“Don’t Rush To Solve Everyone’s Problems” Words Of Wisdom With Dr. Athena Perrakis, Of Sage Goddess
I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Athena Perrakis. Athena is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sage Goddess, the world’s largest source of sacred tools and metaphysical education. Each week, Sage Goddess reaches almost two million people across the globe, on every continent and in more than 60 countries. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in educational leadership, and has 15 years of experience as a professor, corporate trainer and consultant, and educator. Athena has traveled the globe and worked with CEOs and senior executives from the Fortune 50 companies. But her metaphysical experience, in which her current work is largely rooted, spans more than 30 years. During that time, she has become an expert in gemology, astrology, Tarot, aromatherapy, Reiki, and herbal medicine. Her Etsy shop was the first online metaphysical storefront to reach the Top 10 stores in the handmade category around the world.
“I should have known this one, as a teacher — students learn best when they have to stretch beyond what they think they can safely accomplish. They have to learn their limits. Get out of their comfort zone. So too do employees have to work through issues sometimes without being ‘saved’ or rescued before they have had a chance to grapple with the deeper issues. When you quickly and consistently solve people’s problems for them, you prevent their opportunities to stretch or seek new solutions to problems. You also limit their extrinsic motivation. When a problem arises and you don’t step in, that’s when you will see what your people are capable of. In the West we are trained to think of our teachers as having all the answers to all of our questions, but the reality is that we have all of the answers to our questions. Or at least we have the resources we need to find them! Sometimes we have to be forced to find our own way in order to trust it.”
What is your “backstory”?
My backstory is a tale of fear and of running toward what felt safe. It began as a second-generation immigrant with parents who survived war and wanted me to have a “safe” path of reassurance and financial security, which required university education. And it continued with my own work ethic — staying on the same track too long, sometimes. Going beyond a bachelor’s degree, even a master’s degree, to finish my PhD and stay in academe until the universe spoke loudly that was not my intended path. Sage Goddess only arrived once I had tried a second career path that also fit like an uncomfortable suit. I was building important skill sets I would need, but not practicing them in contexts that were aligned with my purpose. It took getting diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010 for me to feel confident enough to dislodge myself from academic and corporate life and consider fully pursuing my dreams and visions. Sometimes you have to lose everything to feel like you really have nothing to lose. Then, with bravery, you can finally take first steps down a road that was meant for you long ago. The road was paved, but I wasn’t ready until I was almost 40 to become who I was always meant to be.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One interesting story, or phenomenon I should say, is one we learned from our vendors a few years ago. At big trade shows, a few of our competitors apparently hire scouts to follow us and see what we buy, from whom, and for how much. They literally follow us. It baffled me to think that “spiritual” companies would do this. I never even thought about following anyone around; I am too busy following my own inner guidance and direction. I realized in that moment what makes me and Sage Goddess special: We don’t care what anyone else is doing. By the time they are doing it, it’s already time for us to move on! They follow us. But we aren’t following them. We are following Them with a capital T, meaning our spirit guides, ascended teachers, ancestors, and mentors.
So how exactly does your company help people?
We are centered on manifesting human potential as the world’s largest source of sacred tools and metaphysical education. That is the short version. The longer version is that we elevate consciousness through the intentional use of sacred tools and meditation techniques, and we do this because healing is only ever the result of elevated consciousness. The highest form of elevated consciousness is, of course, love. Sage Goddess translates love into material form.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We really care about everyone in our community. We recently identified our top 25 Sage Goddess influencers in social media — the people our community loves and trusts in our online groups. Then, we prepared gift packages for them and sent hand-signed cards thanking them for their presence and participation in our communities. Some of them posted photos of these gifts in social, but we did not; this was a behind-the-scenes effort simply to let them know how much we honor their contributions to our work. I don’t know of a lot of business that invest $1500–2000 to thank influencers just for being present and showing love to other members of their communities. Over the course of each year, Sage Goddess gifts upward of $25,000 worth of gemstones to members of our online and in-person communities in addition to other charitable contributions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Interesting that this question follows from the last question, which was about success and gratitude in so many ways. I am most grateful to my husband David. He left his successful career as a marketing executive in the Silicon Valley to join me and co-lead Sage Goddess when we moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2014; we have been co-facilitating this incredible journey ever since. He has always believed in me and in Sage Goddess, our mission, and what is possible through our intention to heal the world. He has seen what we can create when our work is centered in love.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We exist only for the purpose of bringing good to the world. That’s why I love Sage Goddess. Other companies have to consciously think about doing well and doing good, finding a way to “give back” but for us, giving back is our raison d’etre. We give back to our members, in the form of gifts; to our community, in the form of free rituals and teachings (our full and new moon rituals have always been and will always be free of charge, every month!); and to our world, in the form of charitable donations and support for local organizations. In 2018 we are choosing one global and one local organization to focus on for our philanthropy in the year ahead, and will offer ways for our community to support these organizations as well.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
1. Don’t rush to solve everyone’s problems
I should have known this one, as a teacher — students learn best when they have to stretch beyond what they think they can safely accomplish. They have to learn their limits. Get out of their comfort zone. So too do employees have to work through issues sometimes without being ‘saved’ or rescued before they have had a chance to grapple with the deeper issues. When you quickly and consistently solve people’s problems for them, you prevent their opportunities to stretch or seek new solutions to problems. You also limit their extrinsic motivation. When a problem arises and you don’t step in, that’s when you will see what your people are capable of. In the West we are trained to think of our teachers as having all the answers to all of our questions, but the reality is that we have all of the answers to our questions. Or at least we have the resources we need to find them! Sometimes we have to be forced to find our own way in order to trust it.
2. Be careful whose counsel you seek and follow
I wish someone had told me that as a CEO, your inner circle or trusted tribe will be very small. Many people will have opinions about you and your business; you should only listen to those opinions if: 1) they are coming from someone who knows you personally AND your business intimately; 2) they are coming from someone who has been close to you for at least a year; and 3) if those opinions will be grounded in fact and truth. Everyone else’s opinions are simply that — their views, likely based on assumptions, and if you let those guide you and your decisions, you’re likely to make mistakes.
3. The journey is the destination, and you have already arrived
As a CEO, you’ve arrived at your destination. I wish someone had told me that while the work becomes even harder when you are ultimately responsible for all aspects of your business, it is ok — even wise! — to take a big step back and open the aperture of your view on life. Take it all in. Enjoy every moment. You worked hard to get here. Find ways each day to laugh, play, and still be in wonder about the world. I wish I had known that relaxing would make me a better leader. As a Type A, daughter of immigrants with a PhD I have always felt there was another mountain to climb. There may be; but to enjoy the climb, you have to stop, breathe, and laugh a little. Trying to run at elevation will wear you out quickly.
4. Being a female CEO with children is a balancing act
I could say that I wish someone had told me this, but no one really could — not in my inner circle. There are so few female CEOs to begin with (less than 10% nationally) and then those with children represent an even smaller proportion. It’s no joke to run a fast growing company with two children under the age of 10. You won’t be able to please everyone all the time, and the most important people you need to show up for aren’t at work. I find myself taking time to just breathe and reminding myself that my kids aren’t getting younger. When I need to prioritize, they always come first. When I get old, they won’t look at me and say “Wow mom, you were such a great CEO!”
5. Let employees play to their strengths so they don’t have to “flex”
Your job as CEO is to make sure people have room to run, learn, and soar with your company. I wish someone had told me to let my employees play to their strengths; when people do what they love it comes naturally and easy to them, and they are more likely to stay in their jobs longer, feeling happier, and contributing to the overall growth of your enterprise in important ways. When people do things they don’t like to do, or aren’t good at, they have to “flex” or work outside their comfort zone to succeed. Anyone can flex for a short period of time, but when they have to flex for too long — at work, or even in relationships — they lose motivation, drive, and satisfaction. They also become resentful. Playing to people’s strengths and passions isn’t a cop-out; it’s a strategy to improve organizational retention and prevent turnover. You can’t fight basic human nature; I’ve built a thriving company by working with human nature and celebrating it. I wish I had known that doing so is not only ok — it is critical to longevity and success.
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?
I am passionate about finding a cure in my lifetime for autoimmune diseases — diseases where your own immune system turns on you, and causes your cells to battle themselves, debilitating individual systems within the body and forcing the need in many cases for treatments that suppress the immune system which can lead to death from infection.
I would love to have lunch or breakfast with professor David Wraith from the University of Bristol who led a team that found, in their 2014 study, a method to convert “aggressor” cells that attack the autoimmune system in cases of autoimmune diseases into “protector” cells, which leave the immune system alone and guard against the body’s own internal warfare. Such a study could lead to peace within the immune systems of those who now suffer with diseases where their bodies ravage themselves from within. Converting cells allows the immune system to effectively ignore itself and yet still remain protected from disease. My goal in talking with him would be to understand how I might be able to support his research on the spiritual side, since I believe all disease has spiritual roots. I would ask if he thinks we can potentially convert aggressive cells to protective cells just by shifting our own personal energetic frequency and setting the intention for peace within. If we manifest peace within, and settle our body’s own desire for conflict within, can we then mirror that peace out into the world, shifting our entire planet’s equilibrium?