By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
In the introduction to the biography of noted scientist Booker T. Washington, there is a story about the test he had to pass to get his initial entrance and scholarship to what would then have been Tuskegee Institute. According to his biography when a young and inexperienced Booker T. Washington showed up on the Tuskegee campus to seek admission and financial aid, he was told to clean the reception area he was waiting in as a test. According to Washington he cleaned that room like his life depended on it, which to some extent it did. Can you imagine that if a young Booker Washington did not know how to clean a room, or if he did not understand that the way he cleaned the room might determine his future, the world might never have known the countless inventions he would achieve, and the black community might never have discovered one of our greatest role models. Washington noted in that section of his biography, that he was glad that his life up until that moment had prepared him for that moment.
In all of our lives, and in our children’s lives there will be moments that will make the difference. What those moments are, when those moments are, or what we will need to meet those moments, are all part of life’s mystery. Yet, we still must spend our lives preparing to meet these moments.
In the military, a soldier does not walk around in a combat area without a weapon. You can not go find your weapon when the firefight begins. You understand as a soldier, that your weapon must be with you, your weapon must be operational, and you must have available ammunition, at all moments, in order for this to be true at the moments that matter.
There are a lot of people that think they can lead disorganized, undisciplined lives and yet at the moment that counts they are going to miraculously pull their collective selves together. It doesn’t work like that. Each of us, each day, must get up in the morning, and preparing for our moment has got to be a part of our daily routine.
What does it mean to prepare for our moment? It depends on where we are in life and what we want out of life. If you are twenty-five years old, you have a job working for the cable company that lets you pay for a decent car and a decent apartment, and you are content with that, who is to say that you should not be. But what if you are thinking about getting a house, or if you are thinking you would like to be able to help your children get that college education that you couldn’t afford, then at twenty-five you have to be working a plan to get to your moment.
It may mean that you get the less hot car, and that you take your lunch sometime, and that you don’t go on every vacation that your friends do. But you can do all these things and not have a plan or a moment that you are imagining. Life is not a series of disconnected events. Life is a lot like an ever changing map, and we are the map maker. But before I need a map I need to have a place I want to get to. In order to have a place I want to get to, I need to know what I want to do once I get there. Life is not a random journey, it is, at best, a carefully laid plan, where you take foundational steps even as you determine where you want to wind up.
Challenge yourself to excellence. Look in the mirror and try to find something that you can do better than anyone in the world. But still don’t stop there. Look at life as a learning experience and challenge yourself to constantly develop new and better skills. Because you never know what skill might be the one that you need that day. Do you think that Booker T. Washington was thinking when he headed to Tuskegee to see about getting a scholarship to study science, that his ability to clean a room would be the determining factor? As long as you are breathing you need to be further developing some skill. You never know when you might need it or why you will need it, but when you do need it, it may make the difference.
Or at least that’s they way I see it.
(Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)