The Connect Magazine Holiday 2017/2018

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Welcoming Diversity At Cracker Barrel Old Country Store , we think a key to our success is welcoming diversity in our company, our country stores, our restaurants, and our communities. ® • © 2016 CBOCS Properties, Inc.


Lacey Johnson


HEN I ACCEPTED my role as lead editor for The Connect in the spring of this year, I told my CEO, Eric Jordan, “I want to show that success does not look like one thing, but that it feels like a singular thing: the fulfillment of the highest expression of one’s unique desires and gifts.” I remain true to this, although I have learned that the pinnacle of that fulfillment isn’t the only realization of success per se; the journey and reaching towards that fulfillment is part of it as well. That’s where all of the magic hangs out. To say I am gratified by this issue would be the understatement of 2017. I have poured so much of myself into the creation of its content, and I’m extremely proud of my team as well. I hope these pages bring you joy. I hope they invite you to be more compassionate and conscious, while serving as a reminder that the aspects of your personality which are most celebratory of others (and life in general) are no accident at all. I hope they smack you with the belief that faith and willpower can defy statistics, and that there is dynamite power in the refusal to give up on what your heart is screaming that you must do. I have written a mantra (originally published this time last year to my personal brand,, and I wish to share it with all of you. Please know it is no random occurrence that your eyes are meeting these words. These words are for you. I hope you will fold them inside of any doubts you may be wrestling with as you step into 2018. Print it out and post it on your mirror or fold it into your wallet. Above all, live it:

I DARE YOU TO PROSPER. I dare you to not merely stand in the shadowed parks of what is most familiar, admiring your city of lights from a distance, but to build a bridge and meet your dreams where they are realized. I dare you to be uncomfortable, and to be refined by the red-hot flames of that discomfort. I DARE YOU TO FOLLOW THE VOICE OF YOUR INSTINCT. I dare you to be led by the fragrance of your heart’s desire. I dare you to reach with a mighty fist into the ether, and pull every glittering dream into the constructs of your reality. I dare your wishes and beliefs to align. I dare you to get it right this time. God bless you.








HILE PREPARING FOR our final issue of 2017, I was faced with a daunting challenge: With Deepak Chopra as our previous cover story, how was I going to make this one as special? It seems appropriate that this issue of The Connect magazine is focused on the subject of faith, considering all the recent attention given to purposeful living. As the magazine enters its fourth year of publication, I cannot help but reflect on the wide variety of events and developments there have been along the way, including the opportunity to start Stay Connected! Knowledge Academies, which is our subsidiary and first student-driven magazine. I recall saying to myself several years ago,”How cool would it be to start a kid’s magazine, challenging kids to think outside of the box while getting them excited about writing?” In 2015, I clearly remember coaxing a local investor into helping me find commercial real estate. I had this vision of having an actual Connect Center. The Magazine did a fantastic job inspiring individuals as we explored the nuances of successful living. However, my dream was to have a physical building used as a career development center. I have often asked myself, “How did you make it this far without a business loan or angel investors?” The answer is simple: “Trust the Process.” I have learned: Concentrate on counting your blessings and you’ll have little time to worry about anything else. I believe we all want to live a successful life; whatever success means to us personally. Unfortunately, our words often don’t reflect that. If words have power, that means everything you say is shaping your life and the lives of others. You may not feel it or see it the minute you speak THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

it, but those words are planting seeds. Each one of us are trying to figure out this thing called life. Sometimes we’ll need some a break, a chance, a Connect, or an opportunity. Sometimes, we just need someone to show us some compassion and kindness. If you’ve ever had someone help you in some special way, remember how it felt and keep that feeling in mind when the opportunity arises for you to help someone else. “If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.” - Will Smith As 2017 comes to a close, I challenge each of you to find at least one article from the previous issue of The Connect that inspired you most. Please share the article with a friend or loved one. After reading the article again, take a few minutes to write down your goals for 2018. Choose the goal that matters most to you and will have the most positive impact on your life. Once you choose that goal, make sure to write it down where you can see it daily so that it stays in the forefront of your mind. Finally, believe that your words have POWER. Speak them into existence. The success of The Connect magazine is because individuals took a chance on the dream, vision, goal, purpose and passion I have for connecting others. Best of luck pursuing your goals in 2018. Please keep the faith and, as always, “Trust the Process.”






HOMELESS TO BOSS LADY She crawled her way from homelessness to reporting from red carpets and building a publicity empire.

Features 14 MEET VERONICA T. MALLETT: THE MODERN WOMAN’S HEALTH INNOVATOR & DIVERSITY EDUCATOR There was never any stopping this renaissance woman.


ENTREPRENEURS UNSTOPPABLE Two unrelated stories. Both shining examples of how life’s hardships always gift us with something.

30 BOOK CLUB: NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR DANIELLE WALKER’S “CELEBRATIONS” Millions have improved their lives with her delicious recipes. We think this calls for a celebration.


AGE-OLD TRADITION This stylish biscuit house is a Millennial hotspot - still aligned with the family values from which it came.


HIS LIFE TO ANCHORING PURPOSE This legendary branding mentor invites you to live with absolute intention.


All small businesses hope to launch themselves to a high platform. XMI delivers.


PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE From the ancient to the contemporary, creative goldmines rest inside of these walls.


44 BECOME YOUR HEALTHIEST VERSION STARTING RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE These two health gurus say all transformations begin with making the next right decision.


TOWARD THE NEW YEAR Don’t let the sun set on this year’s missed intentions. Time and tide wait for no one.




It stings to not be picked. But it also may lead you to your big opportunity.


You’re trying to build something awesome. Be not afraid to shout it to the world.

41 HOW TO BUILD A STRONG IMAGE IN THE NEW YEAR & BEYOND Showing is more powerful than telling.


Knowing your partner’s love language can deepen and heal your connection.

48 I KNOW WHY YOUR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FAILED THIS YEAR Change won’t come as long as the same old lawbreaker is divvying out all of the rules.




The Connect Magazine is a quarterly lifestyle publication and online media source committed to engaging our diverse audience through empowering and impactful stories of entrepreneurs, young professionals and businesses in pursuit of creating positive ripples throughout the world, through efforts large and small. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM





HE WAY OTHERS view you may have a lot more impact on your long-term career prospects than you think. Accomplishment always comes first, but your image in the workplace is a close second. Knowing this, how does one craft their image the right way? We have established that image is important, but we also know there is a fine line between tastefully promoting yourself and just plain bragging. We have all listened to folks who want to do nothing but talk about themselves—all they have accomplished in previous years, all the people they know, even all the things they did over the weekend! Bor-ing! That is exactly the wrong way to go about earning a respectable image. A much better way to do this is to show them who you are. Showing is more powerful than telling. Going into the new year, make it a goal to become a solid contributor and a good team player—pursuing only positive and constructive subjects in your organization. The following are eight key suggestions for guiding you on how to tastefully and professionally go about promoting your best image.

than just a casual way. Take the initiative to schedule coffee or lunch with those you want to get to know. Follow up on your networking efforts with a handwritten thank-you note, followed by appropriate emails, calls or visits, as you see fit.

1 BE VISIBLE Make time to walk around and talk to people. Get to know your team, your peers and those in higher-level positions. Attend company events and social gatherings. Do your duties accurately and on time, but don’t be a full-time slave to your workstation. Make sure others know who you are.

7 SHOW APPRECIATION When you observe a co-worker’s accomplishment, don’t be shy about offering an appropriate “pat on the back.” And in any situation, a liberal and sincere use of “please” and “thank you” always goes a long way.

2 LOOK AND ACT PROFESSIONAL Dress for the position and - if you’re ever in doubt - dress one level up. Dress more like the boss than those on your existing level of leadership. Greet others with a firm handshake and look them in the eye. Stay connected—don’t drift—during conversation. 3 BE A CONVERSATIONALIST Keep a few good questions in your head so you can easily kick off any conversation. As we know, people like to talk about themselves, so probe deeper on topics that seem important to them. Pay attention, be engaged and make the person you’re communicating with feel like the conversation is the most important thing on your mind. 4 NETWORK Get to know key folks both inside and outside your organization in more 10


5 SHARE ACCOMPLISHMENTS You want others to know what you have done, but you don’t want to be known as a braggadocio. Discuss your achievements only when you feel the time and place is right. Think about subjects that might have the most impact. For example, business leaders often like to discuss revenue growth and cost reductions. 6 GIVE A SPEECH One of the best ways to build your image as a leader is to give a good speech. Prepare carefully and thoroughly. When you speak, the audience automatically recognizes you as a leader, so make the most of each speaking opportunity.

8 BE ON TIME Respecting another person’s time may be one of the easiest yet most profound ways to earn the image you want. Work on showing up before you’re supposed to, making meetings as succinct as possible and keeping your commitments.

Remember: The image you portray in your organization and in the business community can have enormous influence on not only your professional year, but your entire career. Make it a good one!

Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company For more on leadership, see



Sunset Reso lutions 2017’s




HE YEAR HAS almost walked itself into a new one, and the shoulda-coulda-wouldas grow louder every day. Hindsight is 20/20, but reflection time for future success is worthy of your thoughts. Bottomline? Introspection is valuable. It is time to ask yourself: How could this year have gone better for me? How can I improve moving forward? I know you have your excuses. They are easy to produce as to why you haven’t been able to accomplish what you hoped you would this year (or ever). So let’s try to work through them. Familiar goal epitaphs may include (but are definitely not limited to): “I could have gotten more done this year had I been afforded more time to devote to my own personal projects, rather than tending to other responsibilities.” There is also: “I would have done more to achieve my dreams had I actually had the money to do so.” Finally, let’s not forget the super-biggie that many of us choke on, for it actually holds us accountable to ourselves: “I should have completed one goal for self-improvement, but I was afraid of failure.” I understand it. It has merit, sure - fine and dandy - until it doesn’t. Time and tide wait for no one. We must not allow the year’s sun to set on missed intentions. I urge you: Make the resolution now to love yourself more by fulfilling your hopes, dreams and everyday endeavors. Put the pen to paper, add action to the plan and then watch everything materialize. 1 DON’T​ ​BE​ ​TOO​ ​HARD​ ​ON​ ​YOURSELF You are human. You are not a robot--aha, CAPTCHA!--and the world will not end if you ticked all but two items from your 100 item list! We expect so much from ourselves, yet seldom congratulate and celebrate our small successes. Every satisfaction of a task completed is a joy nonetheless, so yahoo yourself into a tiny back pat! 2 ACKNOWLEDGE​ ​AND​ ​AMEND Now is the time to take visual inventory of what you called a “W” for the year and what fell by the wayside. Make a “pros and cons” list of 2017, and pay attention to the patterns of things that could have been controlled. For example, if two of your cons happen to be “still running late to work and got written up for it” and “lost a prospective client because I procrastinated on researching and pitching to the company” (two valid and common issues), then perhaps you may want to pay closer attention to improving your time management skills for 2018 and onward. Observing patterns within our actions (whether positive or negative) helps us navigate our lives a little more effectively. 12


3 WRITE​ ​IT​ ​DOWN,​ ​AND​ ​MAKE​ ​YOUR VISION ​PLAIN After you have taken inventory of the shortcomings and areas of improvement, write down how you plan to improve. You may even want to rewind all the way back to what you originally planned to improve or accomplish. Do not mince words, either! Now is not the time to be flowery and verbose with the language; be direct. Get to the point so that when you view your posted solutions (Spoiler alert! The next tip definitely includes the words sticky and notes!), you’ll completely know what you mean when you see them. You won’t have to hunt. You won’t have to guess. You will know that “Leave on time no matter what!” means precisely what you wrote. 4 STICKY​ ​NOTES​ ​SAVE​ ​THE​ ​DAY! They are bright. They are colorful. They are sometimes annoying, yes. But they work when not ignored. Sticky notes carry a power of being visual coaches. They want you to succeed by jogging your memory whenever you see them. They are succinct reminders that you can improve.

Remember: If you can’t fit your self-help message on one sticky note that you can clearly see from two feet away (without snatching your 90-year-old neighbor’s bifocals), then you’ve put too much on the note. Write your plan in all caps if necessary, and don’t hesitate to color-code the notes according to urgency. 5 DON’T FORGET TO DO​​THE​​INSIDE​​JOB​ ​Ultimately, every action has a root cause as to why it occurred. Remember “acknowledging the patterns” from a few points ago? Only you truly know why some things consistently go unresolved no matter how many times you make resolutions to improve. You owe it to yourself to figure out why those issues have remained stumbling blocks for you for any extended period of time. It sounds like touchy-feely-woo-woo therapy, and maybe it is. Who cares. The point is that maybe it is exactly what’s needed in order for you to actualize your major life goals. There’s absolutely nothing wrong or amiss about getting help with becoming your best self. That’s how winners are made, and YOU ARE A WINNER! Thanks for staying CONNECTed in 2017; let’s make 2018 a remarkable year! THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


Veronica T. Mallett The Modern Woman’s Health Innovator & Diversity Educator WRITTEN BY: TONI LEPESKA

Dr. Veronica T. Mallett, Senior Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine, at Meharry Medical College speaks during Meharry’s 2017 Commencement Ceremony.


N INNOVATIVE RESEARCHER and educator in the field of women’s health, Dr. Veronica T. Mallett will never forget how her father rescued her pre-med studies from a college professor who told her she didn’t have what it took to be a doctor. She’d begun her studies at Barnard College in New York, full of enthusiasm and confidence, but in the years of Affirmative Action, people looked at her questionably - “As though I didn’t belong. I began to question whether I did,” Mallett said. Exposed to wealth at a level she’d never seen and paired with a roommate who’d made a perfect score on the ACT, Mallett, a product of a magnet school with several African-American role models, felt even more insecure – but indignant, too – after the minority pre-med students were called to a meeting with a chemistry teacher. She told them they should forget about being doctors. “You people,” the teacher said, “don’t have the problem-solving skills.” You people? she thought. Her confidence bruised, Mallett told her father about the encounter. His advice? He told her to imagine the teacher on the toilet with her pants around her legs. “That really helped take her power away,” Mallett said. She went on to acquire her Bachelor of Arts degree at Barnard in 1979 and then her medical degree at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in 1983. She’s become a nationally- and internationally-recognized professional for her work in the treatment of urinary incontinence and genital organ prolapse, as well as her work to shrink health disparities among minorities. She’s reached a lot of firsts, including the first African-American woman in the country to be fellowship-trained in reconstructive pelvic surgery. She is also the first female chair of a clinical department at the University of Tennessee, a school established in 1911. In 2011, she founded the obstetrics and gynecology chair at Texas Tech University 14


Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in El Paso, where she also made strides in bettering health for Hispanic women and families. She did this by developing a new medical school and health science center on the border with Mexico, addressing a critical physician shortage in the area. The scope of Mallett’s work, while focused on issues that most often affect women who’ve given birth or who have had a hysterectomy, also spans health concerns we hear about almost every day. She wants everyone, especially women and minorities who suffer disproportionately from certain conditions, to watch the circumference of their waist and not so much the number on the scale. They need to watch food products for added sugar and salt and avoid them because they change the palate and influence the kinds of foods we eat. In 2018, she’ll be back to telling patients these bits of advice after she settles into her administrative role as the new Senior Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. Mallett oversees the quality of health care at the facility and the maintenance of the health service affiliations that help the college, founded in 1876 as the first medical school in the South for African Americans, providing training to its students and residents. As Mallett progressed from pre-med student to accomplished doctor, she faced ingrained ideas about women and about minorities. And, at points along the journey, felt overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood. She stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to write science papers. She missed family dinners to perform surgery. They were painful choices, she said, but “I didn’t do that alone. I did all that by having this eclectic support system of peers, family, my current husband and mentors.” She traces her initial drive and motivation to her parents. With the death of her father this past fall and the passing of her mother two years ago, childhood memories aren’t far from her thoughts. Her parents were so involved in civil right causes, Mallett grew up believing all adults made picket signs and held energized meetings at their homes. While involved in the social hot buttons of the day, her parents kept close track THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


Dr. Veronica T. Mallett, Senior Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine, at Meharry Medical College and other Meharry faculty help students don their white coats for the first time during Meharry’s annual white coat ceremony. The white coat symbolizes the beginning of the journey to become a certified health professional.

Dr. Veronica T. Mallett (second from left), Senior Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine, at Meharry Medical College is one of three Deans (all female) at Meharry Medical College. The three Deans are Maria F. Lima, Ph.D. (left) Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation and Dean, School of Graduate Studies and Research, Dean Mallett (second from left), and Dr. Cherae FarmerDixon, Dean, School of Dentistry (far right). They are pictured here with Meharry’s President and CEO James E.K. Hildreth, Ph.D., M.D. (third from left).

of their three children’s progress in the classroom. Each child received a dollar for A’s, 50 cents for B’s and spankings for C’s. For her parents, education was the “great leveler” - something that couldn’t be snatched from you and “was almost like a religion,” for her father. Mallett said. “Daily, he would admonish us to be leaders. I learned from them that to be average was not good enough.” Mallett traces her urge to innovate partly to her time at the Michigan State medical college, which was considered in its infancy at the time. It focused on holistic approaches, “dealing with the whole person and the whole environment,” she said. “It was somewhat revolutionary at the time.” While in residency at Wayne State University, she committed to go into academic medicine. She felt she’d always be up-to-date if she stayed in academia. She loved learning. She discovered she’d have to adopt a niche to rise through tenure, and at the time, female pelvic reconstruction was in its youth. “It’s a field where you really restore function. Life-changing function,” Mallett said. “[A woman] is embarrassed or not feeling she has control of her body. When you can address the problem through medicine or surgery, you have changed someone’s life. That’s very rewarding. I’ve gotten so many cards.” Mallett’s very first patient was a woman in her 70s, a domestic housekeeper who stuffed rags in her vagina to hold up her uterus and bladder. The organ prolapse prevented her from comfortably cleaning houses, but she’d worked for cash and hadn’t paid into Social Security, so she didn’t have the money for an operation. Mallett saw her at a charity clinic. She provided to her a pessary to hold up the prolapse, and eventually was able to secure insurance for the woman that covered a life-changing reconstructive surgery. Mallett treated another woman later in her practice who also had a large prolapse. She was near the end of her life at 95 years old, but she sought out help because the condition was inhibiting the care of her husband. The woman underwent a minimally-invasive procedure called colpocleisis, in which everything was pushed back inside and the opening of the vagina was closed off. Mallett was “more frightened than she was” to expose her to the risk of surgery, but the woman “had great faith in God.” After the surgery, she returned to her caregiving duties with renewed vigor. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and women think there’s nothing that will work or nobody can help them,” Mallett said, “In the past a THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

Dr. Veronica T. Mallett, Senior Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine, at Meharry Medical College listens to a student explain her research during Meharry’s annual Student Research Day

Dr. Veronica T. Mallett, Senior Vice President of Health Affairs and Dean, School of Medicine, at Meharry Medical College congratulates a student who during Meharry’s White Coat Ceremony.

lot of surgeries weren’t effective, but they’ve become much more effective.” Mallett was one of the early adopters of the urethral sling for treating urinary incontinence, and she worked in a multi-center clinical trial that compared using a synthetic patch to the gold standard of using the patient wall in a procedure to fix the bladder. The former proved to be better to fix, she said. Mallett also was involved in examining the procedure to lift the top of the vagina when turned inside out, as might happen after a hysterectomy - a procedure called uterosacral vault suspension. Dr. Sireesha Reddy, who worked with Mallett at Texas Tech and considers her a mentor and friend, feels Mallett used insightful ways not only to treat patients but to teach medical students who weren’t minorities how to be culturally sensitive to situations that impact health. She’s “definitely a visionary” in that respect and excels in several areas of life, said Reddy, an obvious admirer. “She’s beautiful, an accomplished professional and a mom. She’s a renaissance woman for sure.” INTERESTING WOMEN’S HEALTH STATISTICS: • About 3.3 million women in the U.S. alone suffered from pelvic organ prolapse in 2010; Officials suspect more than half the female population will experience it, and they expect statistical figures to grow as more studies are conducted on the condition. • Women who are 20 and older suffer disproportionately compared to men of the same age in regard to hypertension. More than 33 percent of women have high blood pressure compared to 32.6 percent of men. They also suffer disproportionately in regard to obesity, with 38.5 percent of women considered obese compared to 34.5 percent of men. • The disparity between the races is even wider. While hypertension among Hispanic women age 20 and older is lower at 23.6 percent than all women, the percentage of obese Hispanic women ascends to 45 percent. The figures are even more staggering for AfricanAmerican women, with 56.9 percent considered obese and 44.8 percent having hypertension.

Sources: Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support; Centers for Disease control THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018



Life-Threatening Hardships Made These Two Entrepreneurs



O ONE INVITES suffering and hardship into their lives, but we all experience it in various forms. We may wish it away, try to go around it, or flee from it, but none of those efforts rid us of our afflictions. Two successful business owners, Bill Vandiver and Harriet Lanka, live thousands of miles apart, yet both faced down the mightiest challenge any human will ever know: death. But their stories didn’t end there, and they didn’t merely escape with their lives. With the odds stacked against them, they allowed their difficulties to feed their creativity and - ultimately - shape their success stories. And they now move through life as living demonstrations that difficulties can be turned into a source of power - one capable of propelling the survivor into a better, bigger future than ever imagined. Bill Vandiver died on the floor of his salon. One minute he was styling a girl’s hair for her prom and the next he was in a heap quivering from a seizure. He’d had seizures since he was a fifth grader and had been diagnosed with epilepsy, but, he said, “This one was a little different. I went into cardiac arrest.” By a stroke of luck – or was it luck? – the girl’s mother was the head of a cardiac care unit. She administered CPR and kept Vandiver from sinking into the pit of death. “I always felt someone was watching over me,” said Vandiver, “but I never ever put two and two together.” No, not yet. His epiphany was yet to come. Vandiver grew up in a little Tennessee town called Culleoka, just south of Nashville. He lived in a trailer and recycled glass Coca-Cola bottles for money (his first job). He never planned to be a hair stylist, but when a friend suggested it, the shoe seemed to fit just right. His plans weren’t lofty, but he knew he wanted more than what he had. “You have to be realistic, but you also have to be a dreamer,” said Vandiver. “You have to want more for yourself. Growing up in that trailer, I knew there was more in the world.”



In 2000, at the age of 33, he opened his own business, The Edge Salon, after working for other people for 18 years. His clientele grew quickly. His only aim: offer clients “great service at a great price.” He focused on perfecting hair extensions. But life would throw him another hardball. Doctors discovered Vandiver’s lymph nodes were swollen. He underwent 60 biopsies in three years. All the results were inconclusive. In the fall of 2011, Vandiver was given the clear and instructed to check in periodically. A few weeks later, two people at the salon told him the lump on his neck looked bigger. Before he knew it, Vandiver was in a recovery room, the lining of his throat being removed. Unable to eat, he lost 40 pounds. He had cancer. Doctors urged Vandiver to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. A holistic practitioner of sorts, he was conflicted. He didn’t know whether to follow their direction or not. What if he made the wrong choice? A spiritual man, but far from religious at the time, Vandiver said, “I’d always heard and read if you prayed to God about something, he would listen. So I got down on my knees and prayed from the depths of my heart.” The next morning, after returning from the gym, Vandiver suddenly felt as if he was on fire, “like there was boiling water inside my head.” He thought something was seriously wrong. He wondered if he was having a nervous breakdown, and then wondered if he was hallucinating. But, everything was soon to be more than fine. Vandiver had a mystical experience that would bring him to life in a way he had never been alive before. He quickly assembled a team of traditional and holistic medical personnel. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation, detoxed in an infrared sauna, and got IV infusions of things like magnesium and vitamin D twice a week. He received weekly massages and meditated. He looked in the mirror every day and told himself, “This isn’t going to beat you.” The cancer didn’t have a chance. The following year, Vandiver’s business took off at an astonishing rate. And it hasn’t slowed down. Today, Vandiver is stronger than ever and clients fly from major cities all across the country to see the 56-year-old salon owner and his



team. Situated in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, The Edge Salon is so successful it accepts only a limited number of new clients each year, and only by referral or interview. Vandiver has his own hair extensions line, More Cheveux, and he is an author, entrepreneur and active participant in multiple charitable causes. He loves being busy, but doesn’t permit stress a place in his life. He left stress behind the day he encountered what he believes to have been God. “I think I have a clear understanding of, may I say, my purpose,” Vandiver said. “I define ‘important’ differently now. Before, I stayed stressed out about relationships, life, money. Now I just surrender it. I let it go.” Vandiver’s epiphany? He was being divinely cared for all along. Knowing this has freed his personal and professional energy for the welfare of others. “The world is not about me,” he said. “It is about what I can do to help the world.”

Nothing was the same for Harriet Lanka after the automobile accident on April 2, 1994. Suffering from a closed head injury, the 16-year-old was rushed to a hospital by ambulance and then placed in a helicopter. Her life depended upon the expertise of medical personnel at the university hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, but even then her chances weren’t good. A doctor phoned Lanka’s parents, urging them to hurry to the hospital. “Your daughter,” he said, “probably isn’t going to make it.” Lanka’s parents rallied church friends. They got to the hospital as she arrived by air and put their hands on her body for a quick prayer. Lanka was unconscious but, later, her parents would tell her the whole story. “My vitals immediately shot up,” said Lanka. She was in the hospital for three months - most of this time spent in a coma. “She’ll probably be a vegetable at best,” the doctors told her parents. But they kept praying and Lanka kept improving. She had to learn how to walk, talk and write again, and learn to “navigate an injury that transforms you on the inside while leaving no scar on the outside.” Though Lanka suffered from post-traumatic amnesia, she remembers what her mother pronounced over her middle child. “She kept telling me, THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

‘You’re here for a reason, but I don’t know why.’ That,” said Lanka, “kind of gave me a compass for life.” While kids her age spent their time with parties and talks of cute boys, Lanka focused on things like “serving my healing.” She sought the answer to the question – Why am I here? “There was such an opportunity to sink down deeper and decide where I wanted to go [in life],” she said. After the accident, Lanka felt uncommonly sensitive to people’s emotions and energy, though she didn’t know why. She eventually became a massage therapist, which felt like a natural progression, and discovered she intuitively knew how to soothe others. “I can’t really explain it or teach it. I just put my hands on people and I know what to do,” she said. Before long, the buzz was that Lanka had a gift. She was invited to homes, to parties, and was flown around the country by a Hollywood movie production company. After the distasteful experience of a client propositioning her, she decided to open her own place, The Align Spa, in Park City, Utah. That was 15 years ago. Lanka, 40, now lives in Costa Rica, where she also operates a yoga retreat center called The Sanctuary La Paz, which means “peace” in Spanish. Business is great for both, but almost a decade ago, it looked like Lanka might have to close the spa in Utah. During the national economic downturn, clients cut their spa visits as a luxury they could no longer afford. Lanka gathered her employees around, and together they decided to cut their pay and offer free massages to any teacher in town. She’s seen 20 to 30 percent growth at Align each year since. She maintains a stable work force that greets clients by name and asks them about their latest trip or the soccer game they played. “It’s cheers without the alcohol,” said Lanka. She applies the resilience she exhibited as that fragile teenager in a hospital to all of her challenges. “I see obstacles as an opportunity to sink down and root into who you are and what you are here to create. You have the option of being a victim, a survivor, or a thriver. I never perceived myself as a victim of my brain injury,” she said, “so I always faced obstacles with a ‘challenge accepted’ approach.” Her message to others who face seemingly impossible challenges? “You’ve got this, even when it feels like you don’t. Trust that everything is happening from you, not to you.” THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018






LITTLE MORE THAN a year ago, I was being considered for a promotion. It was my dream job. I had spent the previous eight years working for this opportunity, and knew I was well-prepared to take it on. At the same time, I knew it would be difficult to get the job, as another strong internal candidate was my competition. I spent hours preparing for my interview. For my presentation, I worked overtime to create a walk-through experience with tents, photos, framed posters and a vision statement of what the organization would look like 10 years in the future - if under my tenure. I rehearsed the presentation many times and, on the big day, it went flawlessly. I had placed myself in an excellent position to receive the position. I knew I deserved it. A couple of weeks later, I received a call from the organization’s president, informing me that my dream job would remain just that: a dream. They decided to bring someone in from the outside. I was extremely disappointed, but did my best to be gracious and ask who my new boss would be. Look, it is hard to not be picked. This goes back all the way to our childhood days when captains were picking teams for kickball and you never wanted to be the last. This analogy doesn’t just cover kickball; it can apply to anything in life. Perhaps you weren’t selected for the National Honor Society, didn’t get into your top college or maybe, like me, you didn’t get that dream job. There is just no way around it. You are going to feel the sting of bitter disappointment. When this happens, there are things you must do. And what I am going to suggest is something you may find surprising. I want you to be bitter and wallow in some self-pity. Yes, pity. Give yourself 48 hours to feel the pain of not getting the job. Because the worst thing you can do is simply act like it didn’t matter that much. You know it matters. Feel the intensity of your emotions. Let it hurt. Wallow in the dissapointment. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

But, then? Give it a strict time limit. When you wake up on that third morning, it is time to use your resolve to begin anew. Take some time for introspection to critique what you believe you possibly could have done better. You may even find you wouldn’t have changed anything in your approach. Always remember it isn’t a value judgment on you that you weren’t chosen this time. The next questions to ask yourself are: What does this make possible? What opportunity does not getting this job represent for me? It is never a failure. It is another step on the journey. Remember that your path may have an even better opportunity waiting for you if you remain diligent and patient. You might miss it if you choose to give up or become cynical. When I asked myself the above questions, it led to some interesting answers. Actually, some pretty powerful ones. I ended up launching my coaching and speaking business with the help of a mentor. Not long after, I was selected for an interview at a different organization and was hired in a new position I absolutely love. They were very impressed that I had recently launched a new business and wanted some of that ingenuity in their organization. None of this would have happened if I remained bitter, accepted failure and hadn’t asked those questions. What do you do when you don’t get your dream job? You formulate a dream that might be better than you could have possibly imagined. Graham Honeycutt is a life coach & motivational speaker based in Nashville, Tenn. He helps individuals and organizations overcome their greatest challenges so they can achieve success and significance. Find out more about him at PHOTO BY: JAMES BANKER PHOTOGRAPHY THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018





AVE YOU EVER walked into a business meeting, classroom or social event and wondered why everyone looks the same? This makes no sense when considering the evolving world around us. No matter where we roam - whether it’s to the supermarket, shopping mall or coffee shop - the individuals are diverse. So, why then, aren’t our boardrooms, social groups and workplaces as diverse as the truth of the world around us? As human beings, we have a tendency to unconsciously repeat behaviors over and over; because of this, our behaviors often yield the same outcomes. It’s like selecting a book to read - typically we gravitate to the same genres of reading material again and again. For example, if you tend to read mystery or romance novels, you are not likely to choose an astronomy book. Our patterns of behavior can sometimes block or exclude others even when we’re not consciously trying to; consequently, we end up in a room full of people who all look the same. So the question becomes: What can be done to change this unconscious behavior and become more conscious? Today’s 21st century leader must understand that in order to modernize and transform an organization, it needs diversity. But diversity by itself is not enough. They must also understand that inclusion is needed to activate diversity. To be inclusive is to prevent each of us from consciously or unconsciously excluding individuals due to their age, culture, gender, ethnicity, religion or anything that differentiates them from ourselves. It’s when we recognize that everyone deserves to have a voice, while possessing a variety of ideas, opinions, viewpoints and perspectives. But we can’t do that if we don’t know the biases that might be sabotaging our good intentions. Whether differences are related to political issues, religious beliefs and communication styles, generational influences or socioeconomic concerns, inclusion leaders understand that key fundamental traits must be present to properly manage and lead individuals through multifaceted conversations. So how do we begin to create a culture that is welcoming to all? 1 LEARN TO LEAD THE SELF Inclusion leaders do not hide behind their faults. They acknowledge them through integrity and truthfulness. They recognize that, while none of us are perfect, each of us can grow stronger where we are weak and learn to outsource our weaknesses through enlisting the help of THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

others. They know how to be direct and put personal interests aside to achieve what needs to be done in the best interest of all. 2 BE COURAGEOUS Inclusive leaders act on guiding principles and use their moral compass even when it means taking a chance or risk. As a leader you must know how to stand up for what is just, as opposed to hiding in fear. It doesn’t always mean you won’t be afraid or uncomfortable, but it’s the refusal to allow fear to stop you from making decisions that will impact others positively. It’s through this discomfort that we often grow and begin to make substantial impact on the world around us. 3 BE ACCOUNTABLE One must hold himself accountable and enforce the same rules that he or she would expect from his or her employees. The best leaders always do, but in today’s workplace this behavior must be more deliberate and visible. Inclusive leaders recognize that when things go wrong and are not working, they admit to this and do not blame others. Accountable leaders find the best answer to a problem and work inside and outside of their ecosystem to find the best possible solution. Self-Awareness, courage and accountability are but a few of the traits that inclusive professionals demonstrate. These, along with others, help an organization grow and move to the next level in an increasingly diverse and competitive global marketplace. Inclusive professionals practice the art of leadership. This carefully includes the contributions, thoughts, views and opinions of all stakeholders within the organization or community. When the leaders are inclusive, the organization as a whole benefits. So, the next time you are making that decision about who to invite to the table, think about the things above and apply some of the tactics mentioned, remembering that it takes more than just knowing the traits and behaviors. It takes commitment, and it requires comprehensive business solutions, plans and strategies. Learning to apply the concepts and models in your daily business operations to build a more inclusive leadership culture is the key to growth. MiShon Landry is CEO/Founder of Culture Consultants Culture Consultants is a Women Owned Business {MWBE} Diversity & Inclusion Practice Focused on Leading Inclusive Change in Today’s Organizational Culture THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018





ERSONAL BRANDING HAS intensified with the advancements of technology. Thanks to the internet and social media, nearly every human in the world has the power to develop a unique identity on a professional level. Selena Gomez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lauren Conrad are a few examples of people who have harnessed the reach of technology to market themselves and their careers in such a way. But in order to create a personal brand that resonates with a vast audience, it is important to be authentic, consistent and engaging. You have the power to design how your personal brand is seen by the world, so do it right. Today’s consumers are intelligent, opinionated and outspoken; they are not afraid to call you out if you shy away from being honest and genuine. Once you have identified your personal brand and developed the conventional platforms - website and social media accounts - you may be thinking, “Now what?”

you’ll learn more about what truly gets through to your audience. Remember: Get creative, stay authentic and be consistent in your message. You’ll soon begin to understand how truly helpful these platforms can be to marketing yourself.

MAKE YOUR MARK Create a logo or symbol to give your personal brand a unique identity. Not only does this enhance brand recognition with your audience, but it also adds to your level of professionalism. Get creative and visualize the desired perception of your brand. Do you consider yourself handcrafted, organic and personalized? Or, do you prefer to be seen as contemporary, sleek and classy? Determine the outward visual tone of your brand and start designing with it in mind.

USE YOUR VOICE You’ve created a personal brand for a reason. You are the inspiration behind it all, so use your voice to tell the world about it. Start a podcast. A personal brand is about marketing yourself and your career; a podcast offers your audience a chance to hear your story first hand. One of the best aspects of this medium is that it can develop as your brand develops. As you continue on your self-branding journey, the podcast can be an outlet for sharing insights, knowledge, stories and motivation with the world. If you need motivation, 24 percent of the United States population ages 12 and older listen to podcasts monthly. So, if starting your own podcast is too much, don’t be afraid to reach out to other podcasters and offer to be a guest on their show. Either way you choose, podcasts are a helpful medium to use your voice.

REACH OUT You’ve created this amazing personal brand, so why not reach out to share it with as many people as possible? Social media advertising tools are a vital way to connect with potential fans and stay in front of your current following. These marketing platforms, from Facebook to Twitter, can offer intelligent strategies for reaching out while keeping a healthy budget – they provide bang for your buck. Social media advertising tools also provide you with invaluable insight into the effectiveness of your personal branding strategies. How engaging is your content to your target audience? If you change the picture or call-toaction in the ad, will it yield better results? Don’t be shy about A/B testing your content here. Separate your audience into two groups and serve each of them a different variation of the same ad; for example, one ad has a picture and the other contains a GIF, but both are conveying the same message. Compare your results to determine which variant worked best based on your desired outcome. The reporting tools on these platforms help make the comparison process a breeze and THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

GET OUT Put yourself out there and host or speak at an event – trust me, I know you can do it. This is one of the best methods for showcasing your knowledge and expertise. Getting out to events also gives you an in-person opportunity to connect with others. Technology is great for reaching out, but nothing beats a person-to-person encounter. There are plenty of opportunities such as local chamber events, industry seminars, conferences, workshops and client appreciation lunches - just to name a few. These get you out into the real world and help market your personal brand.

GIVE BACK While personal branding is about promoting you and your career, find a way to weave giving back into your brand’s identity. There are more than enough opportunities to do this. If you’re a social media marketing guru, teach non-profits how to be more effective with their social media platforms. If you’re an artist, volunteer to teach art at an after-school program. Find a need in your community and go for the giving. This not only benefits your community, but will boost your success in the end. People tend to remember selfless acts, so give back generously and create a positive perception of your brand. You might even learn more about yourself - and your brand - in the process. THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018







How Hollywood Publicist

KIKI AYERS Went From Homeless to



T HAPPENED IN the wee hours of the morning while curled into a lobby bathroom stall of a Loews Vanderbilt Hotel. Ke’Andrea “Kiki” Ayers, a young and accomplished entertainment reporter in the red-hot hills of Hollywood, found herself alone - feeling her cold tears run down her face before hitting the marbled floor. From the outside looking in, she lived an enviable life donned in body-hugging and designer dresses, her lips glossed and hair styled to perfection - whisking across red carpets while bumping elbows and exchanging jokes with some of the most idolized celebrities in the world. There was Ben Affleck, Queen Latifah, Jamie Foxx, Nas and Will Ferrell - just to name a few. But, from the inside looking out, there was no bed of her own to crawl into at the end of those glamorous occasions. There was no home for which to hang her stilettos after the sun dipped below the skyline. She wasn’t even sure where her next meal would come from. Her resume was impressive, but the paychecks were scarce. Like an old, estranged friend showing up without invitation, homelessness had found her once again. For years she had worked tenaciously to climb her way to heights others only fantasized about and coveted, but her reality was beginning to unfold like a cruel illusion. There was no more time to nurture that illusion, waiting for a lucrative opportunity to ride in like a Hollywood ending and save her. There, in the loneliness of that moment, she posed a question to the night air: “What am I going to do now?” An answer raced to the fore, slicing through the silence and amplifying in a way none had before: The right opportunity was never going to come. She was going to have to create her own. Ayers’ life had not always told such an unfortunate story. Born from two loving parents who were enlisted in the navy, she was no stranger to the virtues of discipline and excellence. Until the age of 8, her life had been the epitome of normal. Both parents were stable financial providers, owned cars and were present each time hot meals were being served on the dinner table, which was every night. But when her parents divorced and her father left her, her older sister and 1-year-old brother behind in Washington state, life drew back its curtain and exposed its cruel actualities. Her Trinidadian mother scrambled to balance living with a crippling autoimmune disease and being a single parent, all the while securing multiple jobs in order to feed her three THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

children. “My childhood wasn’t a play time. I had to step in as a small child and raise my little brother,” says Ayers. “This was the first motivation for me to always rely on myself to make my own money and never depend on anyone else.” This meant a 10-year-old Ayers spent her mornings guiding her 3-year-old brother onto the public bus and frantically ushering him to daycare before starting her day as a fifth grader - trying to make it to class before the bell rang. In retrospect, she realizes these struggles only worked in favor of the woman she would become. By the time she was mature enough to form her own goals, she was undaunted by the brutalities of hardship and sacrifice. They didn’t scare her. She knew every shadowed inch of those parks. The years that followed her father’s sudden abandonment brought with it a string of apartment evictions. Her mother would fall behind on bills and rent, then forced to pack up Ayers, her older sister and her younger brother to find another rental to make their home. Until, eventually, she was greeted with only slamming doors. Ayers found herself a 16-year-old high school student without an address for her school registry. Her mother had accumulated too many evictions and, thus, no place would accept them as residents. She watched her mother and 9-year-old brother sob as he parted ways with his only possession: his bicycle. When night fell, the family of four parked their run-down Ford Taurus - one her mother had purchased from a co-worker for $300 - in the parking lot of a 24-hour Walmart. This is where they would eat and sleep for months. Their whole entire lives - from toiletries to keepsakes - were crammed into the trunk. “Everything was centered around not being separated - making sure the cops would not find us sleeping in the car and then take my brother away. This was the biggest fear because all we ever had was each other,” says Ayers. Even then, Ayers stresses that her mother instilled in her the importance of reaching for excellence no matter how deep, low and menacing the struggle. She always found a way to wash herself, brush her teeth and forge her best presentation before walking to the bus stop for school. “I always told myself that it was not a permanent situation. I never let myself dwell on how bad things were - not for one minute,” she says. After a few months of surviving homelessness, her mother found an apartment for her and her children. Ayers fondly recalls moving into it and feeling luxurious spending her evenings stretched out across the bare carpet - watching “American Idol” through an old, donated television set, fidgeting with the antennas until the picture came in clear. During this time, Ayers learned of a program which would grant her the THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018



ability to take high school and college classes simultaneously - all held at a local community college. This brought with it the opportunity to hone her writing skills for the college paper. In this season of her life, she realized her innate talent as a wordsmith. She graduated from the program with honors and garnered enough college credits to embark on a real college experience as a sophomore. Upon being accepted to Howard University in Washington D.C., Ayers traveled by train all the way across the country from Washington state. It was the first time she had ever ventured outside of her home state. She recalls her paradigm shattering as she realized the contrast between her own life and that of her fellow co-eds. “I was moving into my dorm room and saw people moving all of their stuff in - from big TVs to speakers to posters - from their bedrooms at home. I had never even had my own bedroom my whole life, so all I had was a small suitcase full of clothes. I was so confused by it,” she says. Ayers recalls witnessing students arrive at Howard University as though shuffling through a revolving door. Many decided they didn’t like the school within the first week and either withdrew from classes or transferred elsewhere. But it didn’t matter whether she loved it or loathed it; it was all she had. “My hustle came from not having a choice to do or go anywhere else. I’ve learned it is amazing what you can do when you don’t have any other choice,” says Ayers. Not long after settling into her first year of college life, Ayers secured an internship with CBS Radio, working with Big Tigger at the local station WPGS. Her second gig was a summer internship for MTV, which came about solely because of her unflagging tenacity. Upon learning that the VP of Business Development for MTV was scheduled as a guest speaker at the university, Ayers cemented a goal to connect with her. When one of the male students in the congregation insulted the guest, she cut her visit short. She was so irate, she jerked her papers from the podium and stomped out of the class prematurely. Ayers ran out along with her - trailing behind her heels, frantically introducing herself and announcing her desire for an internship with the network. Still in a fog of annoyance, she brushed Ayers away, telling her she had to leave. “That’s okay, we can walk and talk,” Ayers told her, persisting. “Here’s my email,” the lady barked in response, smacking her card in Ayer’s hand before racing off in the opposite direction. But before she had even arrived at the airport, Ayers was in the computer lab emailing her resume and unloading her whole life story. “I wasn’t letting this get away from me,” says Ayers. “And, it worked because MTV emailed me the next day and offered me a summer internship.” 26


At 19 years old, Ayers found herself traipsing through Times Square with wide eyes, proudly sliding on her badge, entering those glass doors and logging onto her MTV email address each morning - living out what had once been an elusive dream. During her time there, she learned about marketing and television development, and was involved with the SpongeBob 10th Anniversary. When the summer ended and she returned to Howard University for classes, she received a callback about an internship at BET - an opportunity she had failed to secure through her first attempt. “When I didn’t get it the first time I applied, I just tried again and was successful,” says Ayers. Soon after, she was working behind-the-scenes of the 2010 BET awards as a production assistant, as well as being flown to the Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta. “I didn’t have the typical college experience at all,” says Ayers. “I got to do some cool stuff, but at the same time I was always working when I wasn’t in class. I had no parents sending me money. If I wanted to eat, I had to work.” Ayers’ work ethic became a testament to the reality that too many options can sometimes be lethal for one’s endeavors; yet having few options can be a godsend for the cultivation of one’s success. Oftentimes when one is blessed with an abundance of options, they grow entitled, lackadaisical and unappreciative within the broad scope of those options. When there is no sense of urgency, there is no urgency to reach for the things one most desires. Ayers knew she had so few options, she squeezed every drop of juice from the ones she had. Every drop fed her. They each fueled her. Ultimately, they launched her. After graduating from college, she moved to New York City and landed a job with “The Jerry Springer Show,” choking down a bitter taste of what she did not want to do within her professional life. Soon after, she utilized her previous connection and experience with MTV to land a gig as one of their newest production coordinators. She reported to the sets of “Guy Code,” “Girl Code” and “Wild ‘N Out,” working closely with Charlemagne the God. “I did everything from getting lunches to recreating VMA red-carpet historic moments. This was the first year the VMAs were in Brooklyn so it was great to be a part of that moment. I also worked closely with Sway Calloway which was amazing,” says Ayers. After learning all she could from behind the camera at MTV, she completed her time at the network. Soon after, the ambitious 24-year-old landed a position as the Music Programming Coordinator for Revolt TV in Los Angeles. She was not well-acquainted with the city, had never learned to drive and, therefore, had no license or means of transportation. So the network secured for her a luxurious room in the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel on the corner of Hollywood and Highland, which was convenient to the bus system, until she was able to gain a license and find an apartment. And, that she did. In less than a year, she was promoted to Content Producer for Revolt TV, which afforded her a rooftop loft towering way above the palm trees and overlooking the city. “It was surreal to call it mine, considering what I had come from,” says Ayers. During this time, she began dipping her toes into entertainment reporting. She volunteered her free hours working on red carpets for smaller outlets, such as the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Awards, in order to refine her resume and lean comfortably into her skills. She watched video footage and critiqued herself, slowly mastering the art of conversing with the famous. Before long, she was being paid to navigate the most sought-after red carpets. The Soul Train Awards. The BET Awards. The Billboard Music Awards. Major movie premiers. She fell fast in love with it, and believed she was finally in a place where she could surrender herself fully to what she wanted to do: illuminating the entertainment industry. She would leave Revolt TV to pursue journalism full time. The work proved to be the most creatively fulfilling she had ever known. Sadly, she would also learn that it wasn’t steady. Before long, she found herself parting ways with her beloved rooftop loft and sleeping on friends’ couches, moving in and out of hostels. Meanwhile, she was working with Rob Riley, interviewing Samuel L. Jackson and attending Oprah’s private luncheon. Accomplished, yes; but also young, female and grossly underpaid. Also homeless - again. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


CREATE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITY, WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE GIVING UP, YOU CAN EITHER DWELL ON WHAT ISN’T WORKING AND BE IN THE SAME SITUATION A MONTH OR TWO FROM NOW, OR YOU CAN ASK YOURSELF: ‘WHAT CAN I TRY THAT I HAVEN’T TRIED BEFORE? One evening, following an event with a well-known actor, she was unable to reach the friend who had promised her a bed in her new home for the night. Ayers wandered over to Starbucks, passing the time by blasting out text messages to all of the other friends in her phone contact list. But, over and over, she was met with glaring silence. When it was time for Starbucks to turn out their lights and lock their doors, she was forced to leave. With nowhere to go, she wandered down Hollywood Boulevard, desperately checking her phone every few steps. She then remembered that the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel - where Revolt TV had put her up less than two years prior - had long bathroom stall doors where she could easily remain unnoticed. She entered the doors of that hotel, found the lobby bathroom and crawled into one of its stalls. Leaning into the corner wall, she shivered against the cold floor, jolting anxiously each time she heard a guest come inside to use the restroom. “I kept replaying my life over and over in my head, wondering how I went from living in a nice loft apartment to sitting on a bathroom floor of a hotel lobby,” says Ayers. “I asked myself, ‘What are you going to do now, Kiki? How can you turn what you love into making money?’ Because this is not it,” she says. Right there on the bathroom floor, she was struck with an epiphany: Her email inbox was flooded - daily - with editors, journalists, publicists, press releases and buzzing news stories. She had worked with some of the most idolized celebrities on the planet, and she had access to them. She was skilled at writing, editing, video editing and hosting. She was comfortable with a-listers and power players - on camera as well as on the page. She had scrolled through and dissected hundreds upon hundreds of media kits, and she knew how to build them herself. She felt confident in her ability to single-handedly create a full publicity package for less money than it would take someone to hire three different people to build the same. Around 4 a.m., huddled in that stall with her belongings, she declared out loud - straight into that space, “You have all of the contacts. Start your own PR company.” That was it - her golden answer. She would utilize her skill set and plethora of connections in television and journalism to build a career as a publicist. Something within her released and surrendered in that moment. No longer able to prevent her eyes from falling heavy, THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

she allowed her body to dip in and out of sleep’s realm for the two hours that followed. Just before 6 a.m., she was rattled awake by the sound of a mop bucket, so she swiftly grabbed her belongings, rushed out of the hotel and stepped back into the world. As the hotel doors closed behind her, Ayers Publicity opened its mouth wide and took its first breath. Never looking back, but taking it one step at a time, she turned her eyes only in the direction of that decision. She secured her LLC and created her website. She began to carefully comb through talent in search of clients to represent. “I knew I didn’t want to work with just anybody. I set out to work with the next LeBron James or Drake,” says Ayers. “My motto became: If you’re dope, we’ll find you,”says Ayers. Her strategy became, unlike most PR companies, one that would not force those she represented to lock themselves into a lengthy contract. Instead, she would offer them the liberty of going month-to-month. This was because she would only represent those she was certain were capable of making monumental strides if pitched the correct way and, thus, would give each of them maximum effort within short bursts of time. “I decided I wanted to be known as the publicist getting black people into places they are not usually seen, like Forbes. And I have already done just that.” Her first client was Russell Simmons. “I led P.R. for the first movie to ever be released under his company All Def Digital. I set up a press screening and press junket,” she says. She impressed him, and Ayers Publicity quickly began taking on a life of its own. A little more than a year after its birth, she now represents platinum recording artist Sy Ari Da Kid, comedic actor Haha Davis (who has 2.3 million Instagram followers), film director Dontell Antonio, fashion designer Maxie J and YouTube star Megz. Her advice to those who believe they have tried everything, yet their ‘everything’ is failing them? “Create your own opportunity,” she says. “When you feel like giving up, you can either dwell on what isn’t working and be in the same situation a month or two from now, or you can ask yourself: ‘What can I try that I haven’t tried before?’” Ayers believes there is always something else to be considered and that, oftentimes, the best idea doesn’t become clear or even show its face until one is forced to navigate the most bitter hollows of failure. “If you’re in a situation you don’t like, don’t cry about it,” she says. “See it as an opportunity and focus on getting out of it. If you keep your attention on getting out of it, there is no question that you will.” But soar with caution: If you’re dope, she may find you. THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018


chrishollo p h o t o g r a p h y

6 1 5 . 4 0 0 . 3 0 0 2


c h r i s @ c h r i s h o l l o . c o m


@ p h o t o h o l l o


Danielle Walker’s New York Times Best Seller




OT LONG AFTER hanging up her wedding dress and veil, a 22-year-old Danielle Walker received the devastating diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. The pain was incessant and urgent - looming over her newlywedded bliss. The treatment options were far from hopeful. Every doctor told her the same thing: Diets don’t cause it, diets won’t help and they certainly won’t cure it. But a stirring deep within her demanded that she not accept this as her fate. “Something told me that there were better answers if I looked for them, so I dove heavily into research,” says Walker. She read books. She scrolled through the internet while her newborn son napped. And she found a wealth of evidence that eliminating dairy, grains and processed foods from her diet could facilitate healing. “I came across hundreds of conditions that were being relieved by adopting the principles of a Paleo or Whole30 lifestyle,” she says.



A new stay-at-home mom at the time, she spent her days in the kitchen - blending, chopping and stirring in experimentation - teaching herself how to cook with ingredients many of her friends had never heard of. It was equal parts a creative outlet and a saving grace. “I had an incredible improvement in my health almost immediately,” says Walker. From the urging of her husband, she launched a blog,, to document her experiments and share them with others. It caught fire and, within a couple of years, love letters from all across the globe were landing in her email inbox. Stories of inclusiveness and gratitude. Of health restoration. Of real-life tales that made Walker put her hand over her heart and sigh. “There were moms who were so sick they spent their days in bed, never feeling well enough to bake cookies with their kids And, even if they did, many of them were suffering with so many food intolerances that they wouldn’t have been able to enjoy them anyway. Those are my favorite stories - when my recipes allow a parent to not only eat well and feel well, but re-enter their child’s life,” she says. There was also the time a mother of a child with autism reached out to Walker with a report of victory. Her son’s health issues were so severe, he was unable to consume grains whatsoever. This meant that, when all of the other children were munching on their Fruit Loops and Cheerios on “Cereal Day” at school, he was a disheartened and lonely bystander. But when his mother found Walker’s granola recipe, her son’s digestive system and taste buds welcomed it with applause. Alas, he was once again able to participate with his classmates. The success of Walker’s blog rolled out the red carpet for a collection of recipe books - the first, the second and now the third New York Times Best-seller. Her latest, “Celebrations,” specifically focuses on those times of the year where special occasions and holidays call for us to indulge. Understanding that food is an emotional and social part of our lives, she envisioned creating a product where both individuals with a special diet and those with no dietary restrictions could sit down at the same table together - whether for a bridal shower or Christmas dinner - and all would clean their plates with utmost satisfaction. “An adult or child with special dietary needs can feel like they’re missing out on family traditions, and like they can’t participate as others can,” says Walker. “My goal was to produce a book where no person would be without the ability to celebrate.” Reprinted with permission from Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion by Danielle Walker, copyright© 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. PHOTOGRAPHY BY: ERIN KUNKEL© 2016



Garlic Rosemary Rib Roast • 1 (7-pound) standing rib roast of beef, fat trimmed and tied with twine • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced • 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder • 6 sprigs rosemary • 6 tablespoons ghee (page 325) or extra-virgin olive oil

• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper • 1 to 2 cups beef or chicken stock (page 327) • 1 yellow onion, diced

SERVES 10 Preheat the oven to 450°F. Poke shallow holes with a sharp knife all over the roast and insert the garlic slices into the holes. Rub all over with the arrowroot powder and tuck the rosemary sprigs into the twine on the top and bottom of the roast. Melt 4 tablespoons of the ghee over medium-high heat in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Sear the roast on all sides, then transfer it to a roasting pan and return the skillet to the stove. Season the roast generously on all sides with salt and pepper and pour in 1 cup of the beef stock. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, add the remaining 2 tablespoons ghee to the same skillet. Add the onions and sauté for about 10 minutes, until well browned. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, spoon the sautéed onions over the roast, return the pan to the oven, and continue roasting, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes, for 11/2 hours to 2 hours, until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads about 140°F for medium. If the liquid in the pan nearly evaporates, add the remaining 1 cup stock. Cover the roast with foil and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before slicing. Set the roast on its side and run a sharp knife between the bones and meat; remove the bones and set them aside. Turn the roast right side up. Carve the roast into slices 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and arrange on a platter. Spoon the pan juices over the top. Serve immediately. Make it ahead: Prep the garlic and onion up to 3 days in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Ready the roast in the pan the night before, wrap tightly, and refrigerate. Roast the beef up to 2 hours before serving, slice, pour the pan juices onto an oven-safe platter, and top with the beef slices. Cover tightly, leave at room temperature for up to 2 hours, then reheat in a 350°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes. The juices will help steam the meat and keep it moist during reheating.







RACKER BARREL’S EXECUTIVE team gathered around a table inside of their home office in Lebanon, Tenn., strategizing for methods to continue growing the brand while broadening their demographic. It was 2015 and the company was nearing $3 billion in annual revenue. But Millennials were predicted to become the leading spenders in the years to come, and many of them only ever frequented the Old Country Store with their parents and grandparents. How was Cracker Barrel going to capture their attention? The executives tossed ideas around the room, only the best ones landing onto the whiteboard. Soon, a concept emerged and announced its presence, requesting to be born. What if, instead of asking that the younger generation see Cracker Barrel as more hip and modern, they gave them a stylish offspring - one that looked less like their grandma’s house and more like their own? Further brainstorming led them to entertain the idea of forging something that hardly resembled Cracker Barrel at all. No rocking chairs lining the entrance. No board games. No candles, jars of jelly or hard candies for sale. They would call upon their roots - the standardized processes, the consistency, the spirit of Southern culture and the essence of family - but create an identity all of their own. Ordering would be simplified, the vendors would be primarily local and the staff would be smaller. The kitchen would be wide open and visible. The vibe would be chic, while also inviting of individuality and self-expression. This new brand would remain a subsidiary, but have its own creative and culinary breath. With the support of a marketing team, Mike Chissler, who was Vice President of Operations for Cracker Barrel at the time, took on the responsibility of developing and incubating the new brand’s culture. He envisioned a dynamic where the kitchen interplayed with the guest experience. “We understood that Millennials desire to be a part of something bigger than they are and to be engaged within that process, so this affected how we approached everything from the layout of the restaurant to the staffing process,” he says. While Cracker Barrel may generate the feeling of a trip to grandma’s house - beckoning us to curl up near a fire with a board game and fill our bellies with comforting indulgence, Holler & Dash would be her grandson’s posh Southern pad. The heartbeat and the bloodline would 32


remain the same, but it would offer a modern interpretation of the individual expressionism yawning and stretching in the minds of curious and option-oriented Millennials. Eighteen months after, this bud of an idea officially became Holler & Dash. Its first location opened its doors in Homewood, Ala., followed shortly thereafter by Tuscaloosa. They have since added four more - the most recent being in the trendy Melrose neighborhood of Nashville, Tenn. Next in line is Charlotte, N.C.’s South End. But Chissler, who is now Chief Operating Officer for the new brand, says he doesn’t identify with being a chain at all. “Each restaurant has its own personality and soul, and is catered to its community. In that sense, we are not a restaurant chain, but a chain of unique community restaurants,” he says. Chissler claims his secret weapon is hiring people to be who they really are - sans dress code and stringent restrictions which demand conformity. This means: That guy by the dishwasher wearing red sneakers and donning a mohawk? His supervisors are cool with it. What about the girl displaying her piercings, tattoos and freshly-dyed blue hair? They told her to go for it. In fact, they unabashedly embrace their employees’ creative interpretations of self, so long as they commit to bringing excellence and personality. “We find people who other people won’t even talk to,” says Chissler. “At Cracker Barrel, if you have visible tattoos, you won’t even get an interview. But, what we have found is that the kids who do wish to express themselves in less conventional ways are often brilliant, creative and shine when allowed to be exactly who they are. I feel like we have opened up a new world for people just by treating them right.” Most interestingly, each employee is trained on every station. Holler & Dash supervisors permit their employees to follow the whims of their emotional, mental and social preferences on any given day, so long as the team as a whole is equally staffed. No one gets bored and no one is superior to the other. No one is married to any title and, through this process, each is granted the opportunity to identify and cultivate their strengths. “The diversity of our teams is what makes our brand special. Because we approached the hiring of Holler & Dash the way we did, each building has its own soul. You can feel it when you step into any of our locations,” he says. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


You also won’t be smacked with the contrived, nor will you receive a rehearsed greeting when you enter any of its doors. You may hear an exuberant “Welcome!” or you may hear “I’m glad to see you,” but it will be words spoken organically from the individual. “We want our employees to have real human conversations with our guests, so we don’t even have a specified greeting. We give them parameters, but they interpret our guidelines in a way that isn’t forced and, instead, feels right to them,” says Chissler. Supervisors strive to bring out the true spirit of each individual employee to then collectively become the spirit of their organization. “If you look around any of our restaurant locations, at least half of what you see is the result of an hourly employee saying, ‘Well, that doesn’t work,’ or “Hey, let’s try this,’ because we welcome their ideas. They are the spirit of Holler & Dash, so we allow them to really be that,” says Chissler. And much like the consistencies often evident in family bloodlines from simple mannerisms to artistic talents - the menu at Holler & Dash remains true to its Cracker Barrel upbringing, while interpreting it in a more modern, eclectic and stylish way. “Fine casual” if you will. One of their signature biscuit items, said by Chissler to be most representative of the brand, is the Kickback Chicken. It is an encapsulation of the modern South - fried chicken served on a handrolled biscuit, but firmer and less flaky, capable of being eaten on the go. The chicken is antibiotic- and hormone-free, and is topped with sweet pepper jelly, goat cheese and scallions. Its diverse flavor profile is adventurous and experimental, yet remains a celebration of the simplicity of its Southern roots.


All menu items - from the biscuit varieties to the beignets to the grit bowl - are driven by chef Brandon Frohne, a Nashville favorite and Culinary Director for the brand, and can be washed down with fresh drip coffee, house-made craft sodas and organic teas. “The menu at Holler & Dash celebrates the heritage of Southern heirloom recipes we’ve all come to know and love. Each dish is punctuated with new and vibrant flavors from the diverse culture that makes up contemporary Southern cuisine,” says Frohne. Don’t expect to find any old-fashioned signs inside of this Cracker Barrel heir. Instead, where the exposed brick meets the mason jars, you will be surrounded by a bright color palette and a quilt wall - made from images of signs contained within the Cracker Barrel warehouse. The floorplan is open - the biscuit station front and center and the kitchen on unfiltered display. The ovens even turn in the direction of the dining area. “We have always said the kitchen is the heart of it all, so we want our guests to feel like they are a part of it, too. In Southern tradition, family gatherings almost always start and end in the kitchen. So do we,” says Chissler. Although the stylish biscuit house chain has no immediate plans to expand beyond the Southeast, it is possible for the future. But, no matter how far north or west they go, they promise to not only remain true to their Southern heritage, but to the spirit of enterprise from which they came to be. “We took an idea that was up on a white board and built a brand from it. And we have given 200 people an opportunity that they may not have had,” says Chissler. “That, above all, is what Holler & Dash is about: The freedom to let everybody be who they are, come together as a family and go as far as they can dream for themselves.”







Branding Guru

Louis Upkins Has Devoted His Life to Anchoring Purpose WRITTEN BY: LACEY JOHNSON


T WAS A day as ordinary for him as any other. Louis Upkins, successful entrepreneur, husband and father of two, checked into a room at the Montage Hotel - tucked way up high in the coastal cliffs of Laguna Beach, Ca. But he had not retreated there from his home in the suburbs of Nashville, Tenn. for the purpose of business, as he often did. No, not this time. Rather, he was in search for answers to questions that had stirred him for years - ones that were amplifying in a way he could no longer mute. He was there to be present. To have his pressures unraveled by the meditative sound of distant children at play. To experience the dolphins on their quests for food. To be softened by the ocean waves crashing against the rocks, and by fragments of conversations all blending and blurring together. He was there to listen. Having built a a branding empire through intimate dealings with some of the most prominent names in the world, including Gap, McDonald’s, The Olympic Games and UPS, it was true that Upkins’ credentials were extraordinary. And, though he was grateful, the stakes were high and the days often long and stressful. Behind all of the applause, something valiant and profound stood politely in waiting eager to be taken by the hand and heard. He wondered: Am I designed to just create fancy stuff that sells forever and ever? To earn a check with a series of zeros behind it, and to then take on another bucket of stress immediately after it’s satisfied? Or, am I designed to do broader, deeper work for people - one that fills my contribution bucket, as opposed to the maddening and exalting cycle of filling and emptying these stress buckets again and again? 36


“I was at a pinnacle place in my career, so it was not exactly a time to walk away. But, I felt I was being pulled and led elsewhere. I told God, ‘I don’t want to just do what I’m great at anymore. I want to do what I was designed to do.’” he says. Upkins was no stranger to the daring uncertainties of entrepreneurship. Having withdrawn from his engineering studies at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tenn. during his junior year, creating something out of nothing was territory he had navigated through - and thrivingly so - decades prior. A 20-year-old Upkins was working three jobs and enrolled in classes full-time when he observed that fraternities and sororities were designing and producing new t-shirts every week. He saw them in the cafeteria. In the classroom. On the campus lawn. They were popping up everywhere. A natural artist, he was sure he could create a better product than what he saw being celebrated by his peers. “I was just trying to figure out a way to quit at least one of my jobs so that I could get some sleep,” says Upkins. He began sketching late at night after clocking out from his last job. Soon after, his fellow students responded to his designs so enthusiastically that the owner of The College Crib T-shirt Shop, located near campus, reached out to him, asking if he would share his designs with her customers. She offered him $20 per design and the young Upkins was elated until he wandered over to the store and realized his custom designs were being sold for $20 a shirt. “Wait, I thought. She gives me $20 a design and then she can sell it for $20 over and over again. I knew there had to be a better way” says Upkins. He secured a printer and purchased a box of white t-shirts at wholesale. He designed a shirt that was captioned “Children Need Hugs, Not Drugs,” deciding that if he sold out by the weekend, he would withdraw from classes and step into business for himself full-time. By Sunday night, he was staring into an empty box. All of his shirts were gone. In the years that followed, his creativity and entrepreneurship blossomed and expanded as he welcomed opportunities to create products for key individuals within the music industry. He became known for being gifted at not only generating innovative ideas, but also monetizing them. This led to his professional “crossing over,” which, over the span of the two decades that followed, landed him in the realm of branding and marketing for some of the most powerful Fortune 500 companies, athletes and entertainers in the world - including the conceptualization of an exclusive deal between Oprah, BeBe Winans and Starbucks. His was a quintessential success story - one many would never dare to envision for themselves, let alone part from. But he would learn that there was a far more meaningful message behind all of it - one that had nothing to do with branding initiatives or marketing strategies at all. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


“People were flying in from all over the world wanting to do branding exercises for their companies, and I would find that, within minutes, I could see the core of who they were. I could see the challenge that was on their mind. I noticed that, for whatever reason, people trusted me with their stories and I was then able to give them counsel and insight about how to move through them. I told my wife that, for the rest of my life, I wanted to wake up every day, go wherever God sent me and talk to whoever God told me to talk to,” says Upkins. This conversation marked the inception of Upkin’s search for ways to quench his thirst for counseling, encouraging and supporting others full-time. When inspiration called him to travel to one of his favorite places, the Montage Hotel, and seek answers, he obeyed. Somewhere in between steps along the sand, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, clarity swarmed him. He came away with knowing three things for sure: “I love God, I love people and I love business.” But the question remained: How was he going to integrate those three things to make impact, create innovation and cultivate inclusion in this journey of life? He had no idea what the execution would look like, let alone the outcome; he knew only that he had to walk toward what was giving him life. And, soon enough, the powers that be would have their way with his compliance.

GOD HAS GIVEN ME THE ABILITY TO SPEAK LIFE INTO PEOPLE. AND SO MANY BREAKTHROUGHS HAVE HAPPENED AS A RESULT. There was an unexpected opportunity hiding out and humming in wait as he approached his next turn of a corner. It was a book. Upkins says the process of its creation and coming together was “the most bizarre known to man.” Shortly after his experience at the Montage Hotel, he returned home and placed phone calls to a few highly trusted advisors. “I didn’t come back and create a master plan; I just shared what I was shown during that experience,” says Upkins. One of those individuals was his friend Bob Buford, author of the book, “Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance.” Upkins flew to Dallas to meet with Buford, eager to share what was on his heart. “Bob told me that he believed I had a special anointing on my life, and he wanted to connect me with a friend of his. He told me, ‘If he gives you more than 15 minutes, you know you’re onto something.’ I had the call thinking I was going to disqualify myself within the first two minutes.” Upkins had formulated no plan of action and no strategy, knowing only that he was committed to “saying yes to God.” But the hands of fate already had their own agenda. The call stretched on for three hours, ending with the gentleman telling Upkins, “Not only do you have a book in you, but you have multiple books in you. Can you come to Grand Rapids tomorrow and meet me for dinner?” Upkins was on a plane the following day. Unbeknownst to him, this dinner meeting had been arranged as a sort of screening process to decipher whether or not he was worthy of meeting with the President, Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Editorial of a publishing company. It turns out he was. “I had breakfast with them the following morning, and they all wanted to know about this book I was writing. But, at the time, I wasn’t even writing a book. I didn’t know anything about this book they were speaking of. All I could do was laugh,” he says. Upkins began to share the premise of what a book would look like if he were to write one, that is. As he described what would fill its pages, it became clear that a book in its entirety was already lurking in the cosmos - waiting to be summoned and pulled into the earth plane. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

As the conversation progressed, his simple bud of an idea was watered and fed by it, quickly taking on a life of its own. Before long, its vines would stretch far and wide to reach the masses. And its name would be “Treat Me Like a Customer.” The premise of the book was this: In his hugely successful branding and marketing career, he had noticed that people were amazing gardenkeepers of their work. They could manage upwards of 20,000 people in their professional lives, but often couldn’t manage a home of four or five. Their desks were often tidy and their loftiest goals met, yet their family lives resembled ruin. This epidemic disturbed him and he desired to be a part of its remedy. With this already stirring in his heart, he read the Forbes 400 while in flight to a meeting. As he scanned through the list of names, he was uninterested in how many billions of dollars these people boasted or how many yachts they owned. Rather, he was moved by how many times they had been divorced. In that particular year’s edition, the average for the people on the list was four or five marriages. This was a stunningly painful statistic - one that haunted him. “All I could think about was all of the collateral damage that was happening on the family side of things, and nobody was paying any attention to that. Everybody was paying attention to the dollars. Looking back, I believe that was, in part, my anchor to write the book,” says Upkins. With no finance background and no Ph.D in counseling, he knew some might disclaim his expertise or find that he did not possess the necessary credentials to embark on its crafting. But he knew he was the steward of something far more superior: a divinely-given gift. “God has given me the ability to speak life into people. And so many breakthroughs have happened as a result. The thing is: There is no competition when you’re aligned with your purpose. People focus too much on the competition around them or the odds stacked against them when they should be focusing on what they were created to do,” he says. The book, released in 2009, would open doors for a continuous string of national speaking engagements and mentoring opportunities, as well as the co-authoring of his most recent book, “Unprepared,” with various other power players in the financial planning world (David Green, Founder of Hobby Lobby, wrote the book’s Forward). Upkins says the heart of his work isn’t at all life coaching as we know it, however. “When I think about the work I am privileged to do, I see myself as more of an advocate. I’m often sitting around a table with folks who have a lot of other agendas, but my core focus - whether working with a sole proprietor, an athlete or an entertainer - is digging down into the wells of self.” Upkins subscribes to the belief that every person walking this earth has a purpose for which they were assigned, and he believes the only way to attain fulfillment is to determine what that is. “I believe that when I was thought of and formed, God decided that Louis would do certain things. There was a design for those things to happen. I think the key to finding out what that is is simply slowing down, removing distractions and listening,” he says. More than the branding work he has dreamed up for the likes of Starbucks and Oprah, Upkins says his most fulfilling endeavors have been involved with “helping people journey through their purpose and celebrating with them when they realize it.” He claims that the core of his work is the art of intentional living, which he believes is the least complicated and haphazard route one can choose. It’s as simple as being present, open and vulnerable. It’s being wide-eyed and receptive to daily miracles, as opposed to curling into our phones and turning away from them. It’s removing the facades we cling to and the crutches we lean into. It’s pausing the rush, silencing the noise and relinquishing the strain. It’s stepping out of the shadows of programmed expectations, ideals and pressures, and into the light of your soul’s unique vision. And, it’s being responsive to what comes as a result of eliminating those distractions. Above all, it’s “seeing the journey of life on another person’s face” and then connecting your own journey - with purpose - to it. THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018





IM PHILLIPS AND Bob McKown have extensive backgrounds within the business and entrepreneurial sectors, working for the corporation XMI, based in Nashville, Tenn., for 15 and 10 years respectively. Given the company’s motto: ‘Amplify your Ambition’, it’s clear the aim of the entire organization is to help small businesses get off the ground. Phillips, McKown and the rest of the employees seek to help ambition-minded entrepreneurs who have clear ideas but cannot sustain the plan necessary to implement a full-scale business. Once young entrepreneurs themselves, McKown and Phillips understand the burden that a business places on owners who try to do it all. McKown previously owned a small HR consulting firm for businesses. In 2007, it was acquired by XMI and he was brought on to run the professional employer organization (PEO). Currently, he heads up the human resource outsourcing team as Executive Vice President of XMI, and deals with payroll compliance, employee benefits, human resource consulting, employee relations and tax compliance and the management and meetings of business units. Phillips managed a boutique business advisory firm and founded a small business investment company before starting his career with XMI in 2002. He began as the Director of Corporate Finance, before stepping up to Chief Financial Officer, and ultimately, Chief Executive Officer. “I support the people within XMI who do the work,” said Phillips. Small businesses often struggle with trying to balance the role of ownership with the necessary interactions with customers and products. XMI steps in and allows the business owners to focus on the aspects of the company that they are in the business for, rather than the extraneous tasks that have to get done but do not leave time for much else. As Phillips put it, “We’ve given them their life back; they were doing the same work we are now, but between 8 p.m. and midnight.” 38


All small businesses have the hope of launching themselves to a high platform, and XMI provides seven main services to do just that: human resources, managed technology, meeting and event planning, corporate finance, financial reporting, risk management, design creation and web hosting. Essentially, when a small business joins XMI for one of these services, they gain the 51 employees at XMI as a part of their business, creating immediate scale and instant infrastructure. XMI doesn’t provide a computer system to increase growth, but rather a people system. “People will come to us and want a software program,” said Phillips, “but we are bringing human beings to the table to create value.” The company actively promotes the idea that entrepreneurs are the economic lifeblood of a community and a country. Phillips went on to explain that “entrepreneurs and small businesses are the key to economic development in the communities they plant themselves in. Once they thrive, they can hire more people, and great things begin to happen as communities flourish.” This affects the national economy, because when high growth businesses prosper, more jobs are created and economic development expands. The three parts of XMI’s infrastructure plan are revenue development,





– Bob McKown

– Jim Phillips

product development and people development. After a small business has mastered those key aspects of a successful business, they begin to outpace their competition. Through XMI, businesses and organizations are able to accomplish their goals at a faster rate with a lower cost. XMI has significantly contributed to the community and to the small businesses of Nashville. Providing capital creates rocket fuel for the growth and development of these businesses. This company becomes the partner of each client and makes sure they have everything in place that they need as an employer in order to promote the best practices. Mckown noted that XMI has seen substantial growth in the last 20 years, increasing the number of people they serve by 2000 percent tripling their number of clients. Businesses have thrived under the wing of XMI. One group in particular started with three individuals from multiple states who sought help elevating their business. Initially this group focused exclusively on sales, contracts, and training people. XMI handled the rest of the business plan, dealing with compliance issues in moving from two states to ultimately 30 states, and allowing the owners to spend time with their customers and grow their contracts. Six years later, what started as three individuals has become a full company of 700 employees, and the entrepreneurs were able to sell the company for millions of dollars. XMI helped this client in a matter of days, and launched them into a fruitful business model. McKown even assisted with pitching services and finalizing everything. “That’s the support,” said Phillips. “You don’t see many of our

competition going into sales pitches with the client.” Both Phillips and McKown had sage advice for those trying to enter the entrepreneurial market. “Having been an entrepreneur,” said McKown, “it takes focus. You have to stay focused on the most important things. That’s the key for us as a company, and any company. You have to know the top three things you have to get done and not get sidetracked by the noise.” “Timing is everything,” pitched in Phillips. “You need to know when to bring on the level of talent. It’s easy to be too slow, or bring them on too quickly, so you must stay apprised of where your competition may be lurking.” Phillips has a passion for helping businesses make strategic decisions regarding new capital investments, acquisitions, selling divisions, and knowing when to cash in on a business after creating jobs. The leadership of XMI hopes it will be known as the place where companies thrive. “We’re constantly looking for new acquisitions,” said McKown. “Our concept is that we’re here to serve our clients to make them achieve a higher performance and become more effective in what they’re doing. The emphasis isn’t on us; it’s on our clients. If they do well, we’re also going to prosper.” “Our business model is to make sure we achieve that level of recognition in Middle Tennessee and throughout the Southeast,” said Phillips. “We don’t want to be judged by the size of our company, but by how well our clients do.”









SIA IS A multi-dimensional entity. The most populated and diverse continent in the world, it gives birth to a prism of cultural nuances and personalities in the realms of architecture, fashion, language, music, philosophy and religion. The Asian Art Museum, located in the vibrant Civic Center in San Francisco, Ca., is an eloquent testament to this. Within its 90,000-square-foot building, exquisitely designed by renowned Italian architect Gae Aulenti, a multitude of artifacts and creative explorations inhabit - each drawn from the continent’s most fascinating subtleties.





Its walls contain objects as old as 6,000 years - gold-mines that pre-date written history. There are contemporary offerings as well, each filtered and curated through modern means. Ranging from Tibetan Buddhism to a fully-functioning Japanese tea room to celebrations of fashion in its “Couture Korea” gallery - offering a glimpse backward in time at the robe of a joseon-dynasty king to a glimpse forward at what is to come. Some of the exhibitions stretch their arms across other continents and cultures, reaching and beckoning for connection and expansion. Others simply whisper to be seen. There is light and dark. There is the bold and the docile. Some of the masterpieces quiet the visitor and command that they be still. Others shout at them in the midst of the stillness. It is a collective summoning, asking that the visitor journey through their own enlightenment, transcendence and - ultimately - discovery of self through the mirrors we call art, ritual and history. A reverent yet unabashed celebration of diversity, each corner of the building provokes the kinds of conversations the world most craves. I was most captivated by the third floor, which seems to hold echoes of thousands upon thousands of stories just beyond the veil of its meditative quietude. “The Fierce Feminine” exhibition, located in the heart of it, offers a celebration of Warrior Women in Himalayan Buddhism. It infused me with the eeriest feeling - as though one of its deities had swooped in with the softest kiss, exited with a thunderbolt and scurried off into nirvana. There are ghostly offerings of folklore and legends of centuries past. Evidence of daily life - from simple ceramics to stunning porcelain wares. Displays of precious jade. Bronze weapons used during battles and sacrificial ceremonies. Intricately-carved sculptures. A bejeweled Buddha figure. Some ancient artifacts, some historically-accurate recreations. Jeff Durham, Associate Curator for Himalayan Art for the museum since 2011, finds his domain on this floor. Durham expresses a sense of wonder as to how modes of artistic expression and culture, as well 42


as the past, present and future, symphonize in these exhibitions for the public to experience it. “But I also have a sense of humility that I get to be the guy who captains it into public consciousness,” he says. Durham has been responsible for many of the exhibitions visitors most marvel at, though he admits it has often meant embarking on a series of demanding - though immensely rewarding - journeys. “All exhibitions begin with hours upon hours of conversation. We examine floor plans and art objects, searching for symbolisms we can draw out. The questions is always: How can we use either symbolism or simple esthesis as a stratagem for hooking the interest of the visitor?” He is currently immersed in curating two exhibitions to be launched in the spring of 2018. The first is “Divine Bodies: Sacred Imagery and Asian Art.” It was constructed from a simple question, posed in simple conversation: What happens when the infinite divine gets a finite body, in artistic terms? While in New York City for Asia Week with some of his fellow art professionals, he and Qamar Adamjee, Curator of South Asian Art for the museum, were exploring the city, discussing how much the streets resembled blood vessels. “‘We are like bodies within the body,’ we said to each other. We started speculating that this notion of being a body in a body in a body might be the fundamental insight into the mystery of embodiment,” says Durham. On the basis of a conversation had while dodging pedestrians and puddles in the frenetic streets of Manhattan, the two enthusiasts returned to San Francisco and began discussing how the various images THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


they had in collection at the museum might create a brand new kind of exhibition. “We decided we wanted to develop a sort of metalanguage of the spirit. We’re all searching for truth to connect everything. So, considering that, we are asking: Is it possible to use art as a springboard from time to eternity? I think the answer is yes. This upcoming exhibition is a great exercise in making that case,” says Durham. And, all seriousness aside, Durham is having colossal fun assembling it. “It is a coming together independent of my personal intent. Curators are isolationists. They like to hide out and build ivory towers, then stick them in museums. But this is not an isolated curator sitting in a room coming up with some master plan; it’s now a conversation the whole museum is having,” he says. Which is sort of what Durham wishes will invite the public to also do as well. Durham enjoys working with Adamjee on this, not only because it is their collective brainchild, but because she brings her expertise in south asian painting and sculpture. Karin Oem, Curator for Contemporary Art for the museum, is also heavily involved. “This is a triple-curated show, which has never been done before,” says Durham. “And it will be smaller than our normal exhibitions. It will be open and airy - inspired by contemporary modes of art presentation. The idea is that you, the visitor, get to be your own explorer through this exhibition.” None of the objects will be labelled. Instead, they will be grouped thematically and in an easy-to-navigate format. Each visitor will be handed a booklet which will guide them through the objects by tokens of information about each. The goal is for the interplay between viewer and object to be more interactive and individually explored than that of traditional exhibitions. “We want it to be completely immersive and with any luck - transformative,” says Durham. Much like when one bends closely into a mirror and identifies unfamiliar details of their own features - from the tiny specks of gold in their eyes to the curved tip of their nose - that they would never THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

be aware of otherwise, perhaps art is also a mirror. It is a mirror of consciousness. If the way we perceive the world is merely a projection of what is stirring inside, the way we perceive art is also illuminating. What we fall madly in love with, what calls to us and what lures us like a magnet - those are all projections. Art can awaken us to that which imprisons or liberates us. And it reveals to us the playful curiosities, longings and wonders trampling about inside of our souls - whistling and waiting to be imagined and brought to the natural. Durham, who specializes in Tibetan art, says the idea of art being a guide to one’s own transformation is sort of what fuels everything he has ever curated - from the perceivably dark to the light. “Tibetan Tonka paintings are actually called mirrors. It mirrors back to us our own awareness, and that is what all art can do,” he says. Which brings us to his next venture: “A Guided Tour of Hell.” This exhibition is by no means a celebration of evil. Rather, it is an artistic journey that asks the viewer to welcome its notion of contrast in order to broaden their own scope of awareness. Perhaps “A Guided Tour of Hell,” ironically, is a roundabout and winding invitation to seek Heaven. It came about on an unsuspecting day. Durham was positioned at his office desk and staring out of his window into a buzzing downtown San Francisco. The phone rang, rattling him from his trance. It was Samuel Bercholz, Founder of Shambhala Publications (the largest Buddhist publishing house in the world), who Durham had long admired but had never met. Durham expressed that he was pleased to meet him by phone, unprepared for Bercholz’s response. “‘Well, I died,’ he told me,” says Durham. Leaning fully into the conversation, Durham listened with total arrestment as Bercholz delved deeply into sharing his experience of having had a massive heart attack, then flatlining in a bed at a Palm Springs, Ca. hospital. Whether a hallucination or reality (or both, or neither?), Bercholz was absolutely certain he had ascended out of his body and dropped straight into the belly of hell. He revealed that, through that experience, he saw an almost kaleidoscopic-like variety of conditionings that were crafted from the conditioning each being he saw had created for themselves. “He described it as an exploration of different modes of different karmic retribution. It was obviously a really powerful experience for him but, for a couple of years, he didn’t know what to do with it. Then inspiration called him to do something with it, so he contacted Illustrator Pema Namdol Thaye to transcribe his vision for a book. That happened and, now, I’m involved. It is becoming an actual exhibition here,” says Durham. Much of the imagery will be derived from those contained in “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” making it a fusion of contemporary and traditional inspirations. Durham says the exhibition will not only show Thaye’s paintings of Sam’s visions, but also one of Thaye’s traditional Tonka paintings of the same sorts of visions. “This brings about both Euro-American and Tibetan voices into a single equation,” he says. Most fascinating of all? “This coming spring, at the Asian Art Museum, we will essentially have Heaven and Hell in the same building,” says Durham, with a chuckle. For Durham, it’s incredibly serious but, at the same time - is it? He has moments of having to force his enthusiasm to surrender to focus and meditation, enraptured by the beauty, irony and humor that emerges through the disciplined processes. But, like the majority of his colleagues at the museum, he also feels a deep responsibility to bring it all forth. “I think the world as it stands is in a frantic race between mindlessness and mindfulness, and I feel that anything I can do to put the brakes on that race, I am going to do that,” says Durham. “I feel that the Tibetan Meditative Tradition is without question one of the best ways to attain human mindfulness. So when I can get the art involved in that tradition and in front of people’s eyes, I am then fulfilling whatever mission or destiny I may have to the best of my ability.” THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018





LEASE UNLEASH THE demon that has taken up residence in my neck. I’m desperate,” I begged the stranger sitting in front of me, in between grimaces. The stranger, Brendan Sweetman - a well-respected therapist in the field of bodywork - was referred to me by a trusted healthcare provider. I had been experiencing intermittent episodes of painful muscular tightness for several years. On that day, my discomfort level was so bothersome, I was unable to focus on fastapproaching deadlines. Sweetman assessed my posture while inquiring about my history of injuries and activities. Then he proceeded to ask more personal questions - ones of my childhood, personal failures and relationships. I considered the second leg of questioning to be odd, but pacified his inquisitiveness with a vague string of answers before shifting to the therapy table for relief. He began working on my areas of complaint - applying pressure both light and intense - as though he were trying to unravel a pile of tangled electrical cords. “Your hands are hurting my feelings,” I joked. The moment those words departed from my mouth, I shocked myself with the realization of how much truth they contained. In the areas of tightness, emotions were surfacing as if to say, “Oh, hello. Had you assumed your mastery of ‘toughening up’ meant your body had forgotten?” It was perplexing because I had to concentrate on my inner reactions in order to distinguish between emotions and physical sensations. Suddenly, their lines of separation blurred into a sludge pile of oneness. The emotions then began dragging the moldy old thoughts to the fore - asking that they join. There were the shameful ones of self-doubt and fear, like those skeletons we stash in the back of our closets and cover with layers of whatever we can find - until we’ve convinced 44


ourselves they disappeared. It was as though someone was trampling around inside of a showroom housing my most private memories and self-limiting beliefs. But, I had not charmed him with any details of my failures, insecurities or personal traumas. He was merely following the patterns of restriction, tightness and imbalance in my body. By doing so, my body was telling me things I needed to know. For the first time in my life, I understood in a way I had never quite understood before: My mind, body and spirit are inextricable parts of a complete whole - facets of the same diamond. The revelations made on the therapy table that day infused me with fascination. I decided to make it my mission to better understand this to understand the complete picture of who I am. Of what it means to be healthy - beyond the cliche´ or what my bloodwork could reveal to me. I embarked on a quest - devouring books on subjects ranging from the energetics of food to how positive thinking affects the chemicals released in our brains. I began connecting with my body through movement, practicing meditation, addressing nutritional deficiencies and making a vigilant effort to exterminate the negative influences from my life. I became a supportive host of my mind, body and spirit connection - giving them each a voice. And, as I did, my life burst into bloom. Poisonous relationships began to dissipate. Career opportunities which had once seemed far-fetched became credentials on my resume. Each day brought with it being pregnant with new ideas and an eagerness to birth them. I wondered if I had stepped into a magical realm of fortune and blessing, but - in reality - those tools had been available to me all along. I just had not been healthy enough to be aligned with them. The following is an invitation - containing expert opinions and researchsupported suggestions - for you, reader, to do the same. The purpose for it is quite simple: In order to reach your highest potential, your mind, body and THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


spirit must be properly heard, nourished and aligned. By doing so, every aspect of our life - including your personal aspirations and most ambitious endeavors - are given the opportunity to thrive. BODY WORK IS EMOTIONAL WORK: A CONVERSATION WITH BRENDAN SWEETMAN, STRUCTURAL INTEGRATION THERAPIST Brendan Sweetman, Founder of Structural Integration of Nashville in Nashville, Tenn. offers healing bodywork which focuses on the connection between the mind, body and spirit. A faithful devotee of meditation, mindfulness and yoga, he believes that if balance, function and strength are restored to one’s body, it will then spread to all areas of the person’s life - from emotional agility to organ function. “We have to accept the reality that we are an energy life force separate from our physical bodies. And, because we are made up of energy, we create and hold energetic patterns in response to our experiences,” says Sweetman. “These patterns affect our emotions, mindset and health. This is why when I work with people physically, burdens and limitations of every kind are lifted from them.“ Sweetman has witnessed dozens of clients depart from unfulfilling careers, untangle from damaging relationships, release weight, regain a sense of organization within their lives and realize their highest potential, oftentimes after years of being “stuck” in cycles and patterns of dysfunction. “Negative self-perceptions show up in our physical bodies. When these burdens are addressed and released, the client becomes lighter in their being,” says Sweetman. “This sometimes shows up on the scale, but most of all allows the truth of who they are to become clear.” Sweetman is convinced that no issue in our lives is a mystery. “Every ailment or problem - from chronic headaches to relational issues contains a root and an answer, lying within our field and waiting to be seen,” he says. AN ACUPUNCTURIST’S PERSPECTIVE ON HARMONIZING THE BODY: MARK SHPRINTZ Pain is the catalyst for the majority of clients who seek the services of Mark Shprintz, Licensed Acupuncturist, Certified Practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Founder of Nashville Healing Arts, though they often receive a lot more than relief from it. According to Shprintz, the goal of acupuncture - a 2,000 year-old healing practice, is “to harmonize the body’s energy circulation.” Throughout his years of practice, clients of all ages, backgrounds and varying ailments have proven to him that emotional and mental stress is inevitably reflected in the person’s body - whether it manifests in the form of chronic headaches, digestive dysfunction, a stiff neck, tight shoulders or a slouched posture. “I work with the crossing point - the nexus - between emotional and mental stress and physical pain,” he says. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

Sprintz once had a client seek his help after experiencing strange and unpleasant fluttering sensations in his chest. The individual had unsuccessfully exhausted all standard medical treatments. “He said the sensations were like bats flying out of chimney. He had been evaluated by a cardiologist, and was then diagnosed with panic attacks. He refused to take the prescribed anxiety medicine, so a colleague referred him to me,” says Sprintz. This led to the realization that the client’s stressful job was likely contributing to the disturbing physical sensations he was experiencing. “I explained how emotional energy can be trapped in the body and erupt chaotically. Acupuncture gently and strategically releases this pressure. The client described waves of energy rippling throughout his body as I worked on the tension areas. He told me that ‘the bats stopped flying around’ after our first session,” says Sprintz. Spritz believes that, once the energy is permitted to flow through the body as designed, limitations of every nature - emotional, mental and physical - often begin to vanish. This clearing away of energetic blocks - whether caused by dietary or environmental toxins, or negative emotional patterns - permits the way for health to be restored. HOW TO BEGIN YOUR QUEST FOR TOTAL MIND, BODY & SPIRIT WELLNESS We have established the value of properly attuning your mind, body and spirit in order to achieve your highest potential. You may be wondering where to begin, however. The truth is: It begins right where you are - right now, in the choices you make in the seemingly insignificant moments you spend stuck in your patterns. It begins with not only what you eat for breakfast, but the thoughts you carry with you into the shower. It begins with making the next right decision - including your internal dialogue when you stand before a mirror. It begins with your mindset. A recent study from Duke University Medical Center revealed that heart patients who had an optimistic mindset about their approaching treatments absolutely lived longer than those who were more pessimistic about them. So replace that negative thought with a positive one. Skip that extra Netflix episode and go for a hike surrounded by beautiful scenery. Stretch out your body at the end of every day, bidding farewell to the tension it is tired of holding onto. Surround your workspace with positivity - from gifts given to you by those who love you to affirmative reminders of why your health and fitness goals are not only attainable, but how worthy you are of achieving them. How we feel creates a projection of how we view the world. If we do not love ourselves, we cannot love the world we live in. And if we cannot love the world we live in, we will never love living in it. Your healthiest version starts right where you are. So, begin. THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018



The Power of Keeping

the Love Tanks Full



Y FALLING IN love with William was an inevitable consequence of his selflessness. Within the first month of meeting, we found ourselves on weekly dates and nightly phone calls, due primarily to his efforts. He lived two cities away and, no matter the time of day, fighting traffic was an undefeatable certainty. But regardless of his stress level or magnitude of road rage, he took on this challenge and never once missed a date. His actions consistently proved his commitment to spending time with me and I was sold. Though his faith, intellect, humor and good looks won me over, what moved me from infatuation to adoration was his proficiency in speaking my primary love language: quality time. More than two decades ago, marriage counselor Gary Chapman began a movement with his best-selling book: “The Five Love Languages.” In the book, Chapman details the “five ways that people speak and understand emotional love.” He says people in relationships rarely share the same love language, and stresses the importance of understanding what the other needs in order to keep their love tank full. So, what are these love languages, anyway? Chapman analyzed years of marriage counseling notes and found that what people really need in order to feel loved falls into five simple categories, as follows: WORDS OF AFFIRMATION Actions don’t always speak louder than words. If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you. Hearing the words “I love you” are important, but hearing the reasons behind that love sends your spirits skyward. Insults can leave you shattered and are not easily forgotten - if ever. QUALITY TIME In the vernacular of quality time, nothing says, “I love you” like undivided attention. Being there for this type of person is critical, but really being there - with the TV off, fork and knife down, and all chores and tasks on standby - makes your significant other feel truly special and loved. Failure to be present can be especially hurtful. RECEIVING GIFTS Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift shows that you are known, you are cared for and you are appreciated above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you. Someone missing your birthday or anniversary, or receiving a hasty, thoughtless gift would be disastrous for you. ACTS OF SERVICE Can vacuuming the floors really be an expression of love? You bet. Anything one does to ease the burden of responsibility THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

weighing on the “acts of service” person will speak volumes. Broken commitments, laziness and making more work for them tells them they don’t matter. PHYSICAL TOUCH This language isn’t all about the bedroom. A person with this primary language is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, holding hands and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder or face can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care and love. Physical presence and accessibility are crucial. Neglect or abuse can be unforgivable and irreversibly destructive. I knew my primary love language before I met William and, while I thought I knew my then-boyfriend well enough to guess his love language, I had it all wrong. While he was dedicated to giving me more time and attention than I felt I deserved, quality time was not his primary or even secondary love language. Physical touch - that is the language responsible for keeping his love tank full. Thankfully, I am a card-carrying member of club affection. He appreciates that I do not leave the house without kissing him, he loves that I reach for his hand when we walk and he can feel the day’s stress literally leave his body the moment I reach under his shirt to rub his back. It is amazing that we naturally speak each other’s love language, which could give insight into why we met, fell in love and were engaged within six months. A wedding, a few years and five boys later, when real life challenges often collide with our fairytale romance, we both can be left feeling unseen, unheard and frustrated. These are the days I may not want to be in the same room as William, much less rub his back. These are the times he may prefer to sit in front of the television alone and uninterrupted giving his undivided time and attention to a sandwich and football. These days may be unavoidable, however knowing and understanding your loved one’s love language will allow you to better meet their needs and lessen those love language-less days. If you’re interested in learning your love language, go to Understand what it means and discuss it in detail with those you most care about. Through this practice, you will better appreciate why you and your loved one react to situations and circumstances differently (like why you respond with enthusiasm to them coming home with your favorite ice cream, yet they respond with indifference when you do the same!). Begin to communicate by giving examples of how your loved one already speaks your love language and how it fills your love tank. And, above all, work at speaking your loved one’s love language. Then watch how your connection with them deepens. THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018



I Know Why





KNOW WHY YOUR New Year’s resolutions may have failed this year. But, first, let me tell you a story. The year was 1912. The doors of the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in downtown Boston opened with a star-studded gala drenched with decadence, bedazzled with jewels and energized by the sounds and movements of clinking crystal, the soft echoes of laughter and the shuffle of ragtime dancers. All in attendance were granted a tour of the building, provoking them to “ooh” and “aah” at its seven floors of luxurious guest rooms and private suites. It was a lavish and pampering affair, oozing with opulence - one which would carve its own space into the city’s history. The guests lifted their glasses with glee, toasting to the start of the hotel’s promising success. It was an occasion to be known and seen. But, what those in attendance did not have the luxury of witnessing was the true magic of the hotel’s beginning: The hours architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh spent crafting and refining his vision. The limestone and brick-by-brick construction. The painting of the walls. The laying of the carpet. The ironing of the curtains. The hanging of the chandeliers. The hiring of the staff. How easily we forget that every story’s foundation is built behind the curtain; not by what is seen under the light of the chandelier. As we cut the tape and open our doors to welcome a new year, it is easy to glamorize. It’s a fresh, blank slate - a dazzling opportunity. New yoga mats, new meal plans, new haircuts, new shoes, new books, new lists, new planners and new affirmations. On the surface, it appears as though we are all destined to really “get it right this time.” But, that which is lurking behind those new and shiny walls of our bold declarations and promises will be the truth of whether or not our results last. And, the unforgiving truth is this: The majority of New Year’s resolutions are either abandoned entirely or crash and burn into obscurity. According to an article published by U.S. News in 2015, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions are lost by February. This means that, by the time Cupid draws back his bow, those yoga mats are often collecting dust. By the time summer invites us to come out and play in its openaired vulnerability, that business proposal or fresh marketing strategy may have long been shoved in the bottom of a drawer. So, then, what is the catch? What is the key to a groundbreaking and sustaining 2018? It’s quite simple. You need to conduct a thorough assessment of your inner architect.





LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, MEET YOUR 2018 DREAM TEAM Did you know you have a powerful team of two inside of you - one that can bring you all that you dream of, or one that can dim your every flame of desire before it has a chance for its flicker to be seen? Their titles are Wish and Belief, and it’s important that you become wellacquainted with them. If Wish is the visionary of your story, Belief is the architect. So, let us consider what an architect does. He collects creative ideas and maps out a plan for them to be realized. He decides what is possible for the venture, and takes action to implement it. He coordinates with builders and inspects the job site, deciding what will or will not be permitted. And, he oversees the project from beginning to end - even when it rains, construction is delayed, materials or lost or something goes awry. Picture it: Wish gives Belief an excitable nudge, suggesting, “A winding staircase! That would be lovely! Oh, and how about a space for a box garden in the back?” Depending on what kind of architect Belief is, he may respond in a variety of ways. If he is confident, open-minded and optimistic, he may say, “Absolutely, Wish. Let’s begin at once to make this happen!” But, if he was conditioned to be cautious, cynical and doubtful, he may instead say, “Don’t pester me with your silly ideas, Wish. This project is not worthy of that level of extravagance. We do not have the budget, the time nor the team.” Or, worse, he may agree to Wish’s ideas but then grow frustrated somewhere along the way, tossing his hands into the cold air and walking away halfway through construction - money and time wasted with no reward. The rub is this: If you don’t employ a mighty architect of belief to work with all that you envision for yourself, there won’t be anyone building your mighty dreams. Your ‘resolutions’ will remain elusive - floating around in the ether, bumping into all of the other brilliant and magical ideas never to be realized. That’s right. What I’m saying is your beliefs and wishes must become mutually collaborative business partners. They must be working alongside one another at the same construction site, staring at the same blueprint, nodding in agreement and shaking hands over the same decisions. Because the result of your 2018 will be the direct result of what you truly, unabashedly believe is possible - and probable - for yourself. You may be thinking: So, what do I do? Who was ever responsible for hiring my disaster of an architect Belief, anyway? And, how do I replace him at once? This is the fun part. Let’s do some time travel. When you were a small child, your brain waves were in a state called “theta.” You were downloading information, possessing almost no analytical skills. Your brain served as a sponge soaking up all of the conversations you overheard, the television programs you viewed, the interactions you witnessed and the rules you were given. You learned which lines never to cross and which stones never to overturn. By way of impact and repetition, you learned your ABC’s, favorite songs and how to ride a bicycle. And you also learned ideas about food, money, love, relationships, sharing, self-worth and religion. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

Then - voila! Much like a computer hardwired program, your core beliefs and behaviors were imprinted. The program was written. And, guess what? Even though you have come so far and learned so much since then, you’re still operating from that core programming today - yes, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years later. And, if it contains limiting information which daringly conflicts with your wildest dreams, it panics each time you try to defy its boundaries. Why, do you ask? Blame it on that which rests in the frontal portion of your brain’s temporal lobe: the amygdala. Though he may be tiny, he thinks he is the mighty guardian of security. Like the quintessential mall cop, he perceives the foreign and unexpected as a raucous and, thus, responds by releasing neurotransmitters and sounding off alarms. When introduced to something in stark contrast with what he knows, he shouts, “Hold up! Excuse me. We have an intruder in the building!” Though he may sound like a jerk, he is just trying to protect you. This explains why most people have a frustrating time leaving a job they despise, untangling from a toxic relationship or resisting unhealthy foods they have long indulged in. The amygdala wants to hold onto all that it knows for sure. Contrarily, the individuals who stick with their intention to change careers, untangle from that relationship and forever alter their way of eating have tapped into a place much deeper within themselves; they have changed their beliefs and values, thereby hijacking the information stored in their not-somighty amygdala. They have given this guardian of security a new set of guidelines and tools to work with. The good news is that, by way of conscious repetition, as well as various other methods used to access the subconscious mind, your brain can be trained to accept new (and better!) information. So, where to begin in preparation for the upcoming year? I suggest starting with what scares the bloody demons out of you. What rattles your inner cage and makes your skin hot? This is important to note. Pain, fear and doubt are messengers; they tell us the areas we need to reassess and reassemble. They tell us where are wires our crossing, where our paint is chipping, where are pipes a re molding, where are fault lines exist. They tell us what beliefs are keeping us from ever cutting the tape on our grandest endeavors and goals. So, begin by asking yourself the following questions: What kind of life do I deserve? How does the life I feel I deserve compare to what I’m wishing for? What are my core beliefs about money, love, luck, health and possibility? Do I trust the divine powers that be to have my back? Do I have my own back? You may have to do some extensive time traveling to uncover the most stubborn messages written into your programming. And you will have to gut all of the self-sabotaging ones and rebuild for new and self-supporting beliefs to make up your infrastructure. Be patient with yourself. And remember: No permanent change will ever come as long as the same old architect is making all of the rules and divvying out all of the orders. THE CONNECT MAGAZINE | HOLIDAY 2017/2018


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