Today, Alexa Carlin is an in-demand professional speaker, bestselling author, TV personality and the founder and CEO of Raleigh-based Women Empower X.
But her path to get here has had many twists and turns. Growing up in South Florida, Carlin started her first company at age 17, designing jewelry for an L.A.-based fashion company backed by Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Zac Efron.
“That really led me to falling in love with the journey of entrepreneurship, of turning an idea into reality,” Carlin said. “It’s always been my mission to make a difference in at least one person’s life a day. So I found for me, the way that I can fulfill that mission is through entrepreneurship.”
While in college at the University of Florida, Carlin created her next business venture. What started as a blog called Hello Perfect focused on instilling confidence in girls and young women became a national campaign with the likes of Mark Cuban, Shaquille O’Neal and Marc Jacobs to redefine “perfection” and get rid of self-doubt.
Everything changed at age 21 in 2013 when suddenly Carlin was rushed to hospital and given a 1 percent chance of survival. Right before, Carlin was riding the high from her campaign’s success and planning a party to celebrate a key milestone.
A few hours before the party, Carlin’s mom found her in her apartment. Carlin’s heartbeat was racing, and she was struggling to breathe. Once at the hospital, doctors told Carlin’s family some bleak news. Carlin’s body was going into septic shock, and she needed to be put in a medical coma. The odds were not good.
After being in a coma for six days and the ICU for 10, Carlin began the long process of putting pieces of her life back together.
The moments after waking up from her coma proved pivotal for the rest of Carlin’s life.
In the ICU, Carlin had a mask on her face, tube down her throat and was hooked up to nine different bags of antibiotics. She couldn’t breathe, move, or even speak on her own. The only thing she could control, she said, were her thoughts. She felt like everything besides her brain was rotting away, but the mind’s ability is a powerful thing. Carlin began to visualize a healthy pink color down to the rest of her body to try to heal it.
In so much physical pain, Carlin said she had to direct her thoughts toward something she could control. At the time, she focused on the small attainable goal of being able to drink a glass of water. As a speaker and entrepreneur today, focusing on the things you can control is a major lesson she imparts to others.
“There’s so many things that we cannot control yet we waste so much time and energy, focusing on all of those things, focusing on the opinions of others, focusing on what’s happening around the world,” Carlin said. “That depletes our energy and confidence of focusing on what we can do and move the needle forward.”
In the time after her hospitalization, Carlin had to face the fact that her life was forever changed, and she needed to change with it. Six months after waking up from the coma, she was sick again and had developed a lifelong autoimmune disease.
For eight months, Carlin was too sick to even walk her dog. She was waiting for things to go back to normal when what she really needed to do was create her new normal.
“I’m just waiting to get the old me back, to get that healthy version of me back, until I realized I’m going to be waiting forever,” Carlin said. “Nothing’s going to change unless I change. And so I had to say yes, this is part of me, but it does not have to define what I can or cannot do.
Carlin said she had to adapt to living with her autoimmune disease in order to still pursue her dreams and goals. It was a life-changing realization.
“Knowing that you have the power to adapt, regardless of the obstacles that come your way, regardless of the odds stacked against you—it’s this superpower that really reminds you that you can handle anything,” she said.
After such a significant experience, Carlin felt passionate about sharing her story, thinking maybe it could inspire at least one other person not to give up and to turn obstacles into opportunities. Carlin began offering to speak for free at local luncheons and meetups in Florida. After pitching to 60 different organizations, she had received rejections or no responses from all of them.
“For a long time I was sitting in that rejection,” Carlin said. “I was like ‘Alright, well, no one’s giving me the opportunity to speak, I guess I can’t be a public speaker.’”
Then Carlin had an epiphany.
“Why am I putting my dreams in the hands of someone else? When no one gave me a stage I decided to create my own,” Carlin said.
Five people showed up to Carlin’s first event. The next event brought in 20, but soon enough Carlin’s audience began inviting her to speak, and she got her first paid gig a year later.
And as she spoke to more and more women, Carlin noticed a disconnect between women of different ages, backgrounds and industries.
She was inspired to foster collaboration with these women from all walks of life, so in 2016, Carlin founded Women Empower X (WEX). The first conference had over 1,500 people show up and slowly grew to host 3,000-person events in Florida, Washington D.C., California and North Carolina. The goal is to help diverse groups of women grow professionally and use their authentic voices to make an impact and income doing what they love, Carlin said.
“I want more people to say ‘I went after my dream because of WEX,’” Carlin said. “‘I started my business. I support myself doing what I love. I am feeling fulfilled. I’m speaking on stages and platforms. I am making an impact because of WEX.’ I just think that when more women are doing what they love, the world just becomes a better place.”
There’s much more to come for WEX, which is now located in Raleigh after Carlin moved here in April of 2019.
Just last year Carlin landed a publishing deal for her book, Adaptable: How to Lead with Curiosity, Pivot with Purpose, and Thrive Through Change. And WEX’s newest course focuses on helping entrepreneurs, authors and creators grow their businesses and brand specifically through public speaking.
Carlin said she wants more women to rise above the noise by using their authentic voices.
“Public speaking is by far the most powerful marketing vehicle there is because not only does it help you make an impact but it creates that ‘know, like and trust’ factor,” Carlin said. “It helps you rise above the noise, and it helps you grow and elevate your business.”