20 Under 40: Shannon Millsaps

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Shannon Millsaps walks her dog Sully.

Shannon Millsaps, 35

Operations manager, Thrive Regional Partnership; Venue manager, Palace Theater; Bartender, Songbirds; Coach, Miracle League of Chattanooga; Member, CHA Nonprofit Alliance Steering Committee; Member, AFP TN, Southeastern Chapter; Member, Young Professionals of Chattanooga; Member, Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute; Member, ACCE; Member, Venture Forward

Mantra: #timesliketheseweremadeforpeoplelikeus

Quarantine projects: I've been staring at a 'House Projects' list pretty much since we bought our house about four years ago. I've marked three out of 11 off the list so far.

What's one thing about Chattanooga you'd change? Our city has a checkered history, especially when it comes to race relations. Systemic issues run deep. I want to see more Chattanoogans show the necessary resolve to fight for change and help make a difference.

What motivates you? I am motivated by a passion to serve others - my community, my team, my family, my friends. That service takes many forms: tracking down much-needed information, drawing on relationships to foster connections, finding ways to support my laid-off hospitality industry family and local artists, even crawling under a friend's house to fix their sump pump before more heavy rain. I find purpose and beauty in meaningful moments of the human experience.

What do you credit for where you are today? Grit. I was raised by a family that instilled integrity, loyalty, resilience and flexibility in me from an early age. I also credit much of my outlook and approach to playing team sports and spending the first 14 years of my adult life in local journalism.

One thing you wish you'd known at the start of your career? That I could live authentically and be successful. As a young gay kid in the South, coming out to family and friends, much less work colleagues, feels dangerous. For many, it's borderline apocalyptic. Society has a way of trying to tell you who you are, but don't listen. You will find success in being yourself.

How did you remain productive during the pandemic? I'm on the third redesign of my home office space, aka the guest bedroom. It took a few trips to bring supplies and equipment from the office, but I finally feel like I have a system that is working for me. I keep my favorite musicians flowing through the speakers, take breaks to walk my dog Sully, and try to remember to give myself a lot of grace. ... I told myself I would approach each day and each challenge with empathy. I believe I've been successful in that.