Ancestors put me on game: How my unknown legacy inspired a career risk

An ancestral connection led Coach Tish to discover her roots in the city of Asheville, N.C. This week's episode explores the inspiration she found there, too.

In the summer of 2021, I visited Asheville, North Carolina to connect with my ancestral roots. A
distant cousin found me after taking an ancestry test and revealed I’m the great-great
granddaughter of James Vester Miller, a man once known as one of the most important Black
builders in Western North Carolina. His works include some of the oldest prominent Black
churches that still stand today in Asheville, including Hopkins Chapel, Mount Zion Baptist
Church, and Saint Matthias, as well as city government buildings and a cultural center. However, his impact on the city goes well beyond those buildings; I had to go see and feel it for myself.

At the time of my visit, I was plotting my exit from a very comfortable career as a news anchor.
I’d been feeling burned out and disconnected from my work. I’d found my next thing (building a
career and life coaching business) and was laying the groundwork for the leap of faith, but already, it was quite a lonely road. I sensed there was something for me to find in Asheville; it turned out to be courage. After all, Miller beat the odds. He had little to no education, was born into slavery yet built a thriving construction company during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. This legacy was the inspiration I needed to finish my own race…how could your legacy inspire yours?

Here’s how learning about your ancestors might help move you into action and create a legacy
you’re proud of:

Pull inspiration from your own bloodline

It’s easy to look at celebrities as the ultimate storytellers. Their stories are polished and perfect. Jay-Z went from Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects to billionaire. Incredible right? But what’s more sustainable? Learning how your own ancestors turned nothing into something. Miller gave me buildings all around Asheville to visit and stories I can tell my kids. Look within your own family history for wins that are already in your bloodline. I know they’re there…because you’re here.

Build to last

We have the ability to create things that last generation after generation, too. My great-great grandfather’s buildings are still standing and are now Asheville landmarks. With so many of us doing work online or virtually, it may feel like your own ideas are just blowing in the wind. Ask yourself, “what am I creating today that will matter 70 years from now?” Let that guide you in your work life. I think you’ll find more fulfillment in your day-to-day grind.

Skip school sometimes

I love a story I was told about Miller skipping school to learn brick masonry. He followed his own genius and went toward what he was good at and likely loved to do. Break the rules every now and then—especially if it means you’re sharpening a skill that will ultimately take you where you want to go.

Lift us up, too

Miller made his mark all over Asheville but he made sure his own people benefited from his genius, too, from building a club for young African-American men to establishing Asheville’s first African-American cemetery, to building a 16-room home for his own family. If you have a chance to lift up your own, do it. We are making up for lost (or stolen) time. We need every one of your gifts to continue to move the culture forward.

Go all in

When I look at Miller’s body of work, I often wonder how he even had the time to construct
all those buildings; many of which are now revered in Asheville. I think it’s because once he found what made him feel alive, he was committed to it. There’s no way he would be in the history books today if he wasn’t. Whatever work it is you’re doing, stay with it. It’s a long game. And let me be an example; the work you do today could change your great-great grandchildren’s lives and lead them to their purpose, too.

Letisha Bereola

Letisha Bereola is a life coach who helps ambitious women overcome burnout and reach their career goals so they feel great at work and happy at home. She’s a former Emmy-nominated TV news anchor, Podcast host of AUDACITY and speaker. Learn more:

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