It’s a new year and we are approaching the celebration of the life, work and message of Martin Luther King, Jr. What better time to reflect on the keys to building a life of purpose that he shared as one of his final speeches.
In October of 1967, 6 months before his death by assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. Even after all of his accomplishments and his renown, Martin still took the time to encourage and challenge young people. As a man of vision and purpose, he exemplified investing in others, especially those who needed a word to inspire them to continue their journey. For this speech he spoke on the idea that like any well constructed building our lives should be built upon a solid blueprint.
Dr. King asked the students, “What is your life’s blueprint?”
Here are six keys to recognizing purpose and developing in your personal growth from Martin Luther King Junior's speech on life's blueprint:
1. Have a blueprint (clarity)
“Now each of you is in the process of building the structure of your lives, and the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and a sound blueprint.” - MLK
Even though this message was shared with junior high students, the wisdom is no less applicable to any age. Those adolescent years are critical in the transition from childhood to adulthood. Our early years lay the foundation for how we will see the world and our role in it. Too many haven’t made solid foundations on a sound blueprint at these transitional stages in their lives and so they are wandering through life without a clear vision. Leadership starts with leading yourself. Leading yourself starts with mapping out a plan, a blueprint for where you want your life to go, how you plan to get there and what steps you will take to move in that direction today.
Our calling is to be people of excellence. The beauty of a blueprint is that it is not the finished product but the plan we will follow in order to build our lives upward. As we move forward in our mission we refer to our blueprint to inspire us to action. When we get lost along the way we can recall our blueprint to remind us of our vision. As obstacles arise we understand that the core principles remain the same but we adapt to new information throughout the process. Martin challenged the strudents, “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.”
2. Understand your value (accountability)
“Number one in your life’s blueprint, should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your worth and your own somebodiness.” - MLK
When children are raised at a disadvantage whether that be economically, socially, structurally, spiritually, emotionally, physically or a combination of all of these factors they have more obstacles to overcome. Too often our current situation influences our perspective of who we are as people or what we are capable of. The path to our purpose does not ignore our circumstances, but Martin Luther King, Jr. and those voices of strength call upon people of vision to carry forward. He says to the students, ” I would urge you to study hard, to burn the midnight oil. I urge you that in spite of your economic plight, in spite of the situation that you’re forced to live in — stay in school.”
Purpose requires courage to see past our immediate situation to work through and build for our long term goals. Vision provides energy in the struggle when the winds have died down and the power is out. Remembering that we have a blueprint calls us back to the clarity of our mission. Understanding our worth as people and our role in the bigger picture reminds us to carry on the good work we have before us regardless of the opposition facing us. Valuing our worth helps us to embrace and value the worth of others. Our great documents call for liberty and justice for all, and by pursuing that high goal in an equitable manner we find we enrich our own lives as well.
3. Determination for the pursuit of excellence (consistency)
“Secondly, in your life’s blueprint you must have as the basic principle the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor.” – MLK
The cult of success causes us to idolize the achievers who are most apparent in movies, business and who have attained affluence. If the vision of your blueprint is to build a purposeful and happy existence than the result of our life’s work is no guaranteed to bring those physical rewards. Dr. King admonished the students, “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, 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.”
Life is progressive. As we learn and industry and build skills we develop ourselves into those who stand out for mastery in their current duties. Being teachable, consistently learning, growing in our abilities and challenging ourselves to take risks all lead towards advancement. Trust is the most valuable commodity for advancing in life and business, those who can establish and leverage trust can go far. Success should not be exclusive. There is plenty to go around for all. Achieving our goals should include building opportunity and bringing others along, as fellow citizens, mentors and co-laborers in the journey.
4. Embrace your opportunities (courage)
"And I say to you, my young friends, that doors are opening to each of you, doors of opportunity to each of you that were not open to your mothers and your fathers and the great challenge facing you is to be ready to enter these doors as they open." - MLK
Life is about opportunity not convenience. When the doors are opening they don't always swing wide and they don't always remain open forever. Understanding our value enables us to take some risks in moving from where we are to where we desire to be. Courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to rise to the challenge even when we are scared.
The other side of success is that living a blessed life is not just found in the attaining of affluence or accumulation of material possessions. Many have trophy rooms of their exploits with no one to share them with because their sacrifices on the altar of prosperity included the persons who would have helped and celebrated with them. Capitalism creates endless opportunities but the corrosion of personal values through devious practices that devalue others makes for hollow victories. Rise to your opportunities through the assistance of those who have invested in you and continue that cycle of mentorship by bringing others along with you. Do justly.
5. Be the best of whatever you are
“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.” – MLK
Worrying about what we are not will rob us from the opportunities we have in the present. Complaining about what we have not become will not help us to reach for who we are and who we can be. If you fail to build excellence in where you are currently you will struggle to build excellence in the future. Excellence is a habit and a muscle that must be exercised. Excellence starts with clarity through outlining a blueprint. Preparing to succeed does not guarantee success. But failing to prepare does prepare for failure.
It's a new year. There is an opportunity to create a fresh start and to daily take claim upon the vision and mission that you have set out for your life. Whether we are proud of our current position or not, we can still operate with excellence and move towards our goals. Whether our responsibilities are glamorous or plebeian, there is still beauty, love and justice that we can infuse into this orb while we still walk upon it.
6. The bigger picture
"And finally, in your life’s blueprint must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love and justice" - MLK
In everything that we do we first have a responsibility to do it with excellence, to do all to the best of our ability. As part of the broader picture, everything that we do should carry with it the commitment to enhancing beauty, spreading love and establishing justice for all. Conversely, our work should not rob the world of beauty. Our efforts should not be without or exclude love. The building of our dreams should not forsake the justice of others but rather build such for all.
Dr. King nears the closing of his speech with this admonition, "Let us keep going toward the goal of self-hood, to the realization of the dream of brotherhood and toward the realization of the dream of understanding good will." In turmoil there is talk about what God would or would not do and what those who claim him should act like. The prophet Micah makes it rather plain and simple when he declares, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (6.8)" Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly are not the standards for political or spiritual leaders alone, those are principles that are for all persons in their daily dealings with others.
Your mission big or small is important. Clarify your blueprint, value yourself, seek excellence and be the best of whatever you are.
Thoughts on personal and professional development.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a contractor, author, and host of The DYOJO Podcast. The goal of The DYOJO is to help growth-minded restoration professionals shorten their DANG learning curve for personal and professional development. You can watch The DYOJO Podcast on YouTube on Thursdays or listen on your favorite podcast platform.