Are you familiar with the whiskey brand – Uncle Nearest? 

I first heard about this whiskey from a New York Times article. And initially, I was more focused on and drawn to the story about the enslaved man who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey than I was the story of the woman behind this new whiskey brand.

According to the Nearest Green Foundation, Nathan “Nearest” Green is the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States. One reason this is pretty significant, is that Nearest, who was born into slavery, is credited for having taught Jack Daniel how to distill Tenessee whiskey. The result of Nearest’s tutelage of Jack is one of the “best known whiskey brands in the world” – Jack Daniel’s!

Since its debut in 2017, Uncle Nearest has won more than 150 awards. 

I heard about all the accolades this fast growing whiskey brand was racking up. I knew of people who’d enjoy it, but I had not yet had the pleasure of tasting it myself. That is until a lovely client surprised me with a bottle. I’ll get back to this in a second, because her gift extended far beyond my lovely bottle.   

Fangirl Moment

I became enthralled by Fawn Weaver, the woman behind Uncle Nearest after listening to her conversation with Guy Raz on his podcast, “How I Built This.” 

Turns out she became fascinated by the story of Uncle Nearest after reading a different New York Times article.

The article, which included a photo of Jack Daniel and Uncle Nearest, captured her attention and sparked her curiosity so much that it took her on a journey that led her to buy a farm…the very farm where Uncle Nearest taught Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey!! This decision would eventually lead her to enter the spirit-making industry and launch the Uncle Nearest brand in honor of its namesake.

Fawn and I have never met, but my close friends know how much I fangirl about her – celebrating her success as if she was one of my besties.

I remain in awe of the fact that people whom you’ve never met can inspire you. 

I love this about our capacity as human beings. Because it reminds me of the power of stories and the need to share our stories. 

And whenever I find myself deep in a fangirl moment, I am reminded of a takeaway from a book I read eons ago about how we are always giving something, we just never know what people are taking

This is the case with Fawn and me. Without knowing me, she has blessed and inspired me in a multitude of ways. Here are a few examples:

Norms & Expectations

I left home at 16 to attend college. Fawn left home at the age of 15, because, as she shared with Guy, she “couldn’t be parented.” For several years, she lived in a homeless shelter, Covenant House. 

Our reasons for leaving the nest were entirely different, but I certainly appreciate her clarity of mind to know she needed a different environment in order to thrive. I admire her degree of self-trust to know she could make such a decision…and be okay! 

Leaving home as a teenager would be just one of several decisions that speak to what would become her track record of defying “traditional” norms and expectations.

Uninhibited Confidence

One of the things I tell my clients and remind myself of is this: 

You can’t think your way through a problem or challenge. You have to take action; movement is what gets you to the other side. 

If you listen to Fawn’s conversation with Guy, follow her on social media, or read any of the many articles written about her, it is very clear that she is an action taker. 

This is one of the reasons I feel she exudes so much confidence. It doesn’t exist because she’s gotten every decision right or hasn’t faced challenges with launching the Uncle Nearest brand and running the company since. From my perspective, her confidence exists and builds upon itself because she took action. 

Unintended Futurist

As far as I can tell, Fawn isn’t a professional futurist. But her career, starting with the PR agency she started at 18 (!), exemplifies the thinking and behaviors of social scientists who are trained as futurists

With her PR agency, she had the foresight to see the power and influence of doing product placements for her clients…before this practice became the thing to do. 

She became a best-selling author after starting a blog, “Happy Wives Club,” to counter the narrative that didn’t highlight husbands who supported their wives. Or, if they did, it was done more as a caricature. 

Within a month, her blog had subscribers from “20 different countries,” which caught the attention of a literary agent. With her book* of the same name, she traveled “across six continents and through more than eighteen cities,” to connect with women who, like her, had a healthy and happy marriage. Her stories are of couples who’ve been married for 25 years or more. (*I have not read her book.)

Again, she had the foresight to see there was a substantial appetite for stories about what is working in love and marriage – rather than what isn’t working. 

As someone who loves love, I’m all for couples of any type feeling fully supported by their partner. So, I appreciate her inviting all of us to remember that it is possible to have a thriving relationship and business – concurrently.

In my eyes, her futuristic tendencies illustrate how innovation often begins with simplicity.

Use What You Have

When she started her PR agency, she didn’t have any previous experience. The same is true when she launched the Uncle Nearest brand. 

But, what she did have were her skills of observation, curiosity, conducting research, writing, imagination, relationship development, and intuition. I gather she leaned into all of these (and likely more) to navigate the nuances of the spirit-making industry. 

Hone the Invisible 

I am a person of faith. I embrace the Quaker adage: “When you pray, move your feet.” 

So, I really felt it deep in my bones when Fawn shared an on-going prayer of hers: “God, if this is not for me close this door in a way that I can’t even open and if it is for me, open the door in in a way that no man can close.” 

Some might call it having faith. Others might call it having intuition. Others still may call it serendipity. And some might not believe in God or even have a way to describe that unexplainable combination of effort and otherworldliness. But from my eyes, that doesn’t mean that something bigger than us isn’t at play in our lives and business. 

I normally keep my faith close to the vest; I appreciate how openly she shared hers.

The Gift of Permission

Back to my lovely client: Her gift of a bottle of Uncle Nearest was a beautiful surprise, indeed. What she doesn’t know is this: She also blessed me with the gift of permission

I am a whiskey newbie and always drink it in a bourbon-based cocktail. For all my friends who are whiskey connoisseurs, though, this is a no-no and definitely not something you’d do with Uncle Nearest!

But my client said, “you can drink it with whatever you want!” So, I’ve been doing just that – enjoying it with ginger beer and crushed blueberries and mint! 🙂

Isn’t it interesting how you sometimes need another voice to give yourself permission to go for what you want?

I truly hope you are unable to answer the question that reflects the title of this piece. Because, it was actually never intended for you to be able to do so. 

This missive is about the gifts you get that the people giving them rarely, if ever, know they’ve given to you. And vice versa. 

So…who inspires you from afar and what gifts have they given you?

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