Alexandra DuFresne

Ep. 1 – Former Yale Dean Alexandra Dufresne: Do The Hardest Thing

Every single time I talk to Alexandra Dufresne, I leave with a passionate hope and optimism that maybe, just maybe, we can actually make the world a more just, kind, and fair place.  

Alexandra is an American lawyer specialising in refugee, immigration and child law and policy. She taught seminars in law and policy at Yale College for a decade and represented refugees and abused and neglected children in the United States. Alexandra also worked on public policy at the state level in Connecticut, as a policy fellow and attorney at various nonprofits, including the Center for Children’s Advocacy. She moved to Zurich with her family in 2016, where she works in policy and teaches American law at institutions of higher learning in Switzerland.

“If you want to make a real difference, continuously get out of your comfort zone to grow your skills. You must keep trying to do the hardest thing.” — Alexandra Dufresne, on how to Level Up Your Leadership

It was uncomfortable when Alexandra went to an indigenous village in Mexico at age 21.  It was downright terrifying the first time Alexandra walked into a prison. It was devastating when she learned about a Guatemalan refugee’s family member who was “disappeared” by the secret police. And that’s the point.

If you’ve ever wanted to hear what it’s like to love, love, LOVE the work you do, listening to Alexandra’s passionate and heartfelt will make you want to jump out of your chair, ready to take action and make a difference! And, of course, you’ll be inspired to stretch out of your comfort zone and do the hardest thing.

In this honest interview we discuss:

  • How friends at university opened up Alexandra’s eyes to her true passion
  • Why a short stay in rural Mexico was one of the most transformative (and alien) experiences of Alexandra’s life
  • Why Alexandra was grateful for a job that demanded perfection and 24/7 availability (and what important lessons she learned from it)
  • Why her biggest role model in life is a Guatemalan refugee mother who escaped to the US and worked as a housekeeper
  • Why Alexandra counseled hundreds of men in immigration detention
  • How a leadership model of trying to do everything by yourself will never work
  • The best way to learn (hint: it’s by making lots and lots of mistakes! and being willing to fail BIG)
  • How to deal with empathy overload and how to get people to still care about your work when they are overwhelmed with too many competing causes
  • Why Alexandra believes you don’t have to be perfect at everything and how imperfection enhances the power of teams.
  • How to use humor as a way to stand out and get people to pay attention to you.
  • Why your interpersonal skills matter more than your intelligence (and how to flex these skills across cultures).
  • How taking the scary first step in action sets you up for success in the future.
  • Why doing the hardest thing can actually be liberating and freeing.
  • How making her own mistakes has led her to be more generous, tolerant, and accepting of others’ mistakes.
  • The accomplishment that ranked higher than her wedding day as the happiest day of her life.
  • The importance of keeping a support network and cheerleaders around.
  • Why giving positive feedback – even to complete strangers – is a must.
  • Which attributes are valued in a female leader in the United States vs. in Switzerland



Links to Topics Mentioned in this Podcast

Action Together: Zurich, CH
Yale University
• Quote Alexandra referenced from Judaism: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it (2:21).” — Pirkei Avot
What Employers Want To Know by Alexandra Dufresne
Make The Call by Alexandra Dufresne
The Hardest Thing by Alexandra Dufresne
‘We are sorry’: Americans in Switzerland apologize for Trump prior to Davos visit
Eine höfliche kleine Demo (German language)

Other related articles written by or related to Alexandra Dufresne’s work:

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Comments 1

  1. I am in awe of people who dedicate their sweat, blood and tears in favour of underprivileged people. They definitely restore faith in humanity. Keep it up!

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