Whether she realizes it or not, it’s clear why Alyonka Larionov, has been so successful. Authenticity, she said, is key. Her career as a sports reporter, host and producer has taken her many places, from the Pittsburg Penguins, to the New York Rangers, Brooklyn Nets, VICE and now, as the Founder of the Untitled Female Project. The Untitled Female Project, is built on three pillars: Tell Your Story, Speak Your Truth and Champion Flaws. Her journey as a kid from Moscow, to moving to the United States for her dad’s NHL career, where he won three Stanley Cups with Detroit, she found her voice and has used it to build a social platform. It’s her ability to be unapologetically real, develop an ever evolving self-awareness and speak her truth, that has carried her through to live her most authentic life.
Get your pen and paper ready because you're going to want to take notes on this Vibe Sesh with Alyonka Larionov.....
Q: What was it like growing up Alyonka Larionov?
It was a lot of moving. A lot of new schools. A lot of hockey games. A lot of tennis, singing, and performing. A fair amount of travel and summers spent in Moscow. Around 5th grade I realized I was an immigrant and different from the other kids at school. From there I began conforming with the American culture in order to fit in. My safe space was in the presence of kids of athletes- we all understood each other without having to say much.
You had a very successful career as a sports reporter, working for major networks like TSN, MSG Network, covering the New York Rangers, Brooklyn Nets, reporting for VICE Sports, what are some of the lessons or experiences that you can reflect on and maybe still carry with you today from your time as a reporter and host?
It’s wild to see these glamorous and “successful” media companies all in one sentence. I suppose I never viewed my career as a successful one because I jumped from place to place and always felt that there was more to do than what I was doing. I made a point to leap when the confinement became too restrictive. One of the main lessons I learned is that nobody cares about you as much as you can care about yourself. Meaning, if you don’t look out for you, nobody will. It’s especially tough as a woman in a male-dominated industry to speak out in favor of your needs, desires, and rewards. Women tend to play down their successes, providing outside reasons or “help” for doing a good job, or they will not ask for a raise because they feel undeserving, or they will not ask for a particular story, interview, or stand behind an idea for fear of being assertive and/or difficult. It took me many years to learn that I have to speak for myself and ask for what I want, need and desire. And most importantly, to take credit where credit is deserved. With all of these experiences I’ve received a free education in various aspects of the business. My advice is to ask questions and to act sponge-like in every environment. The only reason I was able to jump from job to job is because of my being able to be adaptable and to learn on the job. There is no shame in not knowing something and/or asking a “stupid” question. That’s the only way you learn and if anything, it shows the uppers that you’re willing to do the work. Lastly, working at VICE made me aware of the bubble in which I was living. Yes, I was practicing self-awareness and personal growth, but it’s hard to care about what’s going on in the news or in the real world when you’re not on the ground. Speaking directly with communities, afterwhich I’d travel to see the realities of the world, changed my perspective forever. I also learned the power of cold-calling and cold-emailing. Tim Ferriss talks about this where it’s important to set yourself a goal to reach an unreachable person. Chances are, if you do the work, you can reach pretty much anybody.
Do you feel like your path to sports broadcasting and covering hockey was almost predetermined because of your upbringing?
Yes and no. No, because I don’t particularly like sports. I will usually avoid them at all costs. There are infinite activities I would rather do. This of course excludes watching my Brother play hockey or any other close friend who is a professional athlete. Yes, because I am interested in the human condition and have been since childhood. I covered hockey because it provided a window into my father’s life and it gave us a topic to discuss. If you look back on my career, I never actually covered the sports aspect of it. It was more personality driven.
Many people would have said you’re crazy to leave a career in sports, what was it that drove your choice change your path?
I needed to get away from testosterone. In the corporate setting, in the media setting and especially in the locker room setting. After nearly a decade in the industry, I felt completely stripped of my femininity which had a direct correlation to my eating disorder. There were a lot of reasons for why I wanted to hide my body. I don’t consider myself an attractive woman but the objectification of women is real, and frankly speaking, I couldn’t take it anymore. Another reason was that I was tired of having to change my personality. When I started auditioning for entertainment gigs, the feedback suggested that I be less cerebral, more bubbly, and fun. My intellect, or curiosity, or ability to hold up a conversation on multiple topics, was considered insufficient to hold up an entertainment job. I suppose one could say I didn’t play the game well enough, but I’m not one to play games. I wanted to step away from my career to see where my natural course of life would take me. I’m not sure I chose the sports reporting career by choice. I think it came from a hurt and vengeful place. After which pride took over and I overstayed my trajectory because I didn’t want to “fail”, or walk away from a seemingly “good thing”.
Where did your desire for documenting and telling stories come from?
I think the documenting came from a lack of permanence. Because I moved around so much, I never felt like I had a home. Documenting things provided me the opportunity to take things with me once I moved; pictures, videos, scrapbooks, artwork, letters, notes, cards. I take everything and I have boxes. My boxes always moved with me. My desire to tell stories was based on a survival mechanism. Because I moved so many times, I had to find a way to connect with people quickly, otherwise it would make it that much harder to make friends. Telling stories gave me an opportunity to connect with people, but also, being a great storyteller also means listening to others stories. Asking questions. Allowing others to share their world. It creates connections and relationships. Both stem from a need to survive.
Tell us about the Untitled Female Project and the Tell Your Story podcast?
The Untitled Female Project was something I had wanted to start many years ago. I have journal entries, email exchanges, and website mock-ups dating back to my days with the Pittsburgh Penguins (2008). As the years went on, I refined the message and it’s foundation. For majority of my career, I wasn’t able to tell the stories I wanted to tell, or to tell them in a way that I felt would provide a deeper window into a person or place. Everything had to be on brand. And everything had my face and name attached to it (which is why I eventually jumped to production). UF gave me the opportunity to stand as an Untitled Female and to find my voice without boundaries. It was an opportunity for me to reconnect with my femininity, the women in my life, and probably most importantly, my inner-child and inner-voice. The platform stands on three pillars: Tell Your Story, Speak Your Truth and Champion Flaws. Each pillar provides a safe space for human connection. The Podcast is run through the Tell Your Story pillar where guests can speak about their life lessons-learned, truths, and flaws. For me, it’s an opportunity to interview in the way I’ve always dreamed of interviewing. Without limitations. And I can book the guests my heart desires. The Contributor narrative is run through the Speak Your Truth, where people can send in their stories, their tool kits, their lessons-learned, or participate in the UF Chat. Our UF CIRCLES are run through the Champion Flaws pillar where we provide a physical safe space for gatherings (men, women, children, co-ed) to openly discuss specific topics. I am also gearing up to launch one-on-one sessions if people choose to engage on a deeper level after a UF CIRCLE.
For people who are wanting to create content and build a platform, what advice would you give them?
Authenticity is the key to success. As mentioned, it’s hard to use your authentic voice when working within the confines of a corporation, but if you have the ability to share your authentic self through your social media, blog, or personal website, DO!
In a time where people share so much online and often only share their highlights, your social media platform comes with a purpose. You choose to share your eating disorder recovery and also be open about your career and growth. Why is that important to you?
I feel that we’ve lost touch with responsibility and accountability. Social media has provided the opportunity for ANYONE to create a brand, a name, and I suppose, even a career. Technology has provided connectivity. So with that in mind, we have a lot of people who have voices that are heard world-wide, but their message does not come from an authentic and/or genuine space. What that creates is a false image and a false “product” which followers consume. We’ve seen a rise in anxiety and depression in the Gen Z generation. Research doesn’t necessarily point the finger to social media, however, it is correlated, and I for one believe that it has a huge influence on the well-being of people. Meaning, we see these glamorous lives but we don’t see below the iceberg and oftentimes, shit gets messy underneath. I’ve been guilty of this. For 10 years I hid the fact that I was battling with anorexia. I posted images of myself which were not inline with my personal story. In my personal life I was hurting and slowly dying. To the outside world, I was thriving. That is SO dangerous. Irresponsible. And an abuse of power, privilege and status. I certainly don’t have as many followers as many of the influencers do nowadays, but it’s enough that once I started speaking openly about my eating disorder, and went ahead and erased my entire timeline to post authentic, REAL images and narratives, my inbox filled up with THANK YOUS. And, I can’t believe I feel the same as you. And, I too suffer from xyz. And, thank you for speaking out. And, I thought you had it good. And there’s your answer. Everyone has their shit. I’m not saying we need to overshare that but it’s important to showcase that there is no such thing as PERFECT and there is no such thing as TOTAL BLISS. We cannot keep selling the idea that positive thinking = total happiness. We are not robots. We are human beings and we will inevitably have good and bad days. And as one of my podcast guests said (hi Will Reeve), “life has a funny way of getting in the way”. I think awareness is key. Knowing that a Content 5 on a 1-10 scale meter (10 being HAPPY) is a good way of living. But I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get that message across. Ps. if you feel inclined to use your Voice, please use it for good and that does not mean posting a never-ending highlight reel.
It takes a lot of courage to be raw and as open as you are when it comes to your recovery. Do you feel that it has helped your recovery and what was it that made you want to be so open about it?
I felt I had to be open about it. If I were to stick to the rules I mentioned about and I wanted to live what I speak; authenticity, transparency, vulnerability, accountability, responsibility, etc. then how could I continue having a presence on social media and platform that asks people for Stories, Truths, Flaws, if I didn’t do the same thing??? It felt nauseating, actually. I was living a lie and I didn’t want to carry that lie anymore. And honestly, at a certain point in any illness, carrying that secret becomes unbearable, heavy, suffocating, and debilitating. You either Speak Your Truth or you don’t. There’s no in between. And I try to practice that in all facets of life. The important thing to remember, however, that it MUST come from a space of Love and never Fear. It has definitely helped my Recovery. Not so much in my sharing and receiving encouragement but more when I receive feedback. Personal stories. Moments where others feel like they are seen, heard, and that they matter. A mental illness is an incredibly lonely disease. The human condition IS loneliness. So if I can alleviate some of that pain then it makes my telling my story completely worth it.
How do you find your balance in life?
In my podcast I always ask my guests, ‘what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn?’ I feel that one of my answer to that question would be finding balance. I’ve been thinking a lot about balance and I feel that I’m moving toward the direction that finding balance insinuates that once you get there, you’ve accomplished something, as if it’s some sort of destination. I think as is anything in life, our paths are always a journey. Therefore, this destination of balance is something potentially unreachable and maybe even a waste of time. I’d rather see it as something that is in my periphery, and I’m aware of. I like it. I might even gravitate toward it, but it’s not something I necessarily strive for, otherwise I lose focus on all the other blessings in my life, and potentially, will be that much more blind-sided when life inevitably gets in the way.
How do you champion your flaws?
By talking about them! By bringing them up. By sharing experiences of where i’ve wronged people, or have hurt people, or myself. Champion Flaws is about awareness. I think we have a poor relationship with the word flaw, as if to have one, means that we are less of a human being. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The more flawed we are, the more human we are. But again, awareness is key. For example, one of my flaws is that I tend to over-work. This is learned behavior and has caused me much success but also much grief. So, when I find myself in a space of over-exertion, fatigue, less time with friends and family, and most importantly, less time for ME, I make a point to slot in some type of activity that allows me to step away from the workload. There isn’t much that works but one thing I ALWAYS find time for is art + film. So I slot that in as often as I need in order to function as a human being without hitting total exhaustion.
The lingo is: hi flaw, I see you, you do not define me, but you are a part of me, at times helping, at times hurting. And when you hurt, I need some time away. Awareness. Also, in speaking about our flaws they lose power over us and oftentimes we find ourselves in a community with like-minded, flawed humans. It makes life a tad bit easier.
If you were to give advice to your 10-year-old self what would it be?
You’re not too much. You’re not not enough. Your thinking mind is beautiful. Your kind heart is rare. Your curious disposition is spectacular. Your intuition is your guiding-light. And your empathic disposition is your Core. Not advice. You can’t advise someone, really. You can only help them see their gifts. Those were mine. Are mine. And I wish I had heard that more often. I didn’t. So I say that to myself now but it took me a long time to get here.
How do you stand in your power?
By Telling My Story. By Speaking My Truth. By Championing My Flaws. And by Leading with Love. Always Love. Love is power. So stand in a space of Love.
What are Vibes to you?
Energy! I base all of my personal decisions off of energy. Whether it’s choosing a job, a friend, a partner, walking down a certain street, booking travel, etc. It’s all about energy. Which I suppose stems in hearing and listening to your intuition. If you’re connected and/or attuned to the vibes around you, you’re prone to make better decisions. You’re also prone to give off better vibes, too.
How do you Get Your Vibes??
I believe they exist in all of us, it’s all about fine-tuning. When I need to tap into my energy source and/or my intuition, I use a couple techniques to get myself aligned with my Core. Writing has always been an incredible practice for me. I call it free therapy. Walking (without music, podcast, phone conversation) is also incredibly grounding. I can’t run at the moment because of my Recovery process, but long runs used to clear my energetic pathways and it would give way to ideas, thoughts, solutions, etc. Yoga has stepped into that space. Museums + Art. Taking quiet time to observe something moves the energetic fields, stimulating creativity, solutions, etc. Same with films. They move me. Creating a new vibe. It’s all about fluidity. All of these are slow movements without heavy exertion or forceful creativity. It’s just opening space to accept what’s there.
Where can we connect with you?
Instagram: @_alyonka Facebook: Alyonka Larionov
Email: UF@theuntitledfemaleproject.com if you want to Contribute and/or Attend a CIRCLE. Podast: Tell Your Story with Alyonka Larionov (iTunes Pod Store)