Whether you know it or not, you’ve likely stumbled across some of Alex Elle’s words at one point or another. Known for her daily Instagram affirmations, the wellness writer has become somewhat of a must-know for anyone in need of a quick pick-me-up or subtle reminder to prioritize their mental health and well-being, and her minimalist sticky-note posts have been shared millions of times over. But Elle is so much more than her social media presence. As a wife, mother of three, leader of countless courses and workshops, and author of six books with another one of the way, she’s accomplished more in 31 years than most do in a lifetime, and if anything, her list of ambitions and goals seems to grow longer by the day. Ahead of the release of her new book, After the Rain, on October 13, I sat down with Elle to discuss her career, how she makes time for herself and sets a good example for her daughters, and why she believes accessibility to wellness is more important than ever.
Gabby Shacknai: How did you first discover your love of writing?
Alex Elle: I started writing when I was a pre-teen. I had issues with anxiety and depression growing up, and I found writing by way of therapy. It was a safe space for me to explore my thoughts on the page and start my healing process in a way that felt comforting. I found a therapist who really changed my life, and I attribute all of my writing and healing work to her encouragement and just being open and flexible with my healing through writing.
Fast forward to eight years ago, I self-published my first book almost on accident. I had some folks who were interested, and Instagram was really new, and I was looking to build a community on that platform with other people who were interested in being introspective and using writing. So, I published Words from a Wanderer, which was like a little baby book, and that was really what took off for me—being able to hear my thoughts in “Notes to Self” and poetry in that way. I’ve published multiple books since then, all of which have been done with the want and the longing to help support people in finding their voices and standing close to their truths without guilt or shame, which is what my therapist taught me to do. So, now I’m able to extend the ways writing has supported me to others.
Shacknai: Given that you found writing through therapy and were doing it for yourself and for your own healing, when did you realize it might be a suitable career?
Elle: It really just kind of happened. I’m actually a journalism student drop-out, so I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve always loved the expression, but I never thought that I would be an author. I think that’s what makes me feel so proud of the career I’ve built. I didn’t go looking for it; it found me. That’s really aligned with the life’s work that I’ve built, and I’ve been able to find a way to help people through storytelling and by standing with my truth. It’s so funny, I wrote the first self-published book all those years ago because a friend of mine said, ‘You should stop hoarding your stories, there’s someone out there who might resonate.’ I thought, ‘no one is going to read a book that I write, absolutely not,’ but she said I should just do it, and I did. It was for me and my group of friends and maybe the few folks who followed me online at the time, but it was not my intention to be where I am today in my career. But I think that’s what gives me so much pride: that it really defined me and that by sharing pieces of myself and my healing and my journey, I’ve been able to encourage others to take that step forward as well.
Shacknai: As your audience has grown over the last eight years, has your approach to how or what you write changed at all?
Elle: I still stay really close to my truth and stay authentic on the page. For instance, After the Rain reads more like a memoir. It’s 15 lessons that are essays, and my agent coined them “encapsulated memoirs.” It’s still a very vulnerable, tender story that I’m telling, and I think the reason people really connect with my work is because I share detailed experiences that others think they’re walking through alone. We are standing together in this process of healing and learning and uncovering. I still approach it like I’m just writing for Alex, but I know that I now also have many other eyes that are going to be reading the work.
Shacknai: In addition to your writing, you started the popular “hey, girl.” podcast in 2017. How did that come to be, and what role has it played in your larger work?
Elle: The “hey, girl.” podcast was like my little passion project that I thought no one was going to listen to, and it’s been such an eye-opening experience to be able to talk to other women about their lives’ work and about their self-care practices and the things that have healed them and the pain that they’ve walked through. It just really blows my mind. It started because I read an essay, and I decided that I wanted to record it and put it on my website. I had somebody suggest that I call them ‘blogcasts’ because it was like a podcast before my blog, and then someone else said, ‘You should just start a podcast!’ I was like, you know, I love podcasts, so why not? I was friends with an engineer at the time, and he took on the passion project with me, and we started the “hey, girl.” podcast. It’s wild that it’s where it is today, but it’s also still my little passion project that I love so much.
I reach out to the people who inspire me and the people I want to learn more about. I remember when I first started, I had a producer working on the show at the time who said, ‘Don’t you want any notable guests on your show?’ and I was like, these women are notable to me. These women have changed my life. They’re my friends, my colleagues, women I look up to, and they are notable. So, that’s how I’ve always approached picking guests: I just ask people, ‘Hey, do you want to chat?’ and I don’t prep any questions. I have a few core topics that I know we’ll lean into, but the conversations are very organic and very free-flowing, and a lot of my guests prefer it that way because it doesn’t feel like an interview. It feels just like two friends catching up and sharing an intimate time and space. I think that’s what keeps the sisterhood and storytelling aspect true: just listening to someone’s experience, even outside of what they might be ‘known for.’
There seems to be a clear focus on women throughout your work. Has that been a conscious decision?
Elle: It’s interesting. I have quite a few male folks in the community, but it’s always a little shocking when I get messages from men. Because I am a woman and I’m speaking through the lens of being a woman—specifically a Black woman—I assume my demo will be mostly women. But I love when I hear from men and they show up to my workshops or come out to support me. They might be the only man in the room, but they’re not nervous about that at all. They’re there to do their soul work, and that’s really, really special. It’s not lost on me that there are men who follow me and read my work, and I love that. But I do really love that my work resonates with women because we really do need that connectivity of sisterhood. I think that is so, so important, and to know that there’s another woman walking through the same thing I’m walking through and that we’re in this together is just so magical.
Shacknai: You mentioned that your writing really stemmed from therapy, and I wonder if there are any elements of your work today that call upon any practices rooted in therapy?
Elle: Something that I definitely carry with me from therapy is my invisible, emotional toolbox. So, now, where I am in my career, I’m able to give my community things to put in their emotional toolbox, like writing, breathing practice, meditation, all these things that have helped me stay grounded and centered even when I’ve been met with crappy days, pain, and adversity. Therapy played a huge role in being who I am, but something my therapist always said that I will never forget is ‘You are the expert of your life, you have your answers, and I’m just here to help you uncover them.’ I carry that with me so much because so often we think that other people have our answers or we’re looking for them to show us the way, but really, if we look deep enough and name what we need, we find out that we knew it all along. Therapy really helped me uncover my inner teacher, and in my work, I hope that I’m giving other people that gift of being the expert of their lives.
Shacknai: How has your work changed over the last eight years to reflect the changes in your own life?
Elle: I was 22 or 23 when I started, and I’m now 31. I’m married now, I have three daughters, and my life has completely shifted, but with that, I have grown to be an even better version of myself, and that’s what I really love about growth. Especially when we’re intentional and mindful about it, we can see the tangible changes, and we can feel them. Everything has changed, and I’m in a constant state of relearning and reparenting myself, even as I parent my own children. It’s like a whole process for me and my husband as individuals. Also, as my work grows, I have so much more experience now and can speak to different things, and hopefully, the goal is to continue to learn and be able to speak to the new things that come up in my life.
Shacknai: You have so much going on between your writing, your workshops, raising your three daughters, and being a partner to your husband. How do you find the time to still do the work for yourself?
Elle: I hold myself accountable when I’m overbooking or doing too much and need to take a step back. I actually had a moment this morning, and I just thought, I have been really, really busy during the pandemic, and I know a lot of folks have had such life shifts, but it’s just been work on top of work on top of work for me. I think a lot of people are looking for the content I’m offering right now, so I have been very busy, and I was on the verge of feeling a little burnt out. So, this morning, I had to remind myself that I need to practice what I preach, and I asked how I can check myself here and make time to do the things I say I’m going to do. I have those moments of checking in very often, and I think it’s important for everybody, especially those of us who are in this space of wellness and healing, to make sure that we fill our own cups so that we can show up in a way that’s intentional because I won’t be doing anybody a service if I show up empty and depleted. So, I cancelled meetings for tomorrow, and I am leaning into some self-care for myself, which looks like silence and not working.
Shacknai: How do you go about teaching the lessons of your work to your own children?
Elle: I think this question really applies most to my oldest because she’s at that age now where it’s all about self-love and self-confidence, so how do we teach those things and let her learn a little bit along the way? It’s just about being human around them and making room for mistakes, love, apologies, lessons, fun, and freedom, just all of the things. It’s living intentionally and having conversations with them. It’s funny because my two-year old is at the age now where if she sees I’m getting frustrated, she’ll say, ‘hey, mom, let’s take a deep breath,’ and she’ll self-soothe when she’s getting angry herself. So, our kids really are watching us because we always say that to her!
My 12-year old is very aware of my work, and I didn’t even know how aware she was until she started sixth grade and wrote an essay about her family. When she got to the part about who her mom is, she said, ‘my mom is a successful author, and she is teaching me that I can do what I love and follow my dreams if I work hard.’ It’s interesting because whenever people come up to me when we’re out or if one of her teachers pulls me aside to say they love my work, my daughter gets a big kick out of it. So, she knows and she sees, but with that, I am very careful and intentional about how I behave and act, and if I drop the ball, I’m quick to apologize and give her the ball. All the ways which I was not parented I try to parent my children with, and they notice.
Shacknai: How do you think the wellness space has changed since you first entered it eight years ago?
Elle: The idea of self-care and community care is really something I’ve been talking about recently and have been encouraging people to explore. Wellness as a whole doesn’t have to be this performative, expensive act. Sometimes, it’s just breathing or going out for a walk and just enjoying what’s in front of you. It’s dancing; it’s eating well; it’s hydrating; it’s all these things that I think a lot of the time aren’t what we think of when we think of self-care. We often imagine facemasks and manicures and green juice, and yes to that if that’s your vibe, but it can also be all of these other things. I think the messaging is becoming a little more balanced and people are figuring out what works for them so that they can show up to the frontlines or to these protests or to their work or their family lives as their fullest and most intentional selves.
I think this messaging for me is really important because it shows other people that you can take care of yourself without having money, that you can be happy and nourished and fulfilled without going to a retreat, and that you can do this without having to break the bank. I think it’s really important to give people tools that are close by and that they can call upon during moments of frustration to re-center and tune in with themselves. Just having that conversation and paying attention to yourself is the ultimate form of self-care.
Shacknai: Wellness has historically been an industry dominated by white women, but the anti-racism awakening of the last few months has shone a light on the issues of the space and accessibility (or lack thereof) to it. What do you make of this shift?
Elle: I’m glad that this anti-racism movement is happening and that people are waking up. To me, Black lives have always mattered, period, so it’s really enlightening to see that other folks who are claiming to stand in allyship are open to listen, to learn, to receive, and to stand next to us. I think foundations that prioritize self-care for Black women, like Loveland, are so important, and I’m happy to see them finally getting their due. I just hope it continues and that this isn’t a trend. This isn’t a moment, it’s a movement, and this is necessary work, so I hope that more people continue to be in this work as activists and allies.
Shacknai: You have quite a presence on Instagram with nearly 900 thousand followers. What role does the platform play in your work and in your life?
Elle: I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I tell folks all the time, especially when I’m asking the community question of the day or of the week, to go off and write in their journals and have conversations with their own community, not just the Instagram community. It’s important to have actual dialogues rather than just scrolling and liking, and it’s about knowing how we can really be in our practice. Instagram is a tool in a toolbox, it is not the source, and it is so important that we recognize that and stay true to that. The source is our work, and the source is our legacy, so my prayer is that when I leave this earth, my books and my writing will outlive me and that will be my legacy, not my Instagram page or followers. That is not your worth, and I like to remind people of that often. It’s just about balance, and for me, the Alex Elle page has my name on it and it is mine, but really, it’s a community of people who have built friendships through comments, through my workshops, everything, and it’s about building a community we can rely on.
Shacknai: How does your upcoming book, After the Rain, differ from your other writing?
Elle: It is not poetry. I have stepped away from poetry. It is memoiric, so it’s about my life and my experiences, and it’s a lot of tender topics, like my relationship with my mom. I’ve been calling it my ‘big girl book’ because it’s extremely vulnerable, and I’m very, very proud of it, but it took me a long time to write this book. I was not sure I would be able to write it without triggering myself or triggering other people because while they’re my stories, other people are a part of them too. It was also about handling their stories with grace and dignity and compassion, so that’s what I’ve done in After the Rain, and I think I’ve done a good job. I got my mother’s blessing to share some of our most tender moments, and I am really excited for folks to get a closer, more intimate look at who I am as a woman, as a Black woman, as a mother, as a wife, and as a human being learning how to move through the world.
Shacknai: You obviously wrote the book long before the Covid-19 pandemic, but do you think it’s taken on a new life with the happenings of the last seven months?
Elle: According to my agent and my publisher, absolutely! They all keep telling me that this is just divine timing. But we will see. I have such high hopes for this book, I am so excited, and I hope it will be really supportive to everyone who reads it. It’s been a hell of a year, and I think that it will speak to what happens after the rain—the joy that’s coming after the collective grief and healing that’s happening right now. It’s about holding real, authentic space for not knowing and being prepared to see things from a different perspective and a different light after the rain.
Shacknai: What do you hope people will take away from this book and from your work more broadly?
Elle: I just want people to know that they can create the pathway to joy and abundance in their life. I was always told, ‘You want to be a writer? You’re a college dropout and a teen mom, and you won’t make any money as a writer’—all these things that were obstacles in my way. I could have said, they’re right, and I’m not going to be able to manifest this or show up and do the work in this way, that it’s too big and too hard. But I just want people to know that it’s never too big or too hard. Just show up and do that thing, whatever that thing is, lean into it, and you will find your way.
Pre-order After the Rain here.