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!
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Beautiful story, well told.
Great post! I was right there with you and your indignation at not making the grade. Wonderful to hear how you applied the tough lessons in life.
You have a wonderful and very inspiring story. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Roberta. A REAL BOOST — a perfect message for a hot summer day.
Are you Native American and Caucasian, is that what you meant by being mixed race? I loooove Mrs. Alsup. I’ve had several Mrs. Alsup’s that give no quarter but make a person a better being.
I’m Native, Caucasian and African.
African? Which of your ancestors is African? Do you have any African stories, or are you blocked by the lack of records?
My African lineage comes through my Estes line. I don’t know which person, exactly, but it has to be through one of the wives because the paternal Estes line goes back to Kent. In time, with enough testers and perseverance, I hope to break through that wall too. In Halifax County, there are a number of court records confirming mixed race relationships, some of which are prosecutions of white women for fornication and adultery with black men. Unfortunately, not everyone can be placed in a family and generations preceeding this are sketchy and difficult. So yes, I’m blocked on that line. There is another potential line as well, also blocked.
I’ve seen your ethnicity estimates. If you’re mixed race, EVERYONE’s mixed race. You’re 99.1 % European on MyHeritage, 90% European. 9% Middle Eastern on FTDNA (not an uncommon result on FTDNA for someone who’s part German). 97% European on Ancestry. These are very common results for an American of European descent. While you might have a tad bit of African and Native American in your mix, you had to look hard for it, which if you’re actually mixed race, you don’t have to look hard for it.
Actually, ethnicity estimates are only part of the story. I have ancestors with confirmed Y and mitochondrial haplogroups confirming heritage other than European, combined with actual records. Ethnicity washes out. Haplogroups don’t and neither do records that confirm that heritage as well.
I wish growing up my family I am adopted had required more of me they let me slide with the “do your best” and if that was a C well alright then. I found out when I found my biological family how intellectually smart they were I wish I had been pushed harder. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Loved your story, thanks for sharing.
Thanks for a great story, Roberta. Mrs. Alsup’s Find a Grave memorial needs some of your input. 🙂
I wonder if I can put a link to this article there.
Thanks for mentioning this. I suggested an update and hope they will make the change.
Great article. It brought back memories for me. For my senior year of high school in 1959-1960, I had to take physics so I could qualify with enough credits with a math and science major and qualify for college. We had to “run for classes” in that we had to go to each teacher’s classroom and obtain the teachers signature which would allow us in the chosen class for that year. The physics teacher did not want to sign my class plan so I could be in his class. He said I would take the place of a boy going on to college. Somehow, I managed to get him to sign the class plan allowing me to attend his class. He did not make it easy for me and he seemed to be very unhappy to see me sitting in his class each day. It turned out that I made it to college, went on to work at NASA’s flight operations during the Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo program. I changed careers due to family health issues and some years later qualified to be the first person hired in the field of diet and cancer prevention at a major cancer center. Without those badly needed class credits, my life would have been so different. I would not have qualified or been hired for certain job opportunities.
What a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.