I recently read the book “Outliers: the Story of Success,” by Malcolm Gladwell. Without giving too much away, he writes 11 stories/chapters, each supporting the overall premise of his book that opportunity is the key to success.
Gladwell states: “It is not the brightest who succeed … Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
He also makes a strong and compelling argument that our hard work, determination and cultural legacies (family background, surroundings, attitudes, origin, how/where/when you are raised, etc.) all play a role in our successes.
Growing up in Rock Hill, S.C., and later traveling with my pop at the age of 12 as a semi-Army brat is part of my DNA, my cultural legacy.
In South Carolina, I vividly remember my parents instilling in my brother and me the importance of having morals and values. I laugh now, because though we were pretty good kids (if I say so myself), we were still kids.
My pop, the son of a preacher, instilled discipline and my mom taught us, as she was taught, that, “If you lie, you’ll steal. If you steal, you’ll cheat.”
Ironically, for anyone spending time at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, you know the honor code: “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate anyone among us who does.”
My parents had no idea about the academy more than 1,600 miles from South Carolina. But they instilled in us (what was instilled in young academy cadets) the importance of leading honorable and disciplined lives.
It’s that cultural legacy that Gladwell speaks about in his book.
“Given opportunity …”
Because I am a “Girl Raised in the South,” or GRITS, I needed to break down the opportunity into a new word — “opportune unity.”
This means, a choice we make to accept our destiny or purpose in life at the right time, right place. By the way, if you say this enough times, “opportune unity,” you’ll sound just like a GRITS.
An “opportune unity” happened during my sophomore year in college when the idea of joining the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps presented itself. Unbeknownst to me at that time, this was part of my purpose/calling in life. I opted to listen to my pop about joining the Air Force (versus the Army) ROTC. You see, he enlisted in the Army to provide a better way of life for us and served nearly 22 years.
In fact, in the mid ’80s we were stationed in Baumholder, affectionately known as “The Rock,” where I attended high school for two years. I remember a sense of community and the friendships formed with my fellow band, volleyball and basketball teammates (and who could forget the amazing travel opportunities?). What an eye-opening experience for a young GRITS. So, when my pop “suggested” the Air Force, I’m thankful I had the presence of mind to listen to his words of
“Never forget …”
As folks from home always say, “Remember where you came from, baby.” Why? Now I realize that remembering serves as a vehicle to take you where you want to go and a key to making a person successful.
I mentioned during my change of command that every “good” story starts with, “In the beginning; once upon a time; there I was; see, what had happened was.”
However, when your story of success starts, remember you will not go it alone. I love the saying, “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Usually, when I go back home to visit, rarely do I talk about what I do in the military. Outside of close family and friends, most ask if I’m still a sergeant in the Army, and I’m OK with that. I answer, “Yes, ma’am or sir.”
On one of my visits about six or seven years ago, I went to my grandmother’s house. There, hanging on the living room wall, were the official photos of the family members who served in the Armed Forces — my uncles who served in the Army and Air Force, my pop who retired from the Army and my two cousins who served in the Navy. And what was missing? My photo! The next time I went home, my photo was added and it was a game changer. I was the only female and the only officer among my grandmother’s pictures.
I stand on the shoulders of such strong people, like Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King Jr., Tuskegee Airmen, Bessie Coleman and, of course, my family, who paved the way for me.
During my change of command, “send me” were the words to which I answered my calling to be an Airman, a leader in the Air Force.
So, I encourage you, when you get your opportune unities in life, carpe diem (seize the day) and answer your call of destiny with “send me.”