As my kids will tell you, I have an aphorism for every occasion.
“Sweep in front of your own door,” I used to say when one complained about some offence committed by another sibling.
When one didn’t like a decision I made, I’d shrug: “Someday, you’ll be paddling your own canoe.”
I have more, but there is one adage I have never and will never use: “It’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.”
What a terrible, horrible, no good aphorism! Growing up, you see, I was led to believe that if you studied hard and persevered, it didn’t matter who you knew. I was desperate to believe this because, truth be told, I didn’t know anyone.
I take that back. I was actually on a first-name basis with lots of great people where I grew up. There was Cleo, the hardware store owner, and his wife Dorothy, my 4-H leader.
Why, we lived next door to arguably the most famous person in town, Andy, the quirky school custodian who golfed to school when the weather was nice and ice-skated when we got the right mix of snow and ice.
Still, as great as these folks were, let’s just say none of them were on LinkedIn. My point is, I couldn’t bear to think that hard work didn’t pay off. In my world, merit mattered. It had to, or I was doomed.
I don’t think I’m alone. That explains why, I think, so many of us liked Alex Trebek. He didn’t really care that, say, Fabio was your third cousin. I mean, that would be a fabulous personal anecdote for your introduction on the show. But once the Jeopardy game board appeared, only one thing mattered to Trebek: How much knowledge of historic names, four-letter words and hodgepodge you had packed into your brain.
I mean, nothing against The Price Is Right, but the only thing contestants must have to qualify is a Social Security number and a valid photo ID proving they’re 18 or over.
Jeopardy contestants, on the other hand, undergo a rigorous, multi-phase testing and auditioning process. Even if you make it all the way to the contestant pool, you can spend 18 months hoping for an actual invitation to compete. An invitation that, chances are, never comes.
I think it’s easier to become an astronaut. Honestly, even if you DID have connections, I’m not sure you’d want to use them to get onto Jeopardy.
You’d be competing against engineers, English professors, research scientists, librarians and an occasional bartender, all of whom had spent their whole lives learning new things and warming up their buzzer hand for this once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
As I tried to tell my kids:
“Be like them.”