Thursday, July 18, 2013

Yolanda Harris-Jackson

At The Table with Yolanda Harris - Jackson: Spa Director of Relache Spa at Gaylord Opryland Resort

I met Yolanda Harris - Jackson earlier this year at a reception honoring the two of us along with  20+ other young professional women as nominees for the Nashville Young Professional Athena Award. We both love networking and immediately upon meeting, started talking about career, life, family, etc. She is currently the Spa Director at Relache Spa at Gaylord Opryland Resort, the largest spa in the state of Tennessee. Her journey to get to this point in her career has not come without some hick-ups and she openly shared them with me in the interview. Yolanda is proof that we should always stay open to unexpected possibilities!

Dr. Carmen April:    Hi there Yolanda, let’s get started.  Tell me where you’re from.

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I am originally from Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Carmen April:
    Where did you go to college and what is your degree?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I went to Fisk University, right here in Nashville, Tennessee. 
My degree is in Dramatics and Speech.

Dr. Carmen April:
    Tell me about your first job out of college.  Was it in the hospitality industry?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    That’s a question a lot of people ask me.  How did I end up in the spa world?  What is the track to becoming a leader in the spa world?  When I first entered college, my goal was to be an actress.  I wanted to go to L.A. and be an actress, be the next Halle Berry. I just wanted to go out there and spread my wings and utilize my talent.  I have a talent with communicating, speaking, and inspiring other individuals.  So I went to L.A. for the summer and had a terrible experience.  L.A. is a fantastic place, but for a young college student who did not have a lot of money at all- it terrified me!  Being from the South, I was like “oh my goodness”, maybe I don’t want this bad enough.  I heard some horror stories about the industry while I was out there.  Instead of finding someone who was doing it effectively and being successful at it, I was around the people who were really having a hard time.  That turned me off, so I decided to come back to Nashville to finish college.  At the time, I had that Dramatics and Speech degree and did theater work but also some television work. At the time, I was also doing nails.  When I was a senior in high school, I got my license to do nails. I had a natural talent in doing nails.  All through college, that’s how I paid my expenses.  Not only did I do nails, but I ended up working at a department store.  I worked behind the counter doing makeup so that put me in the makeup field.  I won Miss Black Tennessee in 1995-1996, so that also put me in the beauty industry.  I was kind of swimming in the beauty industry all through college.  Between doing makeup for people as well as doing nails, I started thinking about what a great business it was.  I wanted to learn more about the business side of beauty.  I did not have a big corporate position. I just wanted to learn how this beauty and wellness business works, so I ended up working at a local salon and spa.  At the time, it was one of the first salon and spas in Middle Tennessee that really embraced the concept of a salon and spa combination.  This was in ’94 and the early ‘90s is when that concept really became very popular.  This is a very large facility, a lot of hair stylists and a nice sized spa there.  I worked at the front desk taking reservations, checking people in and out, and things of that sort. A few months later, I started managing that front desk staff.  A few months later, I became the salon manager.  I was trained to really understand how the business worked.
    That was a great experience for me and a great springboard for me to jump into this industry.  That was my first job right outside of college.  At the time, you start thinking “all my friends have these corporate positions making great salaries” and I’m like, “man, I don’t have that working at a local salon and spa.”  But I’m so glad I did and I really enjoyed that experience because I was able to really embrace how the operation of a beauty and wellness business functions. 

Dr. Carmen April:    Along those lines, tell me how you became spa director at Relache Spa.  Which is the largest spa in the state of Tennessee.
    Obviously, you didn’t just become the spa director of the largest spa in the state overnight.   What happened in that interim?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:
   While working at my first job out of college, I got an opportunity to move to South Carolina.  That position, once again, automatically put me in leadership.  I was a spa and salon manager for a department store.  This department store had an Aveda concept salon and spa.  Aveda focuses on natural organic products.  They really believe in the transformation of the person.  It’s a great product line and great experience to work for them.  By the time I left there, I was overseeing three of those locations.  So three different department stores, three salons and spas that were inside of those.  That gave me another springboard in leadership to run spas and salons.  Once I left South Carolina after 3 years, I came back to my hometown of Nashville. I missed Nashville and really wanted the opportunity to come back where family was. Nashville was really beginning to take off and to grow about this time - the very end of 2003.  At the beginning of 2004, I landed a position at a health club and day spa. It was brand-new and wasn’t even open when I got the position.  The position was actually created for me.  The staff was already hired and ready to go.  The owner interviewed me and actually carved out a position for me to oversee.  It was a great opportunity to oversee the retail area as well as oversee the operation of the retail itself and the little juice bar store that they had, etc.  I was a systems expert, so I brought in the right system to use to book appointments, train everybody on that system, and make the system do what we needed for our business.  That was a great opportunity for me, but that did not end well.  After as much time and energy as I put into that organization, I was actually fired from that position.  That was very devastating to me because I was always used to getting promoted and moving on to the next adventure.

When things don’t align with your position and purpose, things begin to fall around you.  You have to understand that when you’re in a career and moving forward, it’s okay to fail.  I had to learn it the hard way.  At the time, I didn’t understand that lesson.  It was really a hard fall for me to the point where I even tried to get out of the industry.  By this time, I had almost eight years in the industry!  When I was job searching, I didn’t just want to land at another local spa and salon.  I wanted another opportunity where I could plant my feet and really make a difference.  I took my time to find that and I looked outside the industry.  But when you find your passion, your passion will follow you.  You cannot run from it!  I’m telling you, you can’t run no matter how hard you try.  I ended up hearing about Opryland opening a spa and I was like, “oh great!”  I got excited about it, got in my car, and drove out to Opryland.  That spa at that time was just a pile of dirt.  I was like, “when is this spa opening? Oh my goodness!  This spa hasn’t even opened!  It’s not even in existence right now.” There was just one sign that said “Coming Soon: Spa.” I was like, “oh that’s great.  I need a job now!” I’m the type of person who needs to find something that I love because one of the best pieces of advice that I ever received is to "find what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life" so I’ve always lived my life that way.   I wanted to find what I love because it kept following me.  I ended up going into the office and interviewing for a position.  I wanted something in leadership because by this time, I’d been leading large teams of 40 to 50 people.  I was just looking for a leadership position because leadership skills are transferable in different areas.  You just need to learn the skill set of whatever industry it’s in.  They said, “We don’t have anything to match your criteria.  We do have a call center position.” I was like, “call center?  That sounds like phones and cubicles.” If anyone knows me, they know that I’m not a phone and cubicle type of girl.  I want to be at the front of the crowd, talking to the crowd, getting everybody riled up and excited about their jobs.   

However, sometimes in life, you have to swallow that big pill and do what your spirit is telling you.  Something told me to just walk into this position.  I did and became a reservation agent at Gaylord Opryland.  Of course, going from a great salary to making an hourly wage that was close to minimum wage was another hard lesson that I had to learn.  But I’ll tell you that it was one of the greatest lessons that I learned and it actually gave me the biggest springboard in my career because I ended up becoming a reservation agent for eight months.  I learned so much about the hospitality industry- how it works, how it functions, how we book appointments, what the guests want, and what they expect.  I never would have learned that had I come in without being in this environment because day spas and resort spas are totally different.  Once they start interviewing my boss in the reservation department who knew all the experience that I had, she said she would keep her eyes and ears open for me when they started to interview.  When they started to interview, I received an interview and actually got the job during the first interview. 

Dr. Carmen April:    That is an awesome career journey Yolanda! Thanks for being so honest about the ups and downs of your story. Switching gears a little bit, can you tell me about the summer enrichment program you founded for teenage girls?  When did you start it, tell me the mission, and how has it evolved since you started it?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I started a youth ministry.  When I got married I instantly became a stepmother into a blended family.  My stepdaughters were teenagers. I had a very young daughter at the time. The teenagers really taught me a lesson on the support that they needed and the love that they needed, so I started with my stepdaughters but most of all. At the church that I worshiped with, we didn’t have any program specifically reaching out to these young ladies, so I decided in 2007 to launch this ministry called Daughters of Destiny.  I also learned that whenever you want to do something, you get great people that are dedicated, loyal, and love the mission around you so that you can do it together.  It is very hard to do something of this magnitude with just one person.  I have a team of people, called our coordinators.  We’ve made Daughters of Destiny what it is today and I’m just so grateful for these dedicated women who have come together to really embrace these young girls.  Most of my girls are around 8 - 18 years old.  We work with them twice a month - second and fourth Saturdays from 12 to 3 o'clock.  We spend six hours, sometimes more, a month just working with their character development, talking about their love of God, and helping them understand that process.  We have workshops on some Saturdays.  We’ll sit down and actually do a lesson or bring in a guest speaker.  On other Saturdays, we take field trips to places they normally don’t go or wouldn’t go.  These are all young ladies that are in at-risk situations, single parent homes, etc.  We try to give them those experiences.  Back in 2010, we were able to raise enough support that I was able to take 28 of those young girls, along with our coordinators, to Disney World!  Once again, an opportunity for them that they normally wouldn’t have.  This year, I’ve got a place in my heart to really work with the transformation of them, to really get into the root of their heart on what they can do and what they potentially can be.  We’re really excited about and glad to see what God is doing with Daughters of Destiny.  We believe that these girls will live in excellence.  We teach them and take out the time to give them that love and serve them.  Then they will continue to live in faith and excellence. 

Dr. Carmen April: 
   That sounds like an awesome program and one that is much needed. To wrap things up, any advice for teenagers, college students, or even young professionals who may feel discouraged because they don’t feel like they’re moving along in either their school path or not moving along fast enough with their career plans and having setbacks?  What type of encouragement or inspirational words would you give to them?

Yolanda Harris-Jackson:    I’ve learned so much in my life thanks to the great mentors and great people that I have wrapped myself around.  One thing I truly believe in is getting your own personal board of directors - your own group of people who can be honest with you, help lead you, and who you can ask questions without feeling like you’re being judged, etc.  Get a group of your own personal directors around you, a circle, a community of people that can be there for you because you don’t have to do this alone.  They can offer various support for your professional life and for your personal life, so mix them all up and have that great support team.  Most of all, I have learned so much especially in later years when I was called in to the ministry.  I have learned that being of service is so much greater and important than anything else in this world!  Unfortunately, we get so hung up on the things that we see and then lack belief in those things we don’t see.  We have to be of service to others without expecting anything in return.  If you just have that mindset, to be of service, without expecting anything in return, things that you wouldn’t even imagine will happen to you!  You just have to be open to receive those things and that’s what I’ve done. 

-- Dr. April

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