“And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.
If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967, six months before he was assassinated
There are definitely more high profile quotes and speeches that are attributed to Dr. King, but I have always loved this speech that he gave to a group of Junior High students six months before he was killed. Can you imagine the impact on these students both on October 26, 1967, as well as the days following his death? And as we think about our own lives, our sphere of influence, and the opportunities we have been given, I believe there are at least 3 lessons we can draw from his impactful words to this classroom of students:
- You Have A Unique Calling – Dr. King was trying to dramatically impart to these students that they were created for a specific purpose at a specific moment in time and that their lives did indeed matter. Sometimes, we get into a rut and foolishly believe that calling and gifts are for the special talents, forsaking the opportunity to make an impact right where we are. Whether on a high profile stage or platform or kneeling by a desk in a schoolroom or waiting in a carpool line to offer a smiling and encouraging face to your child after a day of school, your life does matter, and you have a unique calling and mission to carry out. If you don’t do it, who will?
- Carry Out Your Mission With Excellence – Mediocrity is often the norm in school, in business, and in life. Dr. King was trying to impress upon these students the importance of doing your best. You don’t have to have the so-called “best” job to do your best. Every person plays a role in life. We are called to perform in that role to the best of our abilities. Every day, you have the opportunity to leave your mark of excellence on everything you do. How will you sign your name on today?
- Leave A Legacy – In the speech, Dr. King references several people of excellence in their respective professions and then challenges the students to do what they are called to in that same manner of excellence. Each of the people he speaks about left a legacy, and he exhorts them to leave their own legacy, whether they will be in the limelight or just a street light. We often falsely believe that the only people who can leave a legacy are the rich and famous who have their names indelibly inked on a building, statue, or plaque. Each day, we have the opportunity to leave a legacy in the lives of people who matter most to us. Your legacy can be an invisible hand that permeates and penetrates generations to come.
Strive to be the best wherever you are and in whatever you do. Your calling is indeed a high calling that demands your life and your commitment!
Question: What other lessons do you draw from this speech and from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? You can leave a comment by clicking here.