One Person Can Make A Difference

Mildred Cannon Bacon

Mildred Cannon Bacon

It’s not easy to step outside of the western norm of  trying to do everything on our own. Without some form of modeling or support, it’s challenging to move confidently in the directions that our hearts and souls are calling us. Even having one nurturing person in our corner can make a huge difference in how we live and what we are willing to choose for ourselves. Last month marked (what would have been) the 86th birthday of a woman who had a huge positive impact on my life, my grandmother, Mildred Cannon Bacon.

When Granny was in her early 40’s and her youngest of four children was 12, she decided to go to college. She worked two jobs, one laboriously trimming tobacco for the neighbors farm, so she could afford to go to a local college. She received her bachelors from Tennessee Wesleyan College and then went on to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville for her Master’s degree in education. She was the resource teacher at a rural, low income elementary school in East Tennessee until she was 73.  She was the first person I knew who had e-mail. Others have told me that, among other good things, she was the teacher who helped make sure every child at her school had field trip money.

As her first born grandchild…and the only female granddaughter until I was 13, she spoiled me. Not in the worst way…..but in ways that made me feel special. She bought me shoes and clothes when I needed them…and sometimes when I didn’t. She took me to Florida when I was 8 to visit family and to Disneyland. She took me to Washington, D.C. when I was 10 and I’ll never forget how big I felt when I saw the D.C. skyline of monuments and famous buildings.  When I had trouble in Algebra in high school, she hired a retired math teacher to tutor me and after one session I went from a “C” to the highest grade in the class. She undoubtedly nurtured possibility and confidence in my life and my spirit.

When I was in college at Tennessee Wesleyan and then in grad school at U.T, Knoxville (both her alma maters), she helped me out monthly financially. I would go to her house on Sundays and do laundry, talk and/or nap in the living room while she drank Diet Coke in a crystal glass with slivers of machine-made ice dinging around, and the sound of the Home Shopping Network or golf in the background. That living room was the coziest place in the world for me.

Granny took this photo of me and my Aunt Theda when I was eight.

Granny took this photo of me and my Aunt Theda when I was eight.

Before I would go on trips, domestic and especially internationally, she’d nudge my leg under the dinner table and slip cash into my hand. I planned to go to Spain after graduate school and bought a ticket to visit there a few months before graduation. When I told her my decision she didn’t wince, or express fear like so many other people in my life. She just said, “Well, you’d better learn Spanish.”  I didn’t go to Spain that time because my grandfather had a (non-fatal) heart attack right before my scheduled trip. However, I did travel to 15 countries and have lived in some amazing places, including Maui and Honduras, and I’ve moved close to 15,000 miles since I was 18. I have taught at four higher education institutions and have had several businesses. This isn’t a “normal” behavior for girls who grew up in Etowah, Tennessee. I can’t imagine stepping into these experiences without having received her nudges to try new things and to follow what I wanted while growing up.

After she died, a relative told me that my Granny said to her, “You might as well do what you want to do; no one is going to do it for you.” She lived by this and encouraged others to do the same.

Most of us are fortunate to have at least one person who believed in us. Who is that person for you? And if this inspirational person could give you good advice or support about your current circumstances, what would they say?

What would you tell them you’d want to do? And, as another mentor of mine, Martha Beck, likes to ask: What is one “turtle step” you can take today in service of that vision?

Please share below about the person who inspired you and why.

Jen Aly (8 Posts)

Jen Aly, M.S. learned business skills from million-dollar training company, Thrive Academy in California, and worked as a coach for their clients. She has been a Martha Beck Certified coach since 2003 and has coached clients in the areas of business, marketing, organization, productivity, and communication.


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