been on a number of boards in the past, whether it’s nonprofit boards, private equity boards, and I’ve shared a board of the public company. Right now, I’m not doing any of that, and I am going to find … I don’t want to just take any board seat because I’ve already been on boards. It’s not something I need to add to my bucket list, but it’s a place where I could add value if it’s something where I really felt it was the right fit. My business answer to that is that I’m open to hearing about other board opportunities.
Anne Devereux-Mills (39:42):
But, I also have found that during this pandemic and this time of forced isolation that I’ve returned to things that I had abandoned when I got into the work world, and they’re especially creative things. We had been quarantining in Hawaii for about 10 months on the little island of Kauai where there’s not much going on. I had a lot of downtime.
Anne Devereux-Mills (40:09):
When I was a kid, the way that I earned spending money was working at a sewing store. I would earn enough spending money to buy fabric so that I could make myself new clothes to wear to school the next day. I’ve always been sort of a fashion-interested, creative person. I design jewelry. I knit. I do all these things. So, I’ve spent the last year loving designing clothing so much that I’m toying with the idea of whether I want to make that into a business. I don’t know.
Liz Tinkham (40:41):
Oh, how neat.
Anne Devereux-Mills (40:42):
But, I love exploring something that my 18-year-old self let go of and my 50-something-year-old self is rediscovering.
Liz Tinkham (40:50):
We got introduced through Kim Alexis Newton. She was on the podcast a couple … I mean, her work is beautiful, and she sort of rediscovered it as well. That is so neat. Very cool. We can find you online at your website, which we’ll publish in the show notes, and at Parlay House, and-
Anne Devereux-Mills (41:08):
Yeah, parlayhouse.com will pretty much get you anywhere you need to get, whether it’s to our podcast, or to my book, or to me.
Liz Tinkham (41:18):
We’ll put all that in the show notes and publish it on our social media. Thank you so much for your wisdom, your tenacity, and always … When I was thinking about it, resilience is a great word, but your tenacity in my mind of pushing, and pushing, and just making it happen for yourself is unbelievable. Really remarkable, so thanks.
Anne Devereux-Mills (41:37):
Some would call it pain in the ass. Some would call it relentless.
Liz Tinkham (41:38):
Oh, come one. Instigator. Instigator. Anne, thanks so much.
Anne Devereux-Mills (41:43):
For sure. Thanks, Liz.
Liz Tinkham (41:47):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act Podcast. You can find show notes, guests’ bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.