Tenesha Irvin is usually the one doling out good advice on her weekly radio show, but at the moment she’s on the receiving end.
Her guest is Rhonda Moore, program director at Aim Center. Moore is on The Tenesha Irvin Show to discuss mental health, but the topic has shifted to the importance of taking mental breaks.
Irvin listens intently as Moore talks about the need to pull away from the things that cause stress in one’s life and recharge. “If you go, go, go but don’t pour anything back in, you’ll eventually go bankrupt,” Moore says. “Invest in yourself by doing things you enjoy, and then you’ll be able to spend that energy on others.”
It’s sage advice for every person, but doubly so for Irvin, 36, who’s not just a radio show host but also a wife, mother, regional sales manager, Realtor and community activist. When it came to spinning plates, Irvin emptied her cupboards.
To keep all that dishware balanced and in motion, Irvin says she siphons fuel from her 6-year-old son, Jayden. “He’s a ball of energy,” she laughs after her show is over.
Irvin is kidding, but it’s only natural to wonder how she can accomplish as much as she does in a day without the needle on her fuel gauge dropping visibly.
This is especially true of Irvin’s three-pronged career, which includes not only her Sunday hosting duties at Groove 93 but also regional sales director for Horizon Hospitality Management, a hotel management company, and agent at Real Estate Partners.
Real estate is Irvin’s newest gig. This casts her in the role of student, with experience being her tutor.
“I like people and talking, so I thought real estate would be a breeze,” she says. “But I had a lot to learn, and I’m still learning and finding my niche and figuring out how to advertise and be authentic to potential clients.”
Irvin talks at a rapid-fire clip, with her thoughts turning into words in an unremitting stream, as though dead air is her nemesis not just during her radio show but every waking moment.
This is evident as Irvin discusses a real estate deal that taught her an important lesson.
“I had a client who was almost to the point of being anxious to sell,” she recalls. “Their home was valued at $175,000, but it had been on the market for eight days, and they wanted to drop the price to $100,000 and sell it that day.
“I said, ‘Whoa, we can’t leave that money on the table. You hired me to be your advocate, and as your advocate, I’m saying that’s not a good decision.’ I had to be smart and not come off as aggressive or as though I wasn’t listening. That was challenging because I knew my client could hire someone else if I didn’t do what they wanted.”
The client listened, and Irvin was able to negotiate a cash deal well above $100,000. Irvin says the transaction taught her the importance of being prepared.
“Cooler heads prevailed, but that showed me how much I need to do my research and then show the client that I’m the expert,” she says. “Then I can come across as confident in what I recommend.”
Although Irvin has yet to reach her second anniversary as a Realtor, she’s already collected several good memories for her mental scrapbook. One of her favorite transactions involved her selling the home of friends who had moved out of town.
“They said, ‘We’re selling our home and we trust you to do it.’ That was a big deal because a lot of people think when you become a Realtor, all your friends will come to you with their real estate needs, but they don’t,” she explains. “You have to hit the dirt and find clients yourself rather than waiting for people to come to you.”
Irvin prepped her friends’ house for sale, listed it and then sold it. The transaction went smoothly, with the residence selling for the asking price and Irvin’s clients receiving the money they expected.
“As a rookie agent, I was blown away by their trust. It made me step up, and when it was over, I felt amazing,” Irvin continues. “They said, ‘When we’re ready to sell more property, we’ll reach out to you.’ That solidified my new career.”
Irvin says the most important lesson she’s learned as a Realtor is that her work is about helping people through a complex process and during a critical moment in their lives. “Being a Realtor is about informing and empowering people, which is what I love to do,” she says with a smile. “It feels good to help make people’s hopes and dreams come true.”
Real estate might be a good fit for Irvin, but there’s still the question of why she does it when she already has several irons in the fire. Her answer: It’s how she’s built.
“I have the time for it, and I believe in having several streams of income. I come from a family of hard workers, and if I’m going to work hard, why not work hard for me?”
“I bring in millions of dollars at my sales job, but those aren’t my dollars. Real estate is for me; it’s entrepreneurial. I don’t mind putting in the extra time to work on me, my business, my goals and my family.”
Irvin traces her vigorous work ethic to her family, which didn’t tell her how to live but showed her.
Irvin spent the first several years of her life in a crowded house in the Avondale community, living with not just her mother but also her aunts and an uncle. Every grown-up who took up residence there worked and strived to improve his or her circumstances, which made a big impression on the young Irvin.
Irvin was 8 when she gained a stepfather and a little elbow room in a nicer, roomier home. As she grew older, she watched her mother, stepfather and extended family members earn promotions at work and move into homes of their own. “All of that empowered me and showed me what was possible,” Irvin recounts.
Irvin’s immediate family eventually moved to North Chattanooga, where Irvin attended Chattanooga High School for Creative Arts. While there, she explored the world of musical theater, performing in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” “Working” and other plays.
New York City called to Irvin as some of her classmates moved to the Big Apple to pursue big dreams, but she was never tempted to answer. “I didn’t want to be a struggling actress, sleeping on the floor of somebody’s apartment,” she says. “I said, ‘No, I’m going to earn a degree.’ I needed something more.”
Irvin graduated from Tennessee State University in Nashville in 2005 with a degree in business administration and moved back to Chattanooga, where she intended to live temporarily. “I was one of those kids who said, ‘As soon as I finish school, I’m outta here. I’m not here to stay; I’m just here for the summer.’ But God had a different plan.”
Irvin believes that plan included using Hurricane Katrina to nudge her future husband, Jacques Irvin, from his home in New Orleans to Chattanooga, where he would cross paths with her. As if by design, the two did meet in 2005; two years later, they married.
By the time Irvin met Jacques, she was already laying the foundation of what would become her multifaceted career. After graduating from college, she found work in the call center at Cigna Health Insurance, where her days in musical theater gave her the kind of phone charisma that opened people up.
Remembering the intentional upward mobility of her family members, Irvin decided to become an underwriter at Cigna. She eventually achieved her goal, but quickly found that the grass was not as green on that side of the fence as she’d thought it was. “Once I was there and saw that it was all about crunching numbers in a cubicle, I was like, ‘This is boring. I want to do sales.’”
Sales positions were hard to come by at Cigna, so Irvin looked elsewhere. She landed at Comcast Spotlight, where she sold television campaigns and internet ads for four years.
While there, Irvin learned how to sell a product and deal with different personalities. She was doing well when EPB moved into Comcast’s space and seized enough of the market that she had to explore other options.
Those circumstances led Irvin to a sales position with Homewood Suites by Hilton Chattanooga-Hamilton Place. After she earned Rookie Sales Director of the Year, Courtyard and Residence Inn by Marriott successfully courted her. Six months later, Irvin switched to Horizon Hospitality, for whom she’s currently sales director for five North Georgia hotels.
Although real estate had always lingered in the back of Irvin’s mind, a Realtor and fellow parishioner at Transforming Faith Baptist Church, Olivia Harvey, pulled her aside one Sunday morning in the fall of 2016 and offered to introduce her to the business. Encouraged by the invitation, Irvin agreed, and by the following spring, she was licensed and ready to go.
Irvin has approached real estate much like she tackled the early stages of her career: Instead of taking a big bite of the apple, she’s trying to make smart decisions and take small, carefully considered steps.
“I could let my income go and dive into real estate, but I’m like, ‘No, I’ll do both jobs until the right opportunity presents itself and forces me to make a change,” Irvin says. “If a developer says, ‘We’re going build 400 homes, and we want you to list them all,’ I’d be like, ‘Guys, I quit. I have to go sell 400 homes.’”
While Irvin is a hard worker, and work often fills her days, she’s more than a salesperson and an entrepreneur; through The Tenesha Irvin Show, she’s also an uplifting voice in Chattanooga and a source of information for some of the less fortunate citizens of the city.
On the show, which airs Sundays at 4:30 p.m. on WMPZ 93.5, Irvin tackles topics of social, cultural or political interest and keeps her listeners informed about current events.
Instead of stirring up hornet nests, Irvin and her co-host, Chattanooga City Councilman Anthony Byrd, keep things positive, whether they’re hosting a discussion about mental illness, chatting with CO.LAB CEO Marcus Shaw about starting a small business, or letting people know about what’s coming soon at the Chattanooga Theatre.
Although the show lasts only 30 minutes, Irvin’s speedy speech enables her to pack what seems like an hour’s worth of material into her short timeframe.
Irvin’s radio days began when Sharon Kelley of Sharon’s Senior Services invited her to co-host the long-running Caring for the Community show. After that gig ended, Irvin knocked on doors at Brewer Media Group, owners of Groove 93, and pitched an idea for her own program.
It was Irvin’s easiest sale. “I’ve always been actively involved in the community, and I felt like information wasn’t flowing freely to every pocket of the city,” she points out. “So, I made it my goal to make that happen.”
Hosting her own radio show has opened additional doors for Irvin, including the ability to bring together dozens of nonprofits, organizations and service providers each year for her community empowerment brainchild, the New Chattanooga Community Expo.
A passionate believer in economic development, Irvin uses the expo to encourage change in the Avondale community and beyond. Once again, instead of focusing on the challenges the people who live there face (which in the past have included violence and poorly performing schools), she hits visitors with a shining ray of positivity.
“I wanted to love on my community. People were always talking about what’s wrong with the city, and I was like, ‘Let’s have fun and grow tighter as a community.’”
While the New Chattanooga Community Expo offers ample entertainment, visitors also learn money management skills, get tips on helping their children improve their grades in school and are taught how to find work and apply for jobs. Visitors have even been hired on the spot.
“We just want to help them change their trajectory,” Irvin says.
Irvin, who’s a graduate of Leadership Chattanooga, has also started down the path of nonprofit service by becoming a member of the Aim Center board. A family member who’s struggled with mental illness inspired her to join the board, as did her own battle with depression while in college.
“That wasn’t a good place to be, but I was able to connect the dots, figure out what I wanted out of life and then go after it,” she says, her voice slowing uncharacteristically.
Irvin resumes her normal gait when asked about her children, which include Jayden and his older sister, Jaylen, who’s 7. Both take after their mother by being very active.
“I leave work early to take Jaylen to dance rehearsal and Jayden to flag football practice,” Irvin adds. “Jacques and I want to expose them to different things, which makes for a more balanced child, not a child who constantly has his nose stuck in a video game.”
The efforts Irvin and her husband are making on behalf of their daughter and son are paying off. Both Jaylen and Jayden are straight-A students, and Jaylen is in the program for gifted children at her school.
Getting there wasn’t easy for Irvin, though, as it threatened to dismantle the structure she needs in her life to function at her fullest capacity.
“My kids are my pride and joy – I love being their mommy – but it wasn’t easy,” she says. “At one point, they were both in diapers. With all the stuff I do, I need to have processes and systems in place; I have to make sure they’re in bed by a certain time and their clothes are ready for the next day.
“My life can’t function without those things. If things get out of whack, then everything has to stop until they’re back in order. When things are in order, I feel better.”
When Irvin was a cast member of “Working” in high school, she sang a song titled “Just a Housewife.”
“Do the laundry, wash the dishes; take the dog out, clean the house. Shop for groceries, look for specials; God, it sounds so Mickey Mouse,” she sang.
The life Irvin went on to live did not imitate her art. Instead, she became what she calls “a goal digger.”
“I’m addicted to goals,” she nods. “It feels good to strive for something and then check it off the list. That’s a great natural high.”
Irvin is fortunate to have a deep reserve of energy, which she credits not to her son but to her faith. “Jesus is my source. He’s given me a purpose,” she says. “Just knowing why I’m here fuels me and keeps me going. I want my life to be fulfilling. I don’t want to just live; I want to thrive.”
Irvin is thriving, but is she taking the mental breaks Moore says every person needs to be revived? Or is she pouring herself out and never filling herself up again?
Irvin thinks back to her radio show earlier in the afternoon. “People needed to hear that it’s OK to slow down. I needed to hear it,” she acknowledges. “I can feel sometimes that I need to take a break before I act out of character.”
Occasionally, Irvin permits herself to step away from everyone and everything for a few minutes. She also enjoys spending downtime with her family, whether they’re competing in a dance battle at home, going to the movies, or taking a trip.
Moore says she is pleased to hear Irvin is taking those breaks - not because doing so will give her the energy to help the people of Avondale, or negotiate a good deal for a real estate client, or drive her children to a track meet – but because they remind Irvin that it’s important for her to focus on herself as much as she does everything else.