One of the comments I hear regularly is that I’m lucky to be involved with genetic genealogy and the opportunities it offers. I agree, I am very fortunate, but luck, per se, has little to do with it. Luck is buying the winning lottery ticket. I haven’t managed to do that yet, although I’m still trying.
In the mean time, while I waited for Lady Luck to smile on me, I prepared, just in case I’m never “lucky.”
Everyone needs at least one really great teacher in their life. I was fortunate to have three, the first of which was Mrs. Alsup, followed by my step-father, Dean Long, who told me that “Luck favors the prepared and elbow grease,” and then with Joe Caruso.
Mrs. Inez Alsup was my English teacher in high school who taught me an extremely valuable lesson, one I really didn’t understand that I had learned or the depth of its value until nearly 25 years later.
I’ll add that she was a black woman, but in saying that, I also want to say that to me, she was just Mrs. Alsup and black or white mattered not one iota. I never thought of her in those terms. It’s just that looking back, I realize what a pioneer she really was and have a much greater respect for what she had to overcome to achieve what she did. It was from the depths of those experiences that she spoke to me.
She was a black woman, born in 1938 in the deep south, in Georgia, who obtained both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, became a teacher, then an administrator and assistant principal before retiring.
But Mrs. Alsup was tough, really tough. She was tougher on me than on anyone else and I felt she was extremely unfair.
As an adult, I fully understand why, and I appreciate it beyond expression. But I wasn’t an adult back then.
Mrs. Alsup saw my potential, and she comprehended something I didn’t. Women, in that day and age, had to be better to be equal. They had to excel, and excellence had to be absolutely unquestionable. Good wasn’t good enough.
On top of being a female, I was a mixed race female, and she understood all too well what that meant. I did not. Consequently, I was extremely unhappy with Mrs. Alsup.
“Next Time, Earn It”
Mrs. Alsup refused to give me an A that I fully believed I deserved. I was one-thirty-second of a point away from that A.
One. Thirty. Second. Of. A. Point.
Using math to average and round up, I could fully justify why I should have that A, but Mrs. Alsup was completely unswayed. Other teachers do this as standard practice, I argued. She patiently heard me out, and then she looked at me, dead straight in the eye, leaning forward over her desk until her face was just inches from mine, squinted her eyes at me and said, or rather kind of hissed, “Next time, earn it.”
I was furious, utterly furious. Mrs. Alsup was entirely unfazed as I stormed out of that room with an attitude and a half.
I did earn it, damn it, I did!
But, I really hadn’t. I had been almost good enough. Not good enough. Not better. Just almost. Not quite. Almost isn’t good enough.
But guess what…the next semester, and the next, I earned that A, and then I earned an A+ followed by what was called an A5, which was a 5 point A, as compared to a “regular” 4 point A.
Mrs. Alsup was right – if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, completely and unquestionably. I learned to be undeniable and it served me very well from that time forward in my life, but it wasn’t until I met Joe Caruso that I fully internalized the lesson Mrs. Alsup had taught me.
Until I truly understood the value of undeniability, and could put words to the phenomenon, I was unable to leverage it effectively.
Joe Caruso, founder of Caruso Leadership Institute, is a cancer survivor (as a teenager) with a high school education. Yet, he consults with and to America’s largest corporations. Joe is an unprecedented teacher and leader and he does not know the meaning of the word “can’t.” If you ever have the opportunity to hear Joe speak, just do it.
In 1997, I attended a seminar, (quite by accident actually), taught by Joe which turned out to be a clarifying, life-changing event. You can download, for free, Joe Caruso’s Success Strategies, one of which is to “Be Undeniable.” Indeed. Joe’s Success Strategies poster has remained on the wall by my desk through three moves and more than two decades.
Yes, I’m lucky, fortunate and blessed to have had Inez Alsup, my step-father AND Joe Caruso enter my life at the moments I needed a lesson.
On that fateful day that I was infuriated by Mrs. Alsup, I learned what it meant to be undeniable, although at that time I didn’t understand undeniability as a strategy.
A year later, I put that lesson to use when I attended a school board meeting, refusing to be excluded from a college prep class because the school wasn’t going to “waste the seat on a girl who’s just going to get married anyway.” They were going to “give it to a boy who would make something of himself.” I made my case and refused to leave. I obtained that seat in the class. I didn’t realize at the time that I had internalized Mrs. Alsup’s lesson.
Some two decades later, Joe Caruso would verbalize this golden rule of opportunity and made me realize the important life lesson that Mrs. Alsup had taught – far more important, at least to me, than the English class or the grade itself.
I wish I could personally thank Mrs. Alsup, but she passed away in 2010. My Dad’s gone too, but I can still thank Joe Caruso. In their honor, I would like to convey these very simple messages:
- Luck favors the prepared and elbow grease. (Thanks Dad.)
- Earn it. (Thanks Mrs. Alsup.)
- Be undeniable. (Thanks Joe Caruso.)
And in case you’re wondering just how this applies to genetic genealogy, this is exactly the strategy I used to make the risky move of switching careers in the early/mid 2000s to genetic genealogy which was at that time a brand new field. It’s not luck, it’s thanks to Mrs. Alsup, Dad, Joe and a whole lot of continuing elbow grease. 😊
However, I am still buying lottery tickets. It never hurts to be both prepared AND lucky. Fingers crossed!