Be patient. It takes time. You have to walk before you can run. There were so many times after losing TJ, that I wanted to run my own show. I desperately wanted to be where I am now. But I wasn’t ready. I needed to heal, heal, heal. I needed to learn. I needed to gain experience. I needed to make mistakes. I needed to become the person who was ready for the life that I wished for. So I went to grief counseling. I cried my eyes out. I punched the shit out of my punching bag. I took production and hosting courses. I created a blog and shot my first series. I wrote about food. I moved to New York City. I worked for a food personality. I asked people in the industry for advice. I did what they said. I made more shows. I made mistakes. I made more shows. And eventually, I became an Executive Producer and Host of my own shows. By then, I could handle it. And I’m just getting started.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carole Mac
With over 15 years of experience, Carole Mac’s mission is to enhance joy, fun, and inspiration through food and wine. She is the Executive Producer and Host of shows featuring the world’s best chefs, sommeliers, and winemakers on Wine4Food.com. Her latest series Somm School Insider follows her journey inside the oldest wine school in the country, the Sommelier Society of America, and appears on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Play through BINGE Networks, ROKU, and Wine4Food.com.
Carole’s food and wine career began by creating a culinary event company in Chicago offering private chef dinners, cooking classes, and wine pairings. After selling that company, she honed her journalism skills as a columnist for multiple publications including Edible Communities. Carole later became Editorial Director for the James Beard award-winning food journal Rosengarten Report.
Carole’s food film short Oh My Rodgrod! was selected to appear in the New York City, Chicago, and Devour Food Film Festivals, and her Amazon bestselling children’s book The Gift of the Ladybug has raised over 25K dollars for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Her educational background includes a BA in marketing with Academic All-American honors as Co-Captain of Michigan State University’s gymnastics team and an International MBA from Henley Business School in the United Kingdom. She has been featured on ABC, CBS, and NBC. Watch to see if she becomes a certified sommelier on Wine4Food’s series Somm School Insider, and follow her food and wine adventures on www.carolemac.com and @carole.mac.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Carole! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Happy to! I grew up loving food. My greatest joy was helping my mom in the kitchen. My family never stopped talking about our favorite dishes. It seemed that every birthday and vacation revolved around food. We lived in Columbus, Ohio, and my childhood was pretty idyllic. I’m beyond grateful for that. My family was also entrepreneurial. My mom stayed at home and sold a line of high-fashion clothing out of NYC, volunteered, and worked on sewing and needlepoint projects when she wasn’t in the kitchen. My dad built his career from the ground up in commercial real estate. My sister learned tons of languages and went on to explore the world. We were taught to go after what you want, be creative, work hard, and make it happen. As I grew older, I became obsessed with gymnastics. I couldn’t get enough of it, even though it meant sacrificing a lot of teenage fun and spending 25 hours a week in the gym. Fortunately, all that hard work paid off and I earned an athletic scholarship to Michigan State University. With all of that training, plus the extreme dietary restrictions of gymnastics, I grew to love food even more.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?
Essentially, I made both of my passions into careers. First I made my love of sports into a career. I began with unpaid internships at the best companies I could find IMG and the United States Olympic Committee. From there, I spent two years going after a job at Nike, and finally got it! It was a dream job, and I loved every minute. Until one day, I realized that although it was a dream job, it was still a corporate job. And I’m just not a corporate girl. This was my “ah-ha” moment. After much soul-searching, I learned that I really wanted a future in food, to work for myself, and create things from scratch. So I got an MBA, studied entrepreneurship, and started a culinary company as soon as I finished school. I’ve never felt more alive.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I didn’t get this right the first time. But I learned that you have to have a sound business model to make your passion work; heart is not enough the numbers have to work.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
My advice is to try it as a side hustle first. Test your concept without the pressure of making a living. Take your time, learn what works, and try your passion on to see if it fits. What you learn may surprise you. And if it fits, you will be much more equipped to turn your passion into your career.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I have two tricks for this one. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, says that “everything in life comes with its own version of a shit sandwich.” When I get frustrated, I remember that there is always a “shit sandwich” no matter what path I choose. Remembering this stops me from idealizing other choices, and helps me separate the “shit sandwich” from my passion. My second trick is to systematically infuse joy into my life and career. If I have a big deadline, I light candles at my desk, brew a special tea, or download a playlist for background music. I also plan rewards for work well done like going to Chinatown for my favorite soup dumplings, taking a long bike ride, or spending a night out with my girls. They work!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I adore the thrill of creating things that didn’t exist before such as events, books, films, and shows. I also love controlling my own schedule, working from home, and the self-reliance it takes to create your own future. But I definitely miss working with a team every day. I combat the solitude of working from home with work sessions with our fantastic team, cinematographer, editors, and publicist throughout the week.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I still do the grunt work. I can be found gluing costumes in the middle of the night, washing glasses, ordering lunch, and lugging camera gear just as often as I can be found creating shows, writing scripts, recording voice-overs, and hosting shows.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Many times. I think that’s human. But I made a promise to myself that I would stay the course to make my dream a reality, and I haven’t been willing to throw in the towel yet. When I waiver, I remember that good ‘ol “shit sandwich.” I ask myself if I would rather eat my current “shit sandwich,” or eat one with a side of 9–5p?
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I decided that I wanted to create and host my own shows, I started by shooting videos for my blog. In my first intro, I led with “I’m a professional food writer…” I later learned that if you have to tell someone that you are a professional, you’re probably not that good. Haha.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Oprah all the way! She inspires me for countless reasons, but mainly because she is fulfilling her life’s purpose in the biggest way possible, aligned with her higher power, serves with joy, and continually changes the world for good. All while being exceptional as well as extraordinarily successful.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
So far I’ve served mostly around the subject of my son. 11 years ago, I lost my sweet boy TJ to a terminal illness. In the midst of his illness, I watched him live more powerfully than I have seen any other human live. He mastered living without fear. He knew that he was sick, but he was still okay. He was much bigger than his illness. When he was in pain, he was just in pain. There was no fear attached. He wasn’t afraid of the next painful moment. He lived in peace, loved fiercely, laughed huge belly laughs, and had an amazingly happy life, despite being terminally ill. He showed us how to thrive in every circumstance. Two years after TJ passed away, I published my children’s book The Gift of the Ladybug inspired by TJ’s lessons to help other children and their families. It was one of my proudest moments. Two years after that, I used my book to raise money to send the incredible Ivory Dakota Isaac, brain-cancer survivor, on her first trip to New York City! Next, I surprised the amazing mitochondrial-warrior Katie Hebert with an American Girl Doll party in Texas. So far, we have raised over 25,000 dollars to help children with terminal illnesses, and I can’t wait to do more.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be patient. It takes time. You have to walk before you can run. There were so many times after losing TJ, that I wanted to run my own show. I desperately wanted to be where I am now. But I wasn’t ready. I needed to heal, heal, heal. I needed to learn. I needed to gain experience. I needed to make mistakes. I needed to become the person who was ready for the life that I wished for. So I went to grief counseling. I cried my eyes out. I punched the shit out of my punching bag. I took production and hosting courses. I created a blog and shot my first series. I wrote about food. I moved to New York City. I worked for a food personality. I asked people in the industry for advice. I did what they said. I made more shows. I made mistakes. I made more shows. And eventually, I became an Executive Producer and Host of my own shows. By then, I could handle it. And I’m just getting started.
- Believe. The more you believe in yourself, the faster it happens. I learned this lesson over and over again in gymnastics. And it’s true for all of life. When I was learning how to do a backflip on the high beam, for instance, I had to see it in my mind before I could do it on the beam. I started by doing a backflip on a line on the floor. Then I moved to a low beam. Then I moved to a higher beam. Each time, I gained belief in my ability. Eventually, I could see myself completing a backflip on the high beam. Now I was ready to try it for the first time safely. All of those steps prior to the flip were about gaining belief in myself. Once you truly believe it, you will have it.
- Be committed to the overall intention, but surrender how you will get there. Two years ago I dreamed of going to sommelier school and shooting a series following my journey. I was convinced that I knew exactly how to make it happen. I would partner with one particular school, and it would be amazing. So I pitched the concept to that school. They loved it, but for some reason, they did not pull the trigger. I kept going back to them to pitch new ideas. I was forcing it. I finally let go and opened up to approaching other schools. Literally the next day I got an email from the Sommelier Society of America. I approached them, set up a call, and within five minutes, we had a deal. They were the perfect fit! I wasted two years beating the drum of how I thought it must go. But once I surrendered, my dream came knocking in five minutes. And I’ve never had more fun making a show than I did making Somm School Insider with the Sommelier Society of America.
- Alignment with your greater power is where you should look for guidance. Every time I stop long enough to listen to my inner guidance, things move faster. By this, I mean meditate, listen to music, go on long walks, or whatever I need to do until I can hear my heart. When I do this, magic happens.
- Know your value! You are braver, more resilient, more capable, and more powerful than you know. Trust yourself. You’ve got this. I learned this as I was losing my son, and then recovering from his loss. I had no idea how I could possibly face TJ’s illness and death. But with a lot of grace, courage, and support from my family and friends, I did it. And then I had to face life without him. Another terrifying reality. But I committed to myself that I would not let grief define me. So I just kept releasing my pain and doing the work, day after day, and year after year. Until one day, I realized that I was happy again. I did it! This is the biggest accomplishment of my life. And now I know for sure that we are braver, more resilient, more capable, and more powerful than we know.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What would you do if you only had one year left?” This is my own quote actually. After losing my son TJ, my whole life collapsed. I was miserable. Viscerally and wholeheartedly miserable. But I made that promise to myself that grief would not define me. So I had to do something drastic. I asked myself, “What would you do if you only had one year left?” Well, I would eat my way through Northern Italy! I figured that this once-in-a-lifetime food adventure would thrill me so much that I would actually want to get out of bed in the morning. I packed my bags and went on a 10-week working farm tour through Emilia-Romagna harvesting olives, making cheese, and crushing grapes. It was incredible. And guess what? It worked. My trip to Italy gave me something to look forward to that did not involve my pain. It brought me into the present moment and infused joy into my life when I needed it most. Plus, it left me with a memory that was new, fresh, and did not involve my pain. I had figured out how to pull myself out of grief. From then on, I systematically created mind-blowing food adventures, large and small, over and over. And eventually, I became truly happy again. Now, every year, I ask myself “what would you do if you only had one year left,” and then go do it. It’s a recipe for a joy-filled life.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The joy movement! I encourage us all to intentionally and systematically infuse joy into our lives. Lean into our passions, and add joy to our days, over and over. And at least once a year, do something that you would only do if you had one year left to live.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oprah. Reese Witherspoon. Gabrielle Burstein. Elizabeth Gilbert. Cheryl Strayed. Jay Shetty. Lewis Howes. Giada De Laurentiis. Antoni Porowski. Bobby Flay. Rachel Ray.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you! It’s been an honor.