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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. ® • © 2012 CBOCS Properties, Inc.


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Best-in-class mentions based on BMW X1 xDrive28i versus Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4MATIC and Audi Q3 2.0T quattro. ©2017 BMW of North America, LLC. The BMW name, model names and logo are registered trademarks.


CHRIS HOLLO I can’t remember ever not being a photographer, even before I even knew it was possible to make a career out of it. In high school, I took photography classes and was on the annual staff. Creating images for the school yearbook was my first taste of real photography experience, in fact - outside of capturing whatever spoke to me creatively. In college, while earning my business degree, I took every available opportunity to venture over to the art department. My spare time was spent in the university’s darkroom, experimenting and honing my craft. The photography classes were all taught through the art department, which was a blessing because I learned from and studied the masters. Over time, however, I began veering away from creating fine art images and more toward exploring commercial work. It wasn’t until many years later, after I began working commercially, that I realized just how important learning to be an artist would benefit my commercial career. At the end of my junior year in college, my photography professor referred me to a local commercial photographer who was looking for a full-time assistant. I got the job and - alas! - I learned photography was a viable career choice. It was news to me, but good news it was. I worked for and studied under one of the best photographers in Nashville for two years, taking all my remaining classes at night so that I could continue to absorb everything. Two years later, when I had taken in all he could teach me, I went out on my own and never looked back. Photography has always been my most cherished creative outlet. It’s a way to express myself, to earn a living and, most importantly, help a client realize their vision. I’m a craftsman, a technician, a creator and a problem-solver. Every assignment is different, every client is different and I like it that way. Being able to photograph 72 pairs of ski gloves for a catalog one day and a medical helicopter (while flying alongside in another helicopter, over the beautiful Smokey Mountains!) is truly amazing. I’ve been on assignment in 45 U.S. states, as well as internationally. I have photographed celebrities in my studio and in the privacy of their homes. I have worked in Carnegie Hall, the New York Stock Exchange, Royal Albert Hall in London, and been the house photographer at the Grand Ole Opry for 17 years. What a ride! I’ve been self-employed for almost 30 years, receiving numerous awards for both photography and film making, teaching college-level photography and video production and having served on the national board of a photographic trade association. I love being discovered by new clients and getting the chance to help them achieve their goals, and I am honored to be the newest team member of The Connect Magazine.








OMEONE ONCE TOLD me their three ingredients for success were patience, perseverance and luck. I suppose this can be applied to any profession. But my wish is for readers of The Connect Magazine to challenge and redefine their definitions of success. I was raised by an incredibly strong single mother. I remember asking myself as a kid, “Why does my mother have to work two or three jobs just so we can eat?” Despite how difficult it was, she always encouraged my siblings and me to make good decisions and “aim for the stars.” I recall her telling me that I could do anything - if and only if - I put my mind to it. While growing up, I didn’t realize how powerful her words would prove to be. I made some poor decisions in my youth, but I believe those mistakes were the building blocks to my success. I clearly remember my loving mother repeating her three ingredients for becoming successful: First, she told me to always take care of my children and “Don’t be like your daddy.” (I heard this one quite often.) Second, she instructed me to secure a respectable job and focus on myself. Third, she told me to take care of my wife so that she would never have to work as hard as my mother did. Those are all great traits to have and I somehow assumed if I followed them, I would live a “successful” life. I learned it isn’t so simple. My world changed drastically several years ago when a good friend challenged my definition of success. He asked me, “Eric, What’s your purpose and passion?” I was so focused on living a “successful” life that I had no idea what I was meant to accomplish while on Earth. After some thought and more living, I realized success is more than having a certain amount in your bank account or reaching a particular career height. Successful living to me, in the broadest sense, means a life led by my spirit, being unafraid to try for new opportunities, spending time with


those I most care about and living without regrets. In the Christian Bible, Matthew 16:26 says: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” I live by this concept. Taking a bold leap of faith while listening to the whisper of my spirit was my first step toward living a successful life. Starting The Connect Magazine has been one of the most rewarding endeavors I’ve ever been a part of. Changing lives, creating jobs, building communities and speaking to souls are all priceless endeavors, which is why I continue to enjoy working with individuals such as my Managing Editor Lacey Johnson. We both share the same passion and love for believing in the greater good and empowering others. This is invaluable to me. Looking back, if that same friend were to ask me my three ingredients for success, I would now say to him, with confidence: First, believe in something more powerful than you. Second, trust the process. And, finally, surround yourself with only positive and uplifting people. I believe it is more important to keep your focus on your long-term goals than to profit immediately by nickel-anddiming your customers to death. I pride myself on giving our readers, who are still becoming acquainted with us, inspiration and valuable information - for free. I am also grateful to my mother, who taught me the importance of loving and respecting others. I’ll conclude this message with a quote by Vincent Van Gogh: “Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.”





This globally-renowned superstar has a special message for every questioning and suffering heart.


IN NASHVILLE TO NATIONAL CUPCAKE SUPREMACY She went from rags to reigning culinary queendom.Here’s how.


PUTTING THE QUALITY BACK IN CONNECTIONS These two fierce female entrepreneurs bravely and daringly carved their own pathways to success (and they’re hooking you up with sweet connections as a result).




LOVE & HUMANITY In all of its cosmopolitan and frenetic glory, the Big Apple never stops teaching us this.

42 LAUNCH TENNESSEE MADE AN ENTREPRENEURIAL SPLASH WITH THEIR 36|86 CONFERENCE It was a hot soirée of goals, networking and visionaries.


IMPACT OUT OF PERSONAL TRIALS This internet-viral health guru almost lost his mother to cancer, but it gave him a purposeful life.


FOR YOUR BUSINESS TO THRIVE Is your lack of cultural acceptance and understanding plaguing your professional growth?




It’s high time you admit that you deserve the fruits of your hard work.


MEDIA WITHOUT FEAR You’ve created something awesome. Don’t be afraid to tell everybody about it.





You may have no idea how far and deep your support will reach.


by The Daily Doll Let us live a little, and stop worrying so much about proving to others how magnanimously we are living.

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. 6



At Holler & Dash, we’re about the experience that comes with it.




UPPOSE THE DAY has come - finally - when you know your career dreams are manifesting into reality. There are no more doubts that you have “done the work,” and now it is time to accept your evolved and professionally-actualized self. Psychologists have long attested that the process of selfactualization occurs when all components of development and existence collide to form the perfect opportunity for one to become who he or she was innately meant to be - mentally, physically and emotionally. It is well understood that the process of accepting a surreal professional actualization may be overwhelming; it may even take your breath away. You are the resulting embodiment of your blood, sweat, and tears: your hard work. So, what does that mean precisely, and what exactly does that look like? The key of the glory is to flow with what you have fundamentally intended. Move in tandem with the energy of being the success you are. You set and worked toward the intention of succeeding, and you have done just that. Congratulations. The proof is “in the pudding,” and you could not have made it happen if you weren’t fully capable of triumph. Don’t underestimate your strengths any longer, and put your vulnerable insecurities to bed. Indeed, you must be responsible for yourself to know your human limitations, but - note to you - beyond infinity is your limit. Savor and appreciate your moments of manifestation, while going beyond them, by employing the following strategies: 1 DON’T DISCOUNT THE POWER OF A VISION BOARD Perpetuate and further develop your business and personal objectives by using a vision board. Vision boards, literal areas where you display specific images or scenes of the objects or lifestyle of your desires, are amazing tools for assisting one’s brain in visualizing the career, lifestyle, and personal goals of his/her dreams. They are extremely powerful in attracting the desires of your attention, but they help in generating new aspirations, too! As long as you truly believe that you can accomplish or attain whatever those visions are, you can bring them to life! Your visual images posted to the board should be placed in a prominent spot for daily viewing, and you should mentally stay in the space of believing for bigger and better experiences and expressions of who you essentially strive to be. 2 DRESS AND ACT HOW YOU WISH TO BECOME Live impeccably in all facets of your career development and organization. Support your professional victories by utilizing great marketing and branding techniques–consistently present yourself in 10


the most desirable way to communicate that you are extraordinary! It’s perfectly okay to advertise your entire professional skillset, so please do. Reside in the successful frame of mind. Dress for success. Plan like a boss! Stay on top of the savvy business trends, and by all means, remain grounded. Keep a strong team of like-spirited individuals around you to support and hold you accountable for being balanced and ethical in your pursuit of continued success. 3 NEVER BE TOO ARROGANT TO BE ADVISED Be confident but remain humble, heeding the advice of sage professionals who’ve paved the way in your specific arena of success. Sound business advice helps you to navigate the scene in your field of expertise. Once you’ve “arrived”–which there’s absolutely no such thing, by the way–is certainly not the time to acknowledge others’ golden nuggets of advice and experience that have been shared to you beforehand. Let their pitfalls be your prep notes. Take the wisdom of others’ mistakes and advice, and allow the information to show you how to become the best version of yourself! 4 ENCOURAGE & FEED OTHERS FROM YOUR FRUIT Serve as an asset to your circle of existence. Now that you have brought your initial business dreams to fruition, you are in a fantastic vantage point to inspire and encourage others to do the same. Become a strong asset to your business circle, community, family, etc., and lead by example. Help those who need guidance, and give back abundantly by means of mentoring and volunteerism. 5 KNOW THAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS DESERVED IT Accept your mantle of greatness. Know that you do deserve to succeed! While some (or many, depending upon how many competitors you have) may have spoken negatively over your dreams and goals throughout your professional journey, brush the dirt off of your shoulders and walk bravely into your destiny. If you’ve enduringly burned the midnight oil and made the sacrifices, then bask in the shine of success! It is yours for the taking. Ultimately, congratulations are in order for your professional manifestations! You have bravely maneuvered the endeavor of determination that so many have continually forfeited through lack of faith in themselves. Gratefully (and gracefully) assume your seat at the proverbial table. Job well done, my friend! THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

New York Times Best-Selling Author Patti Callahan Henry’s

“The Bookshop at Water’s End”



VERY HEART HAS a point of geography it is stirred to call upon - a place that holds a space of comfort, enchantment or unanswered questions. For some, it is the playground where nets were cast into the hot air, anchoring dreams and fireflies alike. For others, it is a park set in the spring, where they forever remain a young lover - blood pumping unscathed and whisked by fantasies of what is sure to stretch on boundlessly. For New York Times Best-Selling Author, Patti Callahan Henry, it is a cabin near Cape Cod, Mass., where she spent her childhood summers trampling through the woods and learning to sail. It is where she credits her “great love of story” for having been given breath. Upon revisiting the cabin as an adult, Callahan discovered the landscape to be rich with memories that had never lost their pulse - rushing to greet her as if to say, “We have been waiting for you. Welcome at last.” Through this experience, the inspiration for “The Bookshop at Water’s End” tugged at her, demanding to be filtered through her consciousness and creative interpretation. Engaging and wistful, this quintessential summer novel is set in the Low country of South Carolina, and offers three first-person points of view. An exploration of the nuances of friendship, desire, grief and regret, partnered with secrets locked up tightly and murmuring to be pulled to the fore, it is - ultimately - about the rediscovery and resuscitation of self. “Originally, I was holding ideas for two entirely different books. But it was as though they came together one night and shared a moment of alchemy under the moon. Through that merging, this book was born. It was both magical and therapeutic for me,” says Henry. A synergistic dance of poignant and redemptive, it will unearth you and assuage you. You will melt into every scene like an old love letter your heart thought it had forgotten but never did, and savor every page, bite-by-bite, like a beloved recipe from childhood you never want to end











HE MOST POWERFUL moments in our lives often find us in dark alleys, sneaking upon us in the form of an unsuspecting “what if?” And, if we listen long enough to be lured by its song, and then pursue its message, we are sometimes led to extraordinary places. This is a tune the Oklahoma-born Gina “Gigi” Butler, Founder of the nationally-famous cupcake empire Gigi’s Cupcakes, knows by heart. She followed this question through the dirt-kicking lows of bank loan denials, personal struggles and an album’s worth of pitying “bless your heart”s - rising straight into the apex of cupcake supremacy. But it all started with a simple phone call. It was Labor Day weekend 2007, and Butler was in a quiet house, back bent over and surrounded by piles of sponges and rags. Scrubbing toilets by day and mic in hand by night, she had devoted the decade prior to aspirations of singer-songwriter stardom in Nashville, Tenn. Having migrated to Music City in her teens, time had turned the dream from exhilarating to cruelly elusive. Then, a 32 year-old woman with no interest from label executives, she was forced to make peace with knowing her dreams of chart-topping and touring had fallen on deaf ears. Instead of sharing the stage with the likes of Leann Rimes and Taylor Swift, she was dusting their book shelves. Her most applause-garnering performances would be played as “Gigi the cleaning lady” - or, so she thought. In the midst of scrubbing, Butler’s phone buzzed - her brother’s name lighting up the screen. Answering only to tell him she was busy, he presented her with a thought that was soon to grant her an entirely new storyline. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m in New York, and I just spent two hours standing in line for a cupcake that’s not as good as yours or mom’s. Why don’t you open up your own shop there in Nashville?’ It sounded silly at first, but something told me to listen,” says Butler. There began resounding in that space a giant, reverberating “what if?” - one that amplified in a way no others had before. Entertaining it with subtle curiosity, she followed the idea until it led her to staring at her own reflection in the bathroom mirror.






“I remember tossing my hands up into the air. I had my cleaning gloves on” says Butler. “I looked square into my own eyes and said, out loud, ‘Well?! Why not me?’ I had already failed at my first dream, so I thought I may as well give another one a shot.” Two days later, she found herself staring into a bank wall, nervously shifting in her chair while trying to convince the powers that be to grant her a business loan. “They all laughed in my face like I was a crazy person. A cupcake shop was a joke to them,” says Butler. After her fourth denial, she turned to cash advances on her credit cards - $100,000 worth, in fact. And, with every passing day, the vision for her brand began finding its rhythm. She decided she would not merely offer up her delicious gourmet confections to the masses. Rather, she was going to serve up a harmony of joyful creations. Calling upon her family history of talented bakers, Butler drew inspiration from the recipes that most stirred her - some of them 100 years old - and funneled them through her own interpretations. Each cupcake would first be prepared with the finest and rarest ingredients and then, similar to the production of any well-written song, arranged and styled to have its own unique personality and story. But, for a season, this was a dream only Butler could see. “Looking back, I think a lot of people felt sorry for me, almost like they thought it was a desperate move. Some of my cleaning clients would say, ‘Oh, honey, we’ll buy a dozen from you.’ They were sincere in their support of me, but I think there was a lot of ‘bless her heart’ in it, too,” she says. Butler describes the moment she selected her first store location, on Broadway in downtown Nashville, as “an overwhelming out-ofbody experience.” While standing in the parking lot in front of the empty space, flashes suddenly raced through her mind like a music video montage. “I could see myself in the kitchen baking and swirling frosting. I could see crowds of people forming. I just knew I didn’t need to look anywhere else,” says Butler. And, much like the songwriting legends who claim to have been struck by the uncanny inspiration for writing an unforeseen hit, Butler felt she was possessed to realize this dream. “It came from something beyond me. I told my family that God had shown me a glimpse of what was to come, and they thought I was out of my mind,” she says, with a laugh. The night before her opening day, Butler admits to having spent it curled into a fetal position - shaking under her bed sheets. “I hardly slept at all. I was shivering and terrified because I had no clue how I was going to get customers to come to my store,” she says. The following morning, February 21, 2008, Butler said a prayer, tied herself into the cupcake-themed apron her mother sewed for her, flipped on the overhead lights and unlocked the doors - a mere $33 in her checking account. A $15,000 drywall bill playing in her head like a sour note, there was not a dollar to spare for advertising. But, within one week, small lines were forming. By summer, they were stretching out of the door - rivaling the kind seen at the 16


legendary Bluebird Cafe where she once channeled dreams of catching her big break. “I never imagined I could love anything as much as I loved music. It was my dream since I was 7 years old,” says Butler. “But I fell even more in love with this. The truth is I still pinch myself sometimes.” When asked if there is one word or phrase that would serve as the title track for the day she gave birth to Gigi’s Cupcakes, Butler smirks softly. “It could only be ‘Hold on,’” she says, while launching into a string of staccato-like chuckles. “That day defined my life because even though I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off, I had the bravery and tenacity to get up and open my doors on that scary morning.” And that tiny location on Broadway would prove to be no onehit-wonder. It has been almost a decade since that “scary morning” of uncertainty and, at the time of this writing, those 100-year-old recipes are being served up at more than 120 store locations across the United States. And, even sweeter, Butler’s appeal has gone beyond those seeking an indulgent sugar fix. She made quite an impression with viewers for her 2015-appearance on the CBS show “Undercover Boss,” and her success has been featured in a multitude of major media sources. Upon being asked what she most wants people to understand about her, Butler glances downward at her hands for a moment before locking eyes with me sweetly. After a tender pause, she says: “I want to set an example for all women - one that says, ‘If one dream dies, just get back up and try something else. But, don’t you dare give up on yourself.’” And, much like the hook of a heart-gutting country song that stays with you - looping in your head long after the stage has broken down, Butler serves up an unforgettable dollop of candidness: “I didn’t have a granddaddy giving me a trust. I had no hand-outs and no silver spoons. You can have a good idea, but lots of people have those. If somebody thinks they’re above working hard day after day, then they’re not cut out for success,” she says. She then adds, “I’ve cleaned 65,000 toilets in my life for goodness’ sake, and now I’m the queen of cake. I still have the aching knees and calluses on my hands to show for the sacrifices I made to get here. It’s such an incredible rush to think about, but it wasn’t an easy road. Nothing worth having ever is.” Butler may have paved one remarkable empire with her signature swirl, but she isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Currently developing her own line of bakeware and in early discussions about a television program, she is also in process of writing a book, set for release in the spring of 2018. The book is said to be a page-turner - an unfolding of her redemptive story, with each chapter concluded by a life lesson and a recipe. It will be heaping with melodious narratives and sweetly unsolicited wisdom, Gigi-style. “Look, I don’t want to be sittin’ on a porch at 90, asking myself ‘what if?’ God gave us all an amazing spirit, and you have to listen to what it’s trying to tell you,” says Butler, leaning coolly in her chair. And, then, I guess you better hold on. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


Is Putting the Quality Back in Connections


SHLEE AMMONS SCANNED the room for colored dots. A 27-year-old former college cheerleader, radio disc jockey and sorority sister who’d been groomed for New York on a diet of Sex and the City episodes, she loved the city’s fast pace and fashion sense. She had organized events with Oprah Winfrey and Leonard DiCaprio in attendance. She was known as “Ashlee at TAO,” a reference to a big-deal luxury hospitality company. In five years, she’d gone from being an executive assistant for one of its owners, Noah Tepperberg, to director of events. Ammons was wellconnected, but she felt she needed to diversify her contacts. That led her to being reduced, one day in the fall of 2014, to looking for dots that matched hers on nametags at Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Life in NYC conference, where the billionaire founder of Spanx was the keynote speaker. “So,” Ammons paused for effect, “you’re supposed to look at a woman’s breast area and strike up a conversation at lunch about nothing. That’s the scenario that got my mom and me talking. We decided there’s got to be a better way.” On the telephone line, the mother-daughter duo cooked up an idea. They left their jobs, cut back on pedicures and became first-time entrepreneurs in a man-dominated industry. “We aren’t what people expect when they see companies like this,” said Ammons. “But we don’t believe in a ‘pity party’ – oh, we’re women, and oh, we’re black. No, we’re smart business women.” Capitalizing on their social experience in building relationships and unintimidated by stereotypes, the admitted extroverts created Mixtroz – a 18



marriage of the words “mix” and “introduction.” It’s a conferencing app that even a breast cancer diagnosis could not stop. “No one does what we do,” said Ammons’ mom, Kerry Schrader, 55, who believed so much in their product that she pitched the app from an operating table. “We bring people - not profiles - together.” Ammons, who was raised in Ohio and will be 30 years old this fall, is Schrader’s first born. For four years after her divorce, it kind of felt like the two of them against the world. Schrader remarried when her daughter was 8, but the intensity of their connectedness remained unbreakable. After Schrader finished raising her girl, she was able to be something other than



a mom – a “bestie,” she said. Schrader had moved to Franklin, Tenn., near Nashville, and Ammons was in New York. They talked by telephone on a regular basis at night after every workday. On the evening of Nov. 9, 2014, Schrader was considering a lifealtering career move. Her human resources career had spanned more than 25 years, however, since planning a dinner party for friends at a local Italian restaurant, she’d felt an inclination for a different vocation. She’d always loved planning fun events for friends, but this one had gotten especially high praise. The restaurant Schrader had selected seated 75 people, and she was able to swing getting 40 seats. She coordinated all the invitations and arrangements. Though she loved the work, she started thinking about easier ways to bring people together. Schrader shared her thoughts with Ammons on the phone that night, but they decided event host was not exactly the route to take. Instead, they conceived Mixtroz. The duo formed their LLC in January 2015, and signed with California-based developer AppNexio. Experiencing FOMO – the fear of missing out on something great - Ammons left her beloved New York and moved in with Schrader in Franklin. That October, Mixtroz became available for free download at the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The app only works at an event site. Schrader calls it a “virtual nametag,” and it works like this: Event hosts or sponsors purchase Mixtroz for attendees. Upon arrival, attendees download the app, complete a virtual nametag and answer 10 customized, multiple-choice questions. At a designated time, such as at lunch or during breakouts, the app will notify an attendee what group of three to 10 people he or she has been paired with, with the assistance of the answered questions, and identify a group meeting location. Once all group members arrive, the app provides icebreakers to spark conversation. “With a group, it’s more likely you’re going to hit it off with someone,” Schrader said. “Individual engagements can be awkward.” Its creators say Mixtroz increases conference engagement, and thus provides a more fulfilling experience for the attendee and gives conference hosts data to help plan future events. Dawn M. Schenkel, the owner of a wedding planning business and on the board of the International Life Event Association, showcased Mixtroz and used the app for one of the ILEA meetings in February. With so many using THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

ILEA to network, the app was ideal to highlight. “Typically, you’re trying to walk up to random people, constantly. It gets old,” Schenkel said. “In this particular case, my attendees didn’t just stand there awkwardly. The app guided us through conversations. People loved connecting with people they would never have connected with on their own.” Ironically, mother and daughter want to use technology to remedy the disconnection that they believe technology is causing. “Technology is eroding people’s ability to make a true connection,” Schrader said. “As efficient as it is, it can be ineffective and damaging.” Schrader even called the phenomenon “the erosion of mankind.” Admitting what a big statement that is, she emphasized the importance of body language and necessity of looking people in the eye for effective connectedness. Mixtroz utilizes technology as a tool, rather than as a replacement, for connectedness. The app prompts actual face-to-face meetings. That’s true connectedness. That’s quality communication. “People may have a ton of Facebook connections and LinkedIn connections,” Ammons said, “but they’re not useful if you can’t go to an individual. We offer quality connections.” Schrader, who gave up paying for landscaping services and cut back on salon visits to fund Mixtroz, was so convinced of the app’s capabilities that even a health scare didn’t diminish her enthusiasm. She said she was diagnosed with breast cancer with “zero, zero symptoms” almost a year after brainstorming the product and was “being rolled into surgery. I pitched the idea of using Mixtroz at medical conferences in the operating room. Counting on my faith, family and friends, in that order, Mixtroz was the next thing that kept me focused and not dwelling on cancer.” Six weeks of radiation followed, and Schrader never took a day off. Schrader’s and Ammons’ laser focus continues daily at their Franklin home, a city they believe makes it easier to make their mark. Ammons hopes to eventually travel for pleasure, but for now the business takes priority. “If you’re going to be involved in a startup business,” she said, “there is no part-time to it. Your startup is your boyfriend. Your life. Your everything.” Interestingly, Mixtroz connected the mother and daughter in a way they’d never before been connected. Now business partners, they believe they’ve got an ideal work relationship in hand. “You have to find a co-founder you love and trust,” said Schrader. “I had to create my own.” SUMMER 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE










Deepak Chopra Has a Special Message For Every Questioning and Suffering Heart


HE YEAR WAS 1993. A 46–year–old Dr. Deepak Chopra was cozied in a chair next to Oprah Winfrey on the set of her television show, guiding her through an experiment as she dangled a string from her thumb and forefinger. The goal was to expose her mind’s ability to control the direction and movement of the metal pendulum on the end of the string. As it circled and swung from left to right, he coached her, saying, “Your expectancy determines outcome.” As the audience offered up a choir of faint gasps and chuckling in response to Winfrey, Americans watched from their living rooms, also accepting the invitation for the potentiality of taking reign over their own minds and – ultimately – their lives. “This is living proof that every cell in your body is eavesdropping on your internal dialogue,” said Chopra. Shortly thereafter, the India–born doctor, who arrived to the United States as a newlywed with only $8 in his possession, and whose disenchantment with western medicine had lured him to a path of alternative medicine, became a worldwide superstar. His first book, “Ageless Body, Timeless Mind: The Quantum Alternative to Growing Old” began vanishing from bookstore shelves. In the years that followed, he co– founded The Chopra Center, a wellness center in Carlsbad, Calif., authored more than 80 books (many of which are New York Times best–sellers), won an Ig Nobel Prize and become known for his ever–growing celebrity clientele and collaborations – including Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Madonna and many others. If all of the world is a bounding main of opportunity and Chopra is in the deep, spiritual enthusiasts across the globe are casting their nets, hoping to draw from his fluent wisdom. But, in his most recent book, “You Are the Universe,” he says the transformation process you desire not only emanates from you, but actually is you. What if all of nature as you perceive it – from the sunlight coming through the trees by day to the stars lit up against the blackness by night – is your own reflection waving back at you? From the disk–shaped structure of the Milky Way to the innumerable galaxies that overwhelm you to imagine. With Earth’s abundant wonders – from its volcanic–sand beaches in Santorini, painted deserts in Arizona, coral reefs in Belize and rain forests in Bali. Where the squirrels are at play, the ocean is swallowing and the blades of grass dance in response to the breeze. Where you are stunned by the jaw–dropping sight of an amber–painted sky. This Universe you call home – with its broad strokes and short stops, the goals you achieve and the ones you fail miserably at. The love that can never be encapsulated or defined, the hope that carries you and the inspiration that tugs at you. But also the vices you wrestle, and the aches and ailments you medicate. The light and the darkness – what if you are not of it; you are authoring it? Which is also to say you are the co–creator of that which you choose to experience and see. What if you are not a helpless victim being shuffled and spun through its frames, but the director of a participatory movie? Continue reading for my intimate Q&A with the incomparable author, speaker and healer, where the veil of our human constructs are lifted, and truth and beauty know no confinements, no defiances and no notions of contrast. Where you, too, may silence the chatter of your limitations, THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

magnify your heart’s most impassioned reveries and create for yourself an extraordinary world. ON CULTIVATING PEACE VS. CHAOS JOHNSON: What do you believe creates for a person either a life of peace or one of perpetual chaos – whether it be in career, health or personal relationships? CHOPRA: Peace is everyone’s ground state of being. When the ground state of being wants to have an experience and know itself, it has to be disturbed – into thought, feeling and perception. So everything we call an experience, whether it is an experience of the world, of your own body, of your personal relationships or social interactions, these are modes of knowing that arise through our ground state. Depending upon how you interpret and respond to an experience, it can either cause chaos in your life, or a greater and more beautiful awareness and discovery of self. But, you choose. JOHNSON: What, then, is the direct cause and remedy for stress in our lives? CHOPRA: Stress is just the perception of an experience that is threatening. Whether you perceive being physically, emotionally or psychologically threatened, it disturbs the spontaneous expression of your ground state, which is always moving effortlessly in the direction of perfect harmony, joy and flow. That flow is only impeded when one resists an experience. JOHNSON: Do you believe resistance is the cause of all ranges of discomfort – from mere annoyance to crippling grief? CHOPRA: Resistance is when anticipation overshadows being present or regret overshadows acceptance. Ninety–nine percent of people are in chaos or feel stressful about certain situations because of thoughts and perceptions that overshadow their true being, which is never anything but peace and the awareness of joy. JOHNSON: How can we begin to see ourselves as more than our circumstances and emotions? CHOPRA: What we feel is nothing more than a state of consciousness. What we call the world is just you and I experiencing. It is not the same universe for me as it is for a dolphin or a crocodile or a bat. If I showed you a book, you would tell me it was a book. If I showed you my hand, you would tell me it is a hand. But all of these things are human constructs. They are not the same thing to an animal as they are to you. Anything that you can describe or define – from human bodies to galaxies – those are human constructs. But, those concepts are not the same to another species. For example, the dog in the White House doesn’t know he is in the Oval Office – or even that its label is “dog.” The word is a human attribution. And, going deeper, you don’t even know what you look like to the dog. To it, you have a completely different perceived biological structure. JOHNSON: I subscribe to the idea that everyone lives in their own dream, yet we often think that others live in that same dream. We are then surprised when others don’t understand or perceive things as we do. But what, do you believe, is the fundamental nature of this world we live in? SUMMER 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE



CHOPRA: The fundamental nature of the universe is just consciousness. It is the state of being aware and observing. In the deeper reality, there is no mind, no body and there are no human constructs. There is only consciousness modulating itself through various modes of knowing, which we then created civilizations out of and science out of and technology out of that. The human universe is created in human consciousness, and mine is not the same as yours. The world as you know it is not quite the same world as I know it. Reality cannot be a system of thought, whether religion or philosophy, because they are only systems of thought. Reality can only be that which is right to the thought itself. ON BEING FREE FROM THE TRAPS OF NEGATIVE HABITS & LIMITATIONS JOHNSON: In your current book, “You Are the Universe,” you state that paradigms are “self–fulfilling.” This resonates with me, as I see limiting beliefs as somewhat of a fun house that distorts our perceptions, yet we sort of trap ourselves in. If this is true, it also means the only way out is radical change as a result of being angered or ruffled in some way – the sort of “jumping out” process you discuss in the book. How does one “escape” a paradigm that is creating the perception of lack or suffering? CHOPRA: This is where self–reflection and self–inquiry must come in. This is also where the desire for transcendence comes in. Through this, you can gradually begin to loosen the hold of your conceptual frameworks, which are programmed through your conditioning. This conceptual framework comes from literally centuries of conditioning, which are formed through the repetition of prior conditioning processes. They come from parents, religion, culture, economics and personal experiences. JOHNSON: If our paradigms are products of our conditioning and we are gliding along in our behaviors and acting out through them and because of them – not knowing we are creating frustration and limitations for ourselves – how does one stop the madness and recondition themselves?

CHOPRA: The first step is to challenge your habitual certainties. And, you have to continue doing this throughout every moment of your life. You have to question everything you believe to be true. Every thought you have is a reflex of another thought. Rumi talked about how one will stay in a prison when the door is wide open. But the door and prison are both invisible, so they only stay in prison because of their conditioning – a prison that never was at all. ON ENRICHED LIVING VS. MERE EXISTING JOHNSON: You speak about the dangers of anticipating and always living in a place of planning for the future. In a world that is always inviting us to build and plan, how do we remain fully in the “now”? How do we silence the rushing surge of energy that is always yanking at us to achieve and attain more? CHOPRA: You just have to be here now, all of the time. It starts by simply asking yourself, in every moment and wherever you are, ‘Am I aware? Am I here?’ Otherwise you die not having lived. JOHNSON: What was your inspiration for writing “You Are the Universe”? Why did you feel the world needed this book? CHOPRA: I have been jousted by scientists for much of my life. I have been called a pseudo–scientist, a charleton and all kinds of names. At one point, I stopped taking it seriously. But then I met Menas Kafatos, who is a quantum physicist, a cosmologist and a professor of physics, who also understands consciousness. I told him, “I want to write a book about consciousness that includes science in such a way that no one can attack it.” I knew that if I alone wrote it, some people would discredit it. I wanted to make sure the science was correct in the book, while also creating a book that takes the reader beyond science. Then, I sent it to a few others, making sure the science was so correct that it could not be questioned. But my goal was to go beyond the science. Reality is not something that can be accessed through science. It can only be accessed through self–awareness. ON HONING THE POWER OF WHO YOU REALLY ARE JOHNSON: What do you believe is humanity’s greatest hang–up in regard to living successfully? CHOPRA: Success has become sort of an overrated term because a lot of people who are perceived as being successful are unhappy. When I was practicing medicine, this was true for me, as I was struggling with stress and cigarettes and occasionally alcohol. It was non–stop with patients who were also unhappy and, being a student of philosophy and meditation, I was unfulfilled and knew I had to create a shift. Money and certain occupations are frequently interpreted as success, but I think it is more important to shift your focus to the pursuit of excellence and joy, day–to–day. The experience of success will follow. JOHNSON: What steps can one take to anchor excellence? CHOPRA: To begin, you should find harmony with the rhythm of the Universe. This can be achieved through proper sleep, meditation, yoga, good nutrition, spending time in nature, healthy personal relationships and experiencing emotions such as love, joy, gratitude and compassion. Then, you must remember that you are a field of pure potentiality. You do not have to force anything at all. There is infinite power and the ability to fulfill all desires imbedded in your consciousness. JOHNSON: If you could make a blanket statement speaking directly to every suffering heart in the world, what would you say? CHOPRA: The only solution to your suffering of any kind is to become acquainted with your true self – the one beyond your ego mind. You are not your thoughts. You are not your fears. You are not your adversities. Those are just a part of your conditioned mind, which is not you at all. You are the consciousness behind all of it. Once you know this, it is powerful because you can begin to choose whichever thoughts and perceptions you desire. The entire world as you perceive it will follow.








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O CALL THE newly-opened, Latin-inspired Plaza Mariachi in Nashville, Tenn. “stunning” would be the understatement of the decade. Simply walking through the “streets” (which are actually hallways named like streets) of the establishment is a rare cultural experience to be had in Nashville. The décor borrows its style from traditional old Mexico marketplaces. Patrons who visit Plaza Mariachi experience interesting varieties of art, culture, history, live entertainment, fashion and retail - all under the confines of a single roof. There is an assortment of restaurants and shops, as well as a stage and two radio stations. It’s quite an upgrade for a building that was once a Kroger grocery store. Among the cool and eclectic things to be found at the plaza is the small, elegant Ceiba Art Gallery, which serves as a temporary home for the works of local and international artists. Jorge Yances serves as the curator and director of Ceiba. Yances is a visual artist from Colombia, who arrived in Nashville as a 13-year-old in the 1960s. When the gallery opened in May 2017, it launched with an exhibit of Yances’ Colombia-inspired architectural paintings that pay homage to his home city, Cartagena, as he fondly remembers it as a child. The year 1966 specifically makes multiple subtle appearances in his work to mark the year he came to Nashville. A depiction of ropes and cables also play significant roles in this collection, which ultimately represents how all human beings are connected - our stories all roped and tied together. The collection, which is used for teaching about Colombia, has traveled all over the world and been shown locally at the Parthenon and Fisk University. 30



Aside from his own art, Yance is armed with a mission to show the best art Latin America has to offer, with plans to bring in pieces from Colombia, Mexico, Cuba and Argentina. However, Yances makes it clear that, though the main concept is to share Latin American culture, the gallery will have a broad reach. There are plans for expanding to other countries and cultures next year, in fact. Yances says running an art gallery isn’t easy, but running a good art gallery is even harder. “Artists are everywhere. Finding the right art and the right people to share the work of the culture, that’s the challenge,” he says. After running two art galleries and curating more than 200 shows in the past, Yances seems like the man for the job. It’s no mystery why the Plaza Mariachi owners chose to partner with him. “I’m passionate about arts, about culture,” says Plaza Mariachi owner Diane Janbakhh, “and I wanted to make sure people in the Nashville community got a different take on art. I wanted Latino art and Latininspired artists to celebrate and expose their work so that it would be a part of the larger artistic community.“ Janbakhsh says she wants to use the gallery to tell stories and inspire the artist in all of us. “I think everyone is an artist,” says Janbakhsh, who is also a musician and dabbles in painting. “There should not be hidden artists. I think everyone should get time to exhibit their work and teach others, and inspire that love of art.” For Janbakhsh, this also means teaching children and “raising that ceiling of awareness.” THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


Janbakhsh admires Yances for his ability to create powerful, thoughtprovoking art, and his strength for bringing ideas together to “create a space where people are free.” Of the gallery and vision she shares with Yances, she says, “You leave the world behind and you’re transported into such a peaceful place, where you are free to dive into each painting, each work of art and let your imagination run wild.” “Art is freedom,” she says. Yances, who is responsible for making the magic happen at Ceiba, has a long love affair with art that started even before he came to Nashville. Though he never received what would be classified as “formal” art training, Yances claims to have been molded by the special, unique and talented artists that were put in his path. This includes an aunt who painted with her

Included in the installation are bags, boxes and suitcases that represent moving. The boxes are red, white and blue, which represent the American flag. There are also hanging pieces of red, white and blue glass that represent the blood, sweat and tears of those who have inhabited the land. There is a mirror so that those looking at the installation can see their reflection, thus making them a part of the piece. Additionally, there are green, black, yellow, blue and red rings that represent the continents. Then, there are chains that represent the enslaved Africans, who Yances notes are the only people who were forced to come to America. The piece itself is a glorious representation of the American story. Of the gallery, Yances says his vision is expansive, as he plans to continue showing meaningful art and telling powerful stories on an increasingly broader scale.

ARTISTS ARE EVERYWHERE. FINDING THE RIGHT ART AND THE RIGHT PEOPLE TO SHARE THE WORK OF THE CULTURE, THAT’S THE CHALLENGE. hands and made brushes out of her hair. She taught him how to mix colors. Recognizing that he comes from a family of artists, “Somehow, maybe it’s in the blood,” he says. An installation that sits in a corner of the gallery is a particularly eye-catching piece that was originally inspired by Yances’ journey from Colombia to his current life. However, the work morphed into something more universal, becoming about everyone’s journey in America. “We are all immigrants, even those we call “natives,” he says. “We all come from somewhere else.” THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM






“There’s a problem with the brain.” “There’s a problem with the brain,” she repeated.


ES, THOSE ARE the ones: The six words that changed my life - spoken by our ultrasound technician during our daughter Mikayla’s 20-week ultrasound. And, they would send us on a journey to further ultrasounds and a battery of tests that would ultimately lead us to a heartbreaking diagnosis. The words the doctor uttered when she delivered the diagnosis are forever emblazoned upon my memory: “Your daughter has a condition called Dandy Walker Syndrome. She has excessive fluid that has built up in her brain and has formed a cyst. It is a rare congenital brain malformation. Your daughter has a one in four chance of surviving this pregnancy to full-term. If she does survive the pregnancy, she will most likely have significant special needs. It is my legal obligation to inform you of your right to terminate this pregnancy.” As soon as “terminate this pregnancy” left her mouth, the room fell dead silent. The moment had swallowed up all of the meaningless pleasantries and polite conversations we had on a daily basis. Every word that followed was exponentially important. Everything had new meaning. Miraculously, my wife and I had the clarity of conviction through prayer to decide that we were going to keep this child. No matter the challenges, we were going to give this child her best chance at life. We called the doctor back in and told her, affirmatively, “We are keeping this baby.” But, the story doesn’t end there. Looking back on this day, I am still certain it was the most frightening of my life. I have never been struck with the feeling of devastation I felt that day, nor have I since. I was delivered brand new reality - never again would I be the same. But, what I thought would be the worst day of my life turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. In the weeks after the initial diagnosis, I knew I had a choice to make: I could either view my daughter’s life as a blessing or as a burden. I chose the former. My daughter Mikayla did survive the pregnancy, and I resolved to continually view her life as a blessing - no matter the trials. It was a decision I would later coin as the “blessing choice,” which is the decision to view something that most people would view as a problem, rather, as an absolute blessing. 32


Her life has sent me on a journey of seeking more meaning and purpose in my own. Her life is a testimony to possibility, and her progress is a testament to the refusal of giving up. Most of all, it attests that comparison to the lives of others’ is the grandest thief of joy. My daughter’s happiness and joy are innate despite her “special needs” - not because ignorance is bliss, but because she doesn’t pursue anything outside of herself to make her happy. Her success lies in her significance to others instead of her personal achievements. She has taught me that real humility comes from recognizing my own brokenness - something I can’t fix on my own - and that my beliefs will limit my potential if I let them. Life happens through me; it doesn’t happen to me. Traditionally, blessings are viewed as gifts given or bestowed, but I have come to believe that blessings also come from the choices we make in our perceptions. Making this “blessing choice” has allowed my life to expand in its richness. I launched a new business and career, embarked on a health journey of dropping 40 pounds, found deeper faith and better relationships - amongst other positive changes. Living successfully, I have learned, is a matter of shifting your perceptions and adopting the “blessing choice” for all areas of your life. Starting today, what will you resolve to look at differently? What change in perception can propel you forward into new and positive changes - in your life and business? What obstacles are you allowing to remain in your way to achieving personal growth and development? The answers to these questions may have surprising and positive consequences for your life. Be open to them.

Graham Honeycutt is a life coach & motivational speaker from Nashville, Tennessee. He helps solopreneurs launch and grow their personal brand. You can find out more about him and his business at THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

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HE FIRST TIME I landed in New York City, it was a shivering Monday in January 2002. I was a curious and wide-eyed 21-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., tagging along with my attorney father who was there to meet with Jessie Jackson - “Reverend,” as my dad called him - about a case they were collaborating on. My perception of the city - in all of its cosmopolitan and frenetic glory - was as green as it was glittering. We took a train in from Long Island to Grand Central Station, and then a cab to Rockefeller Center for lunch. Upon finishing our sandwiches, we zipped ourselves into our coats and boarded the subway for the site of what - only months prior - had been the World Trade Center. I wanted to offer up my veneration to what had provoked so many episodes of sobbing in front of my television. But, what we arrived to find was more than a harrowing image - one that transcended the visual evidence of ruin. I could feel the residuum of unanswered questions hovering over those bulldozers as they combed through the wreckage. My father and I gazed out - both speechless - at the jagged stacks upon stacks of rubble piles of cement, dust and steel, now home to a graveyard of stories. I imagined all of the feet swarming those grounds on that clear, blue morning just months before. Many suited up, briefcases and cups of coffee in hand with opulent dreams they presumed would stretch on far into the future. Some fresh to American soil - still learning the language and wondering where their aspirations would take them. Strategies made, never to be executed. Evening dinner plans never to be fulfilled. Apologies they had yet to make, but planned to. It stirred me so painfully and poignantly. I was spooked by thoughts of Manhattan’s force of bustling ambition suddenly melting into the percussive cry of nonstop sirens and the terrifying sight of billowing smoke. We wandered across the street from the wreckage and took notice of the countless signs taped everywhere. They were spread like quilts across fences, brick walls, lampposts and parking signs - collages upon collages of faces and names marked “missing.” Many were stained and tearing in corners. Some were accompanied by withered bouquets of flowers. “Please call if you see...” the words pleaded - urgent desperation bleeding through all of them. I noticed splatterings of melted red and



white wax along the sidewalk - lingerings of the candlelight vigils held in the weeks and months prior. I remember my cold tears hitting my gloves as my hands clutched a fence railing. That moment was like a “crossing over” - the moment I fell in love with the resilient spirit of New York City. Later that day, I fell even harder when a store clerk in Midtown Manhattan chased us three blocks in rush hour, waving his arms and announcing, “Sir, sir! You left your credit card on my counter!” And, again when we wandered over to Hell’s Kitchen after the sun fell below the skyline and I was served a slice of cheesecake and a cappuccino that arrested my tastebuds in such a way that it forever tainted my opinion of any confection or coffee sip I’ve had or will have since. In the years that followed, I became a writer and returned several more times for my own business trips. I again wandered over to what had been that pile of rubble, admiring and offering up my reverence to a gorgeously-constructed memorial site. And, still, with every visit, my admiration only continued to form new branches - hovering over the city’s skyscrapers and twinkling lights. I would swoon with fervor over and over. I fell for its nooks of literary camaraderie, especially the ones inviting essay and poetry readings. For the darling charm of Chelsea. For the ornery grump handing me a delicious slice of greasy pizza in Greenwich Village. For the cobblestone streets of TriBeCa. For the eclectic vibe of Soho. For the rooftop views. For the clusters of teenagers on the subway and their feats to simultaneously applaud yet trump one another’s performances. For the collective brilliance and eccentric history contained within the Museum of Modern Art. But, as much infatuation as I formed for all of those things, none of them compare to what I grew to love most - what I grow to love still. I continue to fall in love not just with New York City itself, but with the city’s ability to challenge the depth of my relationship with being human. Because, whether it be a deli in Soho or a market in Chinatown, I know I can find rare and magical forms of beauty hanging out in corners. They are always there - waiting to be marveled at or arrested by or dined upon. There is always a treasure unfamiliar to me - present to awaken a new part of me, expand my view of humanity while confronting privileges I didn’t know I had or biases and bigotries I was unaware of harboring. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM



Where I can be stimulated by fresh perspectives on art or feminism, and where I step into pockets of diversity - all spread out like a smorgasbord of knowledge that promises to peel away at my walls of ignorance and evoke a new sociological or spiritual muscle to awaken. I am captivated by its electrifying pulse - its blood that pumps chaotically in some corners and unceremoniously in others, but most all of them as if to say, “All variations of weirdness present here. No explanation required.” I love that inspiration is omnipresent: lurking in every street corner, wooing the creatively-charged and waiting for an able body to attach itself to. It’s in a myriad of interesting forms, taking an infinite number of names, creeds, races, stances and shapes - both illustrious and obscure. In the winter, it tugs at my coat sleeves, flirting with me and informing me of another book or essay that must be written. It finds me in the faces of lost pedestrians. It’s in the breath of the lovers as their whispers meet the chill of the night air. It’s in the shoe prints that shape the snow and in the stacks of sandwiches prepared to feed the homeless.


In the summer, it’s in the mob of tourists with their selfie sticks. It’s in the drops of hot rain sliding across clusters of street-bought umbrellas and landing in puddles. It’s in the choir of conversations - all in different languages, blending and blurring together - overheard on the city’s very heartbeat: the subway. It’s in the lushness of Central Park - so abundant that the backdrop of the city in its usual towering fashion is partially hidden. It’s in Times Square’s collective blend of energy from all over the world. It’s in the child’s expression, lit up by seeing its mob of flashing lights for the first time. It’s in the photographers snapping compulsively and frame-by-frame. It’s in knowing that most everyone who has ever touched down in New York has been drawn there at some point - whether they are visiting their cousin in Queens or their old friend in Williamsburg or studying abroad or auditioning for the Opera. No matter their reason for having landed in New York City, most everyone gravitates there to climb those stairs and bathe in its energetic nucleus - at least one time. It’s the familiar look in a man’s eyes I pass on the street - a man I may never speak to or know, but with a gaze that demonstrates a blend of hope and despair I recognize and even wrote about once. There, we share a silent moment of knowing. A look that says, with a motionless nod, “I see you, fellow human. And, by the way, me too.” Because isn’t that what the human quest for love is, after all? The beautifully complicated search for evidence that we are all the same. The knowing that we are all “out of place” somewhere - having experienced joy and suffering in vagarious ways. That everyone is grasping for something they think they want, but that the value is not in what we are grasping for, but in the reaching. That life can be seen through a number of lenses - perhaps all bumping up against one another on the sidewalks and in the subway - and each of them having something valuable to reveal to us. Each deserving of opportunity. And of celebration. And of being loved. The original version of this article was published to, brainchild of Managing Editor Lacey Johnson.





The word “entrepreneur” may have French origins, but it also has deep roots in America’s business traditions. It’s fitting then that social media, a technology of American invention, has given entrepreneurs an unprecedented platform to advertise their business and share their ideas.

specifically, to post. This problem can easily be solved with a little research. Just look around at what some of the professionals you admire are posting. Even if they aren’t working in the same niche as you, it’s tremendously useful to observe what other people are using to drive results.

Yet, taking advantage of this opportunity isn’t always straightforward. It’s often easy to speak enthusiastically about an idea in private conversation or over a whiteboard, but when it’s time to promote the endeavor on social, uncertainty creeps in.

By observing the success of others, you can use data to inform your content strategy instead of starting from scratch. This tactic will give you a great deal of confidence in your social marketing, because you’re taking ideas that have already worked for others and using them for your business.

How can you be sure your network wants to hear about your business? What type of content will be most effective? How do you find the right voice for your business on social? At JumpCrew, we hear these questions all the time. The truth is that if a business’s content lacks conviction, it’s sure to fail. All those cute puppy photos and exotic travel videos are stiff competition, and if you’re too timid, you won’t be able to grab anyone’s attention. The good news is there’s a method for overcoming social marketing anxiety. It goes like this: REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED Shyness about advertising your business or idea on social media is driven by fear of rejection. This is completely natural. No one wants to have their idea shot down or ignored. However, the reality of being an entrepreneur means you’re going to face adversity – whether that’s moving past your apprehension about going social or creating a business plan for investors. In these moments, reflect on why your started this venture in the first place. What made you believe in this idea? Use that spark - that original confidence - to carry you through the tough times. This is the most difficult part of this method, for it relies solely on your mentality. Remember: studies have shown that grit is the personality trait most closely correlated with professional success, so if your idea is going to take off, you’re going to need some mental fortitude. RESEARCH WHAT OTHER BRANDS HAVE DONE Once you’re in the right frame of mind, it’s time to decide what,

KEEP IT PERSONAL We’re often counseled to separate our work and personal life, but social media has blurred the lines between who we are at work and who we are in our leisure time. When you’re introducing your new venture to social media, it’s beneficial to blend your marketing content with more casual posts. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but consider this: no one wants you to do a 180 degree turn and completely change who you are on social. At the start, your personal network, the people who support you the most, will care about your enterprise because it’s something that you’re doing. Even when you’re more established, people will want to engage with stories about other people. That means the behind-thescenes moments will always resonate, because they create an emotional connection with your audience. The caveat here is that you should always use good judgement. Rants of any kind are never a good idea. STAY CONSISTENT Above all, stay consistent with your social marketing strategy. If you go silent for a couple of weeks, your network won’t know what to expect from you. At the start, things might be slow, but continuity is the key to building a foundation. It’s natural to feel a certain amount of anxiety when you’re introducing a new idea to your social network, but having a plan is intrinsically tied to success. Be bold, use the tactics I’ve described, and feel secure in the knowledge that you can succeed.

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The Great Juggling Act:



E’VE ALL SEEN a juggling act before. The more skilled the performer, the more mesmerized we become at the talent they possess. Our eyes remain locked on the orange and red balls as they float through the air seamlessly, in rotating concert, each landing perfectly in the performer’s palm only to be thrust into the air yet again. But then it happens: a green ball is introduced into the routine, then a blue, forcing the others to find a new, faster circular rhythm in order to guarantee their position in the order. As our eyes remain fixated and our hearts beat faster, we find a deeper state of wonder as we nervously await one of the balls to drop and bring the great feat to an abrupt halt. For me, this is quite literally what work-life balance is: a juggling act where all of my hats - from wife to mom to businesswoman to friend (and let us not forget the “me” hat) - never seem to get equal wearing time. I once envied that mom in the grocery store with two toddlers in the cart and a baby on her hip. You know the one: the mom with perfect hair, looking fresh from the makeup counter and engaging on a conference call with her marketing firm while gliding along the fresh produce aisle wearing four-inch heels. I admired all that she represented. I felt guilty and questioned why I couldn’t be that - whatever “that” was. But “that” was then. I now know that wearing my hair in a bun one hundred percent of my days and grocery shopping without kids while donning flip-flops is not only acceptable; it’s the norm for us go-getter professional moms. While the concept of worklife balance seems simple and attainable from afar, I have yet to meet a working mom with a personal life that feels they are able to juggle all things, successfully and in harmonious balance. I recently sat down with working mom Yolanda Henderson, in order to better understand what work-life balance means to her and how she manages the famous juggling act. A global research study on work-life challenges conducted by Ernst & Young found that a third of full-time employees say it has gotten more difficult to manage work and family in the last five years, due to increased responsibilities at work and home, working longer hours and having children. Henderson understands this challenge intimately. She is a busy working mom who, like the super-mom in the grocery store, seems to never be out of step. But, being the wife of a successful entrepreneur, having a career in financial management and event planning, being a mother and step-mother, an aunt, the daughter of aging parents with health needs and an active member of several nonprofit organizations doesn’t allow for a true balance in her work life and personal life. So, how in the world does she do it? Let us find out... Mason: How would you define work-life balance? Henderson: “I define it as feeling fulfilled at work and fulfilled in 38



your personal life. But this is not easily accomplished. Work can be demanding and stressful. And, while my work life is one aspect, my personal life includes many: family, health, personal goals, etc. With a lot of prayer and meditation I try to lessen the work-related stress, prioritize my personal needs and feel good about how I approach both.” Mason: What is the most challenging aspect of juggling being a wife and mother, and having a personal life with your career? Henderson: “I would say the fear that I am failing in a certain area. I often worry that I may not be giving every aspect of my personal life and my career enough quality attention. I have to remember that I am just one person and cannot possibly do it all.” Mason: With knowing that you cannot give everything the attention it needs, have you found yourself putting your career or personal goals on hold because of your family obligations? Henderson: “Yes. As a wife and mother, it’s second nature to put your husband’s and children’s needs above your own. Women are nurturers by nature.” Mason: Putting your spirituality first and making your husband and children feel that their needs are a priority seems to be most important to you. With what you’ve learned and experienced, what advice would you give working married moms? Henderson: “First accept and own that you are not perfect. Second, appreciate your worth. Third, maintain your mental health by taking time out for yourself. Time to meditate, treat yourself to the spa, get a manicure, pour a warm and undisturbed bath - just anything that recharges and revitalizes your spirit.” More than 22 percent of working mothers bring home at least a quarter of the household earnings. According to The Center for American Progress: “Women now make up half of all workers in the United States, with nearly four in 10 homes having a mom that is also a working mother.” Work-life balance is best defined as having a career, having a life outside of that career and finding a way to be satisfied with the time you are giving both. As working moms, we are accustomed to being immersed in a world where our work-life and personal-life are intertwined. Our personal time will be overrun with conference calls, deadlines and emails, and our work days will be invaded by pediatrician appointments, dry-cleaner runs and the hope of a lunch date with our friends or significant others. What I’ve learned is simple: there is no equal balance. What we must do is keep our own spiritual, physical and emotional well-being moving in concert with all that we have been blessed to manage in our work and personal lives. Multi-task with meaning and prioritize with purpose. And, please - know that it’s perfectly acceptable to drop the ball every now and again. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM




HEN WE SEE a professional peer who is behind the eight ball, our natural inclination is to steer clear. We don’t dare get involved. I suggest the opposite approach, however. I believe we should become engaged to help. Because when you help others become more successful, everyone wins. You’ll feel better about yourself; the person you helped will be grateful and others will admire your behavior. Better yet? They might even pay it forward. I have spent a vast portion of my career helping, teaching and coaching others. Sometimes I was teaching leadership principles – and a few illustrative stories – in a classroom. In Tractor Supply stores, I connected with retail workers by sharing stories that demonstrated struggles I encountered in my career that were similar to their own. Even during meal times, I coached by asking questions, encouraging conversation and relating universal truths in business. Today I continue helping others by giving speeches on leadership, coaching several local business leaders and spending time with younger business and community leaders who are working their way up the ladder. However, through these many iterations, I’ve found that real leadership takes place when more serious issues are at stake. If you see someone who is having trouble professionally or personally – from a basic performance shortfall to a serious relationship conflict – take the initiative to help. Below are tips on how to jump in effectively: ENGAGE A FRIEND IN NEED. Spend time to let a friend know you are ready to help. Be proactive. You might share a similar past experience to show the person that you are sympathetic and concerned. You may be shocked to learn how much they will benefit from your willingness to guide them. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN. Ask for an overview of the situation. Listen and learn. Try to assess your friend’s current emotional status and begin to think about some appropriate ways that you can help. FACILITATE THE RIGHT SKILLS. If the issue is basic performance, some simple coaching might be in order. You could enlist someone else in the organization who already possesses the right skills or seek an outside coach. Hard work, diligence and being coached on the right skills can usually help an individual rebound from a shortfall in workplace performance. COACH THROUGH CONFLICT. A more difficult situation may arise when your friend has a personal conflict with a peer or boss. In this case, it’s time to listen, probe and challenge, reopening the conversation in a calm fashion and in a neutral location. Sometimes a simple apology can put the issue to rest quickly. If not, you may want to enlist a human resources professional to work toward mutual resolution.

The challenge is to take the initiative to help someone who you know needs it. You’ll feel empowered, you’ll earn the respect of others and you might just become a cultural hero in your company. Helping others become successful is one of the most rewarding things you can achieve in your career–and life.

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







ALL THE HARD work to put Tennessee on the entrepreneurial map is paying off – and showing off. The progress was evident this summer at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville. More than 1,000 people gathered in a beehive of activity for what is being defined as the marquee entrepreneurship event in the Southeast. The number in attendance is double the figure for the first conference held five years ago. Known as the 36|86 Entrepreneurship & Technology Conference, the event brought innovators and investors together and was attended by the likes of FedEx founder Fred Smith and Wal-Mart executive Jeremy King. The conference is a production of Launch Tennessee, a publicprivate partnership designed to promote entrepreneurship and support the creation and development of high-growth companies in Tennessee. Launch Tennessee was formed as a spin-off of the state Department of Economic & Community Development to focus on early-stage businesses. Its CEO, Charlie Brock, heralds 36|86 as one of the five primary reasons Tennessee is a startup-friendly state. The most successful element of the conference, he wrote in a blog after the event, is the relationships sparked between investors, entrepreneurs, Launch Tennessee staff and its partners. That collaboration is one essential element in building the entrepreneurial spirit regionally. With its partners and the support of the governor and legislature, Launch Tennessee has created Entrepreneur Centers to connect startups with mentors and investors,




provided funding in the form of grants to support workforce development and sponsored pitch events in partnership with 10 universities, providing winners $15,000 each for their budding businesses. Launch Tennessee also has launched specific programming to support women entrepreneurs, and statistics indicate the effort is paying off. In 2016, WalletHub, a personal finance website known in part for free consumer tools, ranked four Tennessee cities among the top 15 in the country for female-owned businesses. Tennessee cities got three of the four top spots. “Thanks to our collective work,” Brock wrote, “Tennessee has emerged as a model for states across the country seeking to leverage available resources to help entrepreneurs.” To hone the spirit of entrepreneurship is simply a matter of helping people become successful, Brock said. It’s part skills development. It’s part helping innovators get access to capital. It is skills development and mentoring. In Tennessee, local investors are increasingly putting their risk capital to work, and they’re finding a greater quantity of highquality deals. Capital investment in Tennessee more than doubled, from $189 million in 2012 to $428 million in 2016. “We need to continue to attract individuals and groups seeding early-stage startup growth, and we have some exciting programs in place to do so,” Brock wrote. “At the beginning of 2017, Launch Tennessee set a 2020 goal of bringing in $2 billion worth of venture investment over a four-year period, and we’ve met benchmarks that put us on track to hit this target.” THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


More than 100 investment firms were represented at the 36|86 conference, which included a celebration of Southern culture in plates of barbecue and glasses of Tennessee whiskey. With a focus on early-stage businesses, Launch Tennessee provided the perfect brew for the more than 500 entrepreneurs who attended – access to people who hold the purse. A pitch contest featured 13 student-led companies, comprised of promising young entrepreneurs, who competed for $60,000 in prizes. Wal-Mart’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, Jeremy King, was one of the judges. Wyzerr, a Kentucky market research and survey technology company, won the competition. One of the highlights was Gov. Bill Haslam interviewing FedEx CEO Fred Smith. A packed room listened as Smith revealed his strategy for maintaining a world-leading corporation while facing the evolution of the technology that drives the business model. Alan Bentley, director of the Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization at Vanderbilt University, attended the conference with students and other university representatives. He also is on the board of Launch Tennessee. He called 36|86 one of the highlights of his summer and praised it as a great place to network. At the university level, one of the challenges of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, Bentley said, is matching science technology pursuits with investors willing to risk capital in an unfamiliar field. In this region, investors traditionally seek out health care and information


technology fields, for example, not robotic technology, Bentley said. However, “we’ve also made a lot of progress in this realm. In the last five years, we’ve seen investors get more comfortable in fields outside their usual fields of interest.” One of the best things the region has going for it, Bentley said, is its willingness to collaborate and engage. “It’s amazing how many people give up their time to help companies grow,” he said. “It is amazing. They really give of their time and energy to help others.” What’s left to do? Launch Tennessee expects good things from an Angel Tax Credit, which the legislature passed last year, and anticipates this fall to launch a new impact seed fund. The credit was put into motion in January and gives certain early-stage investors who back businesses less than 5 years old a 33 percent tax credit, capped at $50,000 per investor per year Already nearly $1 million has been invested into Tennessee startups since Jan. 1. “Tennessee is now on the entrepreneurial map,” said Launch Tennessee’s Brock. “We have a unique public-private model that is working. We need to continue to increase the amount of early-stage capital sources for the many high-potential startups that are being developed across the state … Our vision is to make Tennessee the most startup-friendly state in the country. Everything we do revolves around helping entrepreneurs succeed so that communities across the state can prosper.”






NSIDE OF A 7,500-square-foot facility located in a suburb of Nashville, Tenn., there lies a wellness empire – home to one of the fastest–growing companies in the United States, and production headquarters to videos that collect millions of Youtube clicks, comments and shares from all corners of the globe. In a side room with cameras, lighting equipment and a large screen set against a rustic wooden backdrop, there can often be found Dr. Josh Axe, renowned chiropractor, clinical nutritionist and educator, whose website garners approximately 13 million unique visits monthly, whose products are sold in more than 6,000 retail stores and who appears so comfortable and organic in front of the camera, gesturing with his hands while spilling his knowledge of bone broth, ketogenesis and turmeric, he may as well be hosting a juicing party in his home. The space feels less like an office, and more like a cozy summer camp recreation hall where creative ideas are being tossed around for the sheer merriment of it. Except Axe and his staff, whose motto is “run to win the race,” are diligent in their workmanship and – they swear – are on a rocketing mission to make all of us healthier. A viral venture that humbly began at his kitchen table, Axe, 35, says his passion for health took root when he was in the seventh grade – a time when his life, breezy and peaceful as he knew it, was thrown a hard ball. While ambling through a hallway in his home after soccer practice one afternoon, he passed the bathroom where he saw his mother, eyes lowered and comb in hand, as her hair fell clump-by-agonizing-clump, landing unmercifully onto the sink. Just months prior, the active 40-year-old mother of two, also a gym teacher and swim instructor, was shocked by a breast cancer diagnosis – which, according to a recent report by the American Cancer Society, is the second leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide. “I watched her age years and years in a matter of weeks, as a side effect of the chemotherapy. Her face was sunken, and she looked defeated. Even as a kid, I remember thinking there had to be a better way than what she was suffering through in order to stay alive,” says Axe. Although pronounced cancer-free following a mastectomy and a round of chemotherapy, for almost the decade that followed, she would be in and out of her doctor’s office – being pricked with needles, filling prescriptions and branded with diagnoses ranging from chronic fatigue, hypothyroid disease to clinical depression. Every day meant retreating home from work so exhausted that she collapsed onto the sofa or bed, immobile for hours, while struggling to recharge enough to prepare dinner for her family. “I could see the overwhelming fatigue,” says Axe. “It was heartbreaking to watch her so sick and tired all of the time.”




Axe claims that it was during this bleak season that an internal rustling was given breath – one that called him to commit his life to some facet of health and wellness. And, as he reached adulthood, this tender rustling metamorphosed into an unshakeable pursuit. While attending classes at the American College of Nutrition in Lexington, Ky., his studies were disrupted by a most formidable phone call: “Josh, I’ve been diagnosed with cancer again,” he heard his mother say on the other end of the line. This time it had plagued her lungs. Axe rushed to the airport to catch a flight home to Ohio. “I was learning from some of the best chiropractors and doctors of functional medicine in the country,” says Axe. “I knew it was my responsibility to offer guidance that could potentially heal her body, naturally and without chemotherapy.” The family banded together, cleaning out their pantry and refrigerator, tossing all of the processed meats, snacks and sweet confections into the garbage can. They ventured to their local natural grocery store, spending almost all of their time combing through the vegetable aisle and filling their cart with an assortment of colors. Axe’s mother began feasting on leafy greens and juicing root vegetables, while flooding her system with turmeric, healing herbs and probiotics every day. “Four months later, she returned to her oncologist and, after completing her CT scan, his exact words were: “I have never seen this before. Her tumor has shrunk in half,’” he says. In one year’s time, she was in complete remission. Axe pulled a key lesson from that arduous period – one that opened his eyes to how daunted and deer-in-the-headlights people become when they find themselves in the roaring belly of a health crisis. “People need to be given step-by-step instructions to feel supported and gain a sense of control in that kind of situation. Teaching is my gift, and so I pride myself on educating people so that they are armed with knowing exactly how to care for their health,” says Axe. Today, seven years after his first Youtube video was uploaded and since having authored multiple books, unfamiliar faces approach him at shopping malls and grocery stores – embracing him and disgorging their private ailments as though he is a lifelong family friend, while announcing all of the ways his guidance has remedied their aging woes, digestive disturbances, weight struggles and – perhaps – even extended their lives. But Axe swears he defines his success not by how many times his face is recognized, his videos viewed, his newsletters shared or his supplements purchased, but by the level of impact his efforts make. To him, that is the ultimate reward. “What I love most about what I do is impacting families. When parents can teach the foundations of nutrition and wellness to their THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


kids, it will carry out to further generations. It then becomes way bigger than me,” he says. To further propel this mission, Axe and his team are amping up for their newest endeavor: an education program where individuals can become certified nutritionists and health coaches. It is scheduled to launch January 2018. Although having found his niche in the realm of wellness, he believes the essential ingredient for any successful undertaking is tapping into the thing that wakes a person up – where their most impassioned values lie. Where the “hot buttons” rest in waiting, hidden under all of the vapid layers of what life and the world and our societal conditionings try to convince us is important. I think what Axe is trying to convey is this: If you want to reach your highest potential during whatever stretch of time you may be granted on Earth, you must find that which gives you the noturning-back feeling, and then be guided by it unflaggingly.

When his mother received her diagnosis six years ago – one that had nested inside of her pancreas – he spent countless nights positioning himself in front of the computer, researching holistic methods for healing her body. “ I was in desperate search of anything I could possibly do to help her,” he says. Ricci’s mother had been given a meager two and a half months to live, so he put her on a strict raw vegan diet, motivating her to laughingly coin him the “Food Buddha.” But in an ‘inexplicable’ stroke of fortune, two and a half months stretched to almost four years. “They did case studies on my mom at her hospital because they were so dumbfounded by her progress. I am 100 percent confident that the strict regimen I made her adhere to extended her life considerably,” says Ricci. Sadly, unlike Axe’s mother, who recently celebrated her 64th birthday and spends her days water skiing, relaxing by the lake and educating other cancer survivors on juicing protocols, Ricci’s mother, who underwent

YOU HAVE TO FIND WHAT MATTERS TO YOU BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO STAY MOTIVATED WHEN LIFE GETS HARD. WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE GIFTS AND TALENTS YOU ENJOY SHARING? WHAT KIND OF ACTIVITIES DO YOU WANT TO ENJOY A DECADE FROM NOW? THOSE ARE THE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF. “I know that I only have one life to live, and I want to give it my best,” says Axe. “My chief end is to know God and serve people, so everything I do just flows out of that. You have to find what matters to you because it’s the only way to stay motivated when life gets hard. What are the unique gifts and talents you enjoy sharing? What kind of activities do you want to be able to enjoy a decade from now? Those are the questions to ask yourself.” Chris Ricci, supply chain manager for Axe’s brands, knows these questions intimately. Ricci, 29, accepted the lofty position earlier this year, leaving behind a job with a major corporation, where his progression was applause-worthy and rapid. “Looking back at my job in corporate America, it’s true that I appreciated the security. I was told I was on a fast path to executive management, but I didn’t find fulfillment in it – not like a do here. I think it’s extremely important to find purpose in what you do, whatever it is,” says Ricci. Like Axe, Ricci knows the gloomy hollows of navigating through the uncertainties of a mother with cancer. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM

sporadic chemotherapy treatments in an effort to supplement her eating plan, was defeated by the disease two years ago. But Ricci believes she is alive and well inside of the walls containing that 7,500-square-foot space, fueling her son’s purpose and Axe’s mission every day. “My drive to wake up in the morning comes from a deep and personal passion in me. I have to make sure these customers have the products they need for their health, when and wherever they need it, every single day,” says Ricci. “Some people get excited when they get an ‘off day’ from working. But when you have a job with this kind of meaning behind it, why in the world would you want to stay home?” In both Axe’s and Ricci’s stories, a similar and profound concept appears to be woven throughout: The true measure of success is not what title your Linkedin says you are, what your bank account says you are or what your number of video views says you are, but the ways you are anchoring the things that have happened to you in your life, finding purpose and motivation through them and impacting others as a result. SUMMER 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE




ANY PEOPLE KNOW BJ Coleman as a former quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, but he’s hung up his jersey and traded it in for a nice suit. In 2016, BJ decided to make the transition from football to insurance because he had developed a large network and wanted to make a name for himself in the business world. “I’ve found that there are a lot of parallels in both worlds,” said Coleman. “BB&T is a company I had connections to through my football career, and it worked out.” As William Taylor said, “Coleman has a competitive nature, and is very personable. I see him as a fresh face; a young person who’s willing to put in the hours, hard work and sacrifice over the years to learn the business and grow within the company.” Taylor is grooming Coleman to take over his role within the company sometime in 2020. “I’m very young, and as a predecessor to Willo, it truly is an honor,” said Coleman. “My job over the next three years is to be


a sponge; learn, fail, and get back up. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with, and Willo and Donna at the BB&T family have been everything.” BB&T is the 5th largest brokerage firm in the U.S. “BJ and I are on the employee benefits side of business,” said Taylor. “We work with employers to control their healthcare costs, enhance the perceived value of benefits to their employees, and simplify the administrative process, keeping employers in compliance.“ BB&T hopes that BJ Coleman will lead their office in matching the growth that has arrived in Nashville. “The target for our company in the next 10-15 years is to leave a large footprint in insurance services sector, and to be the spearhead for that is a big honor.” “You can’t get overwhelmed; it goes back to athletics. That’s the model I use,” said Coleman. “You have to believe in yourself. People are made, but also successful companies are made when they invest in people. That’s how the community is built, and if you can invest in that, you’ve got a shot.”




OW ABOUT A round of applause? Or, better yet, an indication of envy? Or, rather, just tell me how fabulous my life appears to be in comparison to yours. If you can relate, I challenge you to take a closer look at what motivates your social media life, giving yourself permission to be unfiltered... with yourself. I’ll be unfiltered, too. Almost every able-bodied human being over the age of a fetus participates in some form of social media. This includes my definitely-nottech-savvy grandparents. Likely yours, too. I am on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, and am grossly incapable of keeping up with my own social media overload. And I, like so many, have developed a bad habit as a result: I am not always living in the moment. Rather, I’m often revolving about in the social media stratosphere, phone in hand, notifications rolling in, while oblivious to the value of what is right in front of me - which is always to say, I’m too preoccupied with documenting my life for others that I sometimes forget to live it. One day when I have children, grandchildren and, perhaps, a face full of wrinkles, I will be grateful for the pictures I have which captured my wanderlusting freedom and carefree frolicking. But, most of all, I will be aching to relive those moments in my mind. Pictures, videos and other means of documentation are valuable because they assist us in preserving our memories and preventing them from losing their pulse, but what if they also cripple the making of them - creating a distraction from the beauty and importance of the actual experience? WE ARE ALWAYS CONNECTED, YET SO FRAGMENTED... A couple of years ago, an acquaintance of mine made an extensive effort to coordinate which one of our mutual friends would be performing the Facebook “check-in” for the evening. While in route to meet her and a few others for dinner, she sent out a group text message which read: “I’m going to go ahead and let one of you guys check us in at dinner because I’m always the one to do it.” For real? I was amused by her request, but it struck me as a bit unsettling. She was already manipulating and strategizing how she was going to document a moment she had yet to live. It seemed like such a shame. In our society, I often feel as though we devote more time to documenting our ventures and whereabouts, trying to get the lighting and hashtags just right, than we do actually connecting, conversing and creating worthwhile experiences. We are rarely ever present where we are. We may be out with our friends, but are more focused on finding the optimal window light for our selfies, as opposed to actually engaging in conversation. We may be physically out to dinner with our significant others, but instead of locking eyes with them or savoring every flavor or admiring the decor, we are, instead, making efforts to document our whereabouts on SnapChat, Instagram and Facebook. We feel compelled to show up for our audiences but, as a result, fall short of showing up for ourselves. We are always connected, yet so fragmented. While stretching for the illusion of connection to the outside world, we have become disconnected from the point of it all: living. Time spent among friends is often overshadowed by agendas, feeling contrived and staged. Social media breeds and feeds shallow connections, and I find myself ravenous for deeper, more meaningful connections now more than ever. I crave eye contact. I want to see faces light up with epiphanies. I want to intimately witness a spark of an idea become a blazing inferno - right before my eyes. I don’t want a picture to prove it; I want to feel it in real time. THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


The truth is: We are starving ourselves while gorging on our incessant compulsions to perform. Worst of all, it is a viciously contagious epidemic - one I am not immune to. I have sorely fallen prey to the social media monster, despite my hunger for what I know it can never, ever satiate in me: authentic, sanctified connection. And, I’m not at all alone. While at coffee shop not long ago, I observed two 20-something girlfriends as they posed, pouted and clicked - resulting in about thirty pictures. This was executed in less than 30 minutes, all the while discussing their social media unravelings. During their time together, I lost count of how many instances I heard them reference Instagram, SnapChat and Twitter, for it dominated 80 percent of their conversation. Most intriguingly, they did not part ways without one of them compulsively burying her face in her phone and editing their new pictures. I watched as they sat next to each other in silence, one staring at the other as she edited like a maniac. It was as eye-opening and revealing as it was hysterical and entertaining. The obsession was evident, and it was clear that their driving force and motivation was not so much to capture the time spent with a friend as it was proving a point to their audience. They were on stage. And, I cringed to admit having seen myself in parts of it. In fact, with social media, we are all on stage and are often seeking the most robust, roaring and ground-shaking rounds of applause. We often sacrifice the authenticity of our relationships for our delusions of relevance and the false sense of standing in the spotlight. It’s trickery. EXCUSE ME; I’M HIGHLY OFFENDED BY YOUR LACK OF SOCIAL MEDIA INTEREST... It is difficult to not be offended if your photos do not receive as many “likes” or comments as the next individual garners. It is difficult to not compete for more social media admiration than your business competitor or friend. I think the most unfortunate aspect, however, is simply that our observers will ultimately receive all of the entertainment out of our lives because we will have been too preoccupied to enjoy it. We may be living colorful and whimsical existences for our audiences, but what about our own fulfillment? What about enjoying that jaw-dropping sunset? What was the actual experience like to - gasp! - live? Will we even know? This is what I daringly propose: How about you take my hand and step off of the stage with me from time to time. We can climb onto the “Off the Stage and in the Moment” bandwagon together, for at least a few hours a day on occasion. Such fun it will be actually making eye contact - no phone in hand and no distractions, while having a conversation without worrying if the lighting is flattering or if your mother will find your outfit offensive. Let us breathe, be cognizant within our experiences and observe the lessons and wonders they may be offering. Let us marvel at the faces in front of us. Let us actually live a little, and not worry so much about proving to others how magnanimously we are living. I’m just being honest. #GetInTheMomentMovement The original version of this article was published to the brainchild of Managing Editor Lacey Johnson. The site encourages readers to “Get Real, Get Liberated and Live Boldly” by serving up beauty, wellness and inner life illumination, woven through unapologetic truths. SUMMER 2017 | THE CONNECT MAGAZINE





ERRY FERNANDEZ’S “AHA” moment happened many years ago. He was an apprentice cook at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, and an unusual number of African-Americans came in for a dinner event. The chef was accustomed to cooking the filet mignon medium rare, but he was warned to prepare it medium well this time. It’s what his customers would expect, but the chef did not listen. He cooked some 400 steaks at medium rare. “Just like clockwork,” Fernandez said, “those steaks started to come back. That was my earliest lesson on being culturally intelligent. In early black America, they cooked everything well, to make sure they didn’t get sick. The preference stuck.” Fernandez culturally identifies not with the descendants of black American slaves but with the nation of Cape Verde on the northwest coast of Africa. His descendants came from there, located on the northwest coast of Africa, but Fernandez also claims ties to the Spanish. In fact, his father spoke Spanish. At an early age, Fernandez was exposed to the nuances of nationality and ethnicity. As a man of color, he saw “the good, the bad and the ugly” of society’s handling of race and class. But he didn’t imagine that day in the kitchen that he’d become what the chief financial officer at the National Restaurant Association called “the leading voice of cultural intelligence for the past 20 years.” 48



As president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance, or MFHA, Fernandez spends his workdays now with some of the country’s foremost leaders in his industry. He founded MFHA to help companies discover the economic benefits of diversity and inclusion and provide information to build cultural intelligence throughout the industry. Because of his and his team’s workshops, webinars, conferences and hands-on instruction, cultural intelligence – the capacity to relate and function effectively across cultures – is a growing phenomenon. “Gerry’s going to change the world,” said the National Restaurant Association’s CFO, Marvin Irby. “The word ‘passion’ comes to mind. You cannot spend time with him and his team and not come away truly inspired.” Fernandez found a final bit of inspiration to create MFHA in a trade journal. It was the mid-1990s, and he was flipping through a magazine when he saw an advertisement for a women’s foodservice organization focused on creating opportunities for women in the industry. “Why isn’t there an organization to increase opportunities for people of color?” he wondered. Working for General Mills in Minneapolis at the time, Fernandez assembled representatives of 17 companies in Chicago to discuss the concept of creating just such an organization he envisioned. A year THECONNECTMAGAZINE.COM


later, MFHA was incorporated, and Fernandez became a “loaned executive” from GM to run the fledgling organization full time and pursue the mission of bringing “the economic benefits of diversity and inclusion to the food and hospitality industry by building bridges and delivering solutions.” Today, MFHA consists of 60 corporate members. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but there’s still large portions of companies in our industry that aren’t on board with this,” Fernandez said. “As long as they’re making money, there’s no motivation. But millennials don’t have the baggage of boomers. They’re more inclusive, so, the dial is moving.” Fernandez urges companies to build a multicultural strategy rather than wait for a misstep that’s splashed all over social media, bringing down a business’ reputation and brand. He also urges companies to include people of color into their workforce at all levels. You can’t get good talent, he said, if you don’t have people succeeding who look like the job applicant, he said. At one company, executives wondered why talented workers weren’t applying for upper management jobs and queried MFHA for help. Fernandez clued them in – for some Latinos, especially those from Central America, a promotion isn’t asked for, it is given as a reward for good work. These Latinos may feel overlooked and undervalued and leave the company after they feel they’ve been passed over. “This is a case of understanding what culture norms are and going to Hispanic employees and communicating to them, saying, ‘You must apply,’” said Fernandez.

To Fernandez and others who support his cause, cultural intelligence makes more sense in the foodservice industry than perhaps anywhere. Fiftysix percent of the workers in the industry are women and people of color. According to the National Restaurant Association, one out of every four people have worked in a restaurant, and lots of people are eating out. “For many of us, it’s where we learned our first job skills,” said NRA’s Irby, “and everyone has a favorite restaurant.” More and more companies are adopting cultural intelligence, Irby said. “It’s probably needed more than ever before.” Fernandez and his team – their arguments and their workshops and other instructional opportunities – have been a unifying force, Irby said. Pepsi and Coca-Cola, for example, are fierce competitors who “don’t agree on anything, but they both decided to support Gerry. That’s really a tribute to Gerry,” Irby said. Fernandez hammers the benefits of diversity inside the workplace with one primary argument. Money. He believes that for business people, the color green trumps shades of brown. He credits the Rev. Jesse Jackson with revealing to him why people of color have excelled in sports so notably but not as notably in the upper ranks of other professions. “It’s because the rules are public … and the playing field is level ... and the goals are clear. We want MFHA to help people figure out how the game works. It’s about giving people the opportunity to function at their highest level,” Fernandez said. If employees aren’t performing or being utilized at their highest potential “you’re leaving money on the table,” Fernandez said. “That’s the most respected argument – diversity makes sense.”





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.

Profile for The Connect Magazine

The Connect Magazine Summer 2017  

The Connect Magazine is a quarterly lifestyle publication and online media source committed to engaging our diverse audience through empower...

The Connect Magazine Summer 2017  

The Connect Magazine is a quarterly lifestyle publication and online media source committed to engaging our diverse audience through empower...