Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s tale of the street sweeper teaches you to be the best at what you do regardless of your situation in life. That we should always aspire to be the best in our work and in our life.
I am sure we can all agree that we want to be happy with our job and our life. But job satisfaction and happiness does not always come easily. For those people I can tell you that your attitude and the passion you bring to bear on everything that you do can change your outlook about your job and your life.
Six months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967. Part of his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech is the tale of the street sweeper. It is inspiration that regardless of what we do we should always aspire to be the best we can at what we do.
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.
A Tale of Two Workers
First is the person who has a job they do not like. They roll out of bed each day and don’t want to go to work because they hate your lousy job. They watch the clock waiting for the time to flee their misery. They then go home and complain about how bad work was. They are unhappy at their job and probably in their life.
Now look at Dr. King’s street sweeper. I am sure he had aspirations of a better job, but he understood at this point in his life his job was to be a street sweeper. So each day he shows up for work on time and gives his best. He does not just do a good job, he is so passionate about his work that he wants to be the best street sweeper that ever lived.
When the street sweeper goes home from work he leaves with a sense of satisfaction that not only did he do a good days work, but on this day he was the best there has ever been at his job. This person is happy with their job and happy in life. Even though he is a street sweeper, this person is successful at work and in life.
A Tale of Two Attitudes
This tale of two workers is a tale of two attitudes. The first is the negative. I hate my job, my life sucks, why is life so unfair attitude. The second is the positive attitude. I may not like my job, but I give it my all and nobody does it better than me. For now I am content with my life because I know my hard work will lead to better things.
The negative attitude will likely keep that worker in the job they hate for many years to come. The positive attitude will likely lead the street sweeper to better things. A supervisor or manager will notice his passion for his work. His hard work pays off and he was promoted to a lead position. He maintains his passion in his new job and later was promoted to a supervisor or manager.
Even if the street sweeper never becomes more than the best street sweeper that ever lived, this person is successful and happy throughout their life because of their positive attitude and their passion for whatever they do.
The Power of Positive and Passion
You can apply this principle to everything. In your job, in your family, in your community and in your life. Many times in my life I have seen how a positive attitude and a passion for what you do leads to successful outcomes. Just look at Dr. King for a good example.
His positive “we shall overcome” attitude and his passion for the civil rights movement helped lead to a successful outcome. The struggle was hard and he could have easily given up saying the task can not be done. Yet despite the setbacks and difficulties he maintained his positive attitude and his passion.
So then let me ask you. Do you want to keep walking around complaining about your lousy job or how bad life has treated you and continue to wallow in your misery? If so you are not going to change much. You are not going to win the lottery and someone is not going to walk through the door and hand you your dream job.
Let me offer you an alternative that can lead to a different outcome and a better life. Accept who you are and where you are in life. If you have aspirations for a better job or a better life adopt a positive attitude for change. Develop a passion for everything that you do and regardless of the struggles or adversities, never give up.
Whatever station in life you are at, be the best at whatever you do.