I wish I listened to my mom when she told me to stop comparing myself to people. I remember when a girl who I met through blogging who was featured in this Teen Vogue Snapshot article, and I had been so badly wanting the spot she got. I came to find out she was best friends with the editor, which could’ve assisted in her landing the spot. I wish I had realized early on that everything happens for a reason. It took me some time to believe that. The people who aren’t authentic are the ones who won’t survive in the long run.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexa Curtis. Alexa is a young adult influencer and CEO of Life Unfiltered with Alexa, the lifestyle site for teens and parents. Curtis also founded the nonprofit Media Impact and Navigation for Teens, along with the Be Fearless Summit. She is a sought-out speaker by many colleges and conferences, and runs her show Fearless Everyday on Radio Disney along with her weekly podcast This is Life Unfiltered. @alexa_curtis
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started a blog called A Life in the Fashion Lane in 2011 when I was 12-years-old. I come from a small, sheltered town in Eastern Connecticut and never fit in- I was always the “weird kid”. I initially started the blog as an outlet for me to overcome my insecurities and the bullying I was enduring, with no intention of it becoming a full-time career! I’m 21-years-old now, and I run Life Unfiltered with Alexa (I switched the site to solely focus on social media and mental health) full-time along with the show I recently secured on Radio Disney called Fearless Everyday. I speak at colleges across the country educating young people about how to get out of their comfort zone and find their purpose. In this day and age everyone wants to become so successful and wealthy overnight, and I like to remind people that if I had ever intended of becoming successful by simply starting this blog back in the day, I don’t think I’d be where I am. Follow your passion first, the rest will come if it’s meant to.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
I have so many stories, it’s hard to pick just one! When I forced my mom to let me transfer to online high school my junior year (because I was still planning on attending college and frankly was failing out of high school) I had a terrible conversation with my guidance counselor who was so against the idea and tried to deter me from transferring. Within 1 hour after leaving the appointment, I got a phone call from Rachael Ray who had found my blog and wanted me to appear on the show the following week. I’ll never forget it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I still make mistakes every day. To learn and grow as an entrepreneur, you have to constantly be pushing yourself which means getting out of your comfort zone! I had a few TV segments in the beginning of my career. I didn’t know I had to return the clothing to the brands I was using for TV. Needless to say, by age of 16 I knew everything anyone should know about cease and desist letters and not being able to be sued when you’re underage, as well as a variety of ways to keep your company safe even when you’re not able to legally drink! One of the experiences I faced with a brand is actually the opening of the first episode of the show my team has been pitching to different production companies! Who would’ve known all of that stress may just pay off!
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?
What sets me apart from other people is my absolute transparency and authenticity when it comes to social media. Maybe that’s because I started blogging when I was so young, or maybe I’m just such an honest person in general that I don’t see why I wouldn’t share the highs and the lows of me pursuing this path.
If Instagram wasn’t around, I’m lucky that I’d still be able to make a living through the other parts of my company like site and podcast. That being said, I think social media is crucial in constructing your core demographic and engaging with your fans. I’m so incredibly vocal about the rejection I face, from boys to book deals because I want other young adults out there to know that they are not alone in the process of finding their purpose. Sure, I knew what I wanted to do at a young age but that doesn’t mean I know everything that’s going to happen to me in the future. I’m still experimenting and learning about myself everyday. I always wanted to be the model person I didn’t have to look up to when I was younger.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
I get so many messages a day from kids and parents whose story sticks out to me. Whenever I present talks on social media or mental health, I’m always flooded by kids who are suffering with anxiety, cutting, bullying, and finally feel like it’s okay to say they’re not okay. I recently put on an entire summit at Drexel University called the Be Fearless Summit, and after the summit a few girls told me that they took away more from the summit than they did at a women’s conference they each paid $500 + to attend. When I hear comments like that, that’s when I know I’m on to something. I know I’m filling the void out there, slowly but surely.
Was there a tipping point the made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?
From ages 14 to 16, I suffered with an eating disorder called orthorexia. At the time, I was still solely blogging about fashion but feeling more and more like I was being asked to speak on topics I didn’t feel were making a difference in the world (fashion surely impacted my life, but it wasn’t helping others that much). I ended up publishing an article called Role Model vs. Runway Model, an honest letter on my eating disorder that went viral. It wasn’t until girls from my high school started messaging me telling me about their eating disorders that I had this light bulb moment: I found my purpose. Shortly after that I was flown to NYC to speak on a panel on social media and mental health with a few older advocates and CEOs, and I decided to launch Media Impact and Navigation for Teens. Sometime later, I decided I had no interest in fashion and wanted to speak and share my personal life experiences openly and honestly. I figured if I could continue to make a career out of my honesty, I’d be doing good in the world.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I might answer this question differently than others, but something that I think is crucial is parents educating themselves about social media. Parents should know about Instagram and Snapchat so that when their child addresses them about something they see online, they aren’t clueless.
I love Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room initiative, and I think that schools (high schools and colleges in particular) should be teaching life skills. Why don’t we leave school knowing about taxes, about finding freelance work, or how to not screw up our lives!? That’s why I launched the Be Fearless Summit, because I knew that young adults knew how to start Instagram pages, but didn’t necessarily know the difference between W9s + W2s.
Society in general could be more open about following nontraditional paths. I’m often asked and questioned about why I decided not to go to college, and I have the same answer every time I’m asked. At the end of the day, as long as you are willing to experiment and try new opportunities you will eventually find your purpose. Let’s encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone and try something new!
What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?
Don’t start an Instagram page for fame or money. If you want to pursue the entertainment industry, realize that 1% of people make it in this world. This might not be for you, and that’s okay. Working a 9–5 job does not make you “normal” or boring, it’s quite the contrary. I advise you not to compare yourself to anyone else. If you don’t yet know what you want to do for a career, that’s okay. Sit down with a notebook and a pen and write down where you’d like to see yourself in 5 years. Maybe that’s in a huge office, or maybe that’s with a smile on your face eating a cupcake! Many of us forget the bigger picture in life, and to make an impact in the world you have to find yourself first.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish I listened to my mom when she told me to stop comparing myself to people. I remember when a girl who I met through blogging who was featured in this Teen Vogue Snapshot article, and I had been so badly wanting the spot she got. I came to find out she was best friends with the editor, which could’ve assisted in her landing the spot. I wish I had realized early on that everything happens for a reason. It took me some time to believe that. The people who aren’t authentic are the ones who won’t survive in the long run.
2. I certainly wish there had been a book on how to not get screwed over in the business world. Time after time, prior to me having a team and lawyer, I got screwed over by not reading through contracts thoroughly enough. The business world is very cutthroat, and it’s truly survival of the fittest.
3. When I was 18, I spent 6 months trying to launch this bra finder app. I even tried to get investors for it, and I eventually just couldn’t do it. I felt crappy, like I had settled because I couldn’t figure out how to make this app happen. Many times during your entrepreneurial journey you may find yourself feeling lost, and that’s totally normal. To find yourself you have to get lost! Embrace every bump in the road and realize that failures aren’t failures unless you’ve failed yourself.
4. People may think you’re nuts when you start out. To this day people question me, tell me I’m not good enough, I don’t have millions of followers yet so to them I’m doing nothing…and I’ve realized that the kind of success I’m looking for in life isn’t calculated by a number on a social media page. We each have our own idea of success, and numbers eventually won’t give you the value that knowing you’re following your passion and making a difference will.
5. Be a nerd! I wish I spent more time studying in middle school. Seriously!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d love to see more people putting on their own after school events or summits (it doesn’t have to be on the level mine was) to encourage everyone to find their purpose. By getting a group of people together, girls or boys, you will all have so many ideas and certainly walk away feeling motivated and inspired!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t even think I have to explain why this quote means so much to me. I dropped out of high school, I couldn’t even get a higher grade than a C in math. I spent so much time beating myself up over not being able to succeed at school. But I realized it’s okay because I succeeded at something else in my life.
“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee you that.” Michelle Obama
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
YES! Michelle Obama, Halsey or Hoda Kotb. I’ve got millions more names if you want me to list them all!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me at @alexa_curtis and the summit is @befearlesssummit, and my podcast is @thisislifepodcast.
Do I seriously have 5 websites? Oh boy!
Thank you so much for joining us!