Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 24 Cultivating Stable Habits

I am going to speak with you a few minutes this evening upon the matter of stability. I want you to understand when you start out in school, that no individual can accomplish anything unless he means to stick to what he undertakes. No matter how many possessions he may have, no matter how much he may have in this or that direction, no matter how much learning or skill of hand he may possess, an individual cannot succeed unless, at the same time, he possesses that quality which will enable him to stick to what he undertakes. In a word he is not to be jumping from this thing to that thing.

That is the reason why so many ministers fail. They preach awhile, and then jump to something else. They do not stick to one thing. It is the same with many lawyers and doctors. They do not stick to what they undertake. Many business men fail for the same reason. When an individual gets a reputation-no matter what he has undertaken-of not having the quality of sticking to a thing until he succeeds in reaching the end, that reputation nullifies the influence for good of the better traits of his character in every direction. It is said of him that he is unstable.

I want you to begin your school life with the idea that you are going to stick to whatever you undertake until you have completed it. I take it for granted that all of you have come here with that idea in mind; that before you came here you sat down and talked the matter over with your father and mother, read over the circulars giving infor-mation about the school, and then deliberately decided that this insti-tution was the one whose course of study you wished to complete. I take it for granted that you have come here with that end in view, and I want to say to you now, that you will injure yourselves, your parents, and the institution-and you will hurt your own reputation-unless, after having come here with the determination to succeed, you remain here for that purpose, and remain for the full time, until you receive your diploma. I hope every individual here, every young man and woman at the school, is here with the determination that he or she will not give up the struggle until the object aimed at has been attained.

You are at a stage now, when, if you begin jumping about here and there, if you begin in this course of study and then go to that course of study, you will very likely be jumping about from one thing to another all your life. You must make up your minds, after coming here, to do well whatever you undertake. This is a good rule not only to begin your school life with, but also to begin your later life with.

Perhaps I was never more interested than I was last evening in Montgomery, while standing on one of the streets there for an hour. I seldom stand on any street for an hour, but last night I did stand on that street for an hour, in front of a large, beautiful store that is owned by Mr. J. W. Adams, and watched the notice taken of the display of millinery made in his store windows by two girls that finished their academic and industrial courses at this school-Miss Jemmie Pierce and Miss Lydia Robinson. The first Monday in October is always the day in Montgomery for what they call the millinery openings; on that day the stores which handle such goods all make a great display of ladies' hats and bonnets. It was surprising and interesting to note how these two girls had entered a great city like Montgomery and had taken entire charge of the millinery department in a large store. Hundreds of people stopped to comment favorably upon the taste that was displayed in the decoration of those windows.

Now, all this work was done by two Tuskegee graduates. And the complimentary remarks that were made came not only from colored people but from white people as well. No one could tell from the windows of that store whether it was a colored or a white establish-ment. Many of the white ladies who were standing there did not know that they were standing in front of a store that was owned by a black man. It had none of the usual earmarks about it. Usually when you go into colored establishments you see grease on the doors or on the counters; or you see this sign or that sign that this is a colored man's establishment. Those of you here who are going to go into business after you leave school do not want to have any such earmarks about your establishments. Such a store as that of Mr. Adams is the kind of a store to have.

Now, these two young women have made a reputation for them-selves. They went into the millinery division while they were here, and they remained until they graduated. One of them, I believe had not finished in the millinery department when she received her academic diploma, and so she came back last year and took a post-graduate course in millinery. It is interesting and encouraging to see these two young women succeeding in their work, and it all comes from their determination to succeed, and because they had sense enough to finish what they had undertaken.

That is the lesson that you all want to learn. If you do not learn it now, in a large degree you will be failures in life. You want to be like these young women. You want to fight it out. Now if you mean to get your diploma, you are going to have a hard time. Some of you are going to be without shoes, without a hat, without proper clothing of any kind. You will get discouraged because you have not as nice a dress or as nice a hat as this person or that person. I would not give a snap of my finger for a person who would give up for that. The thing for you to do is to fight it out. Get something in your head, and don't worry about what you can get to put on it. The clothes will come afterward.

You are going to be greatly discouraged sometimes, but if you will heed the lesson of fighting out what you have undertaken, that same disposition will follow you all through life, and you will get a repu-tation, because people will say of you that there is a person who sticks to whatever he or she undertakes. One of the saddest things in life is to see an individual who has grown to old age, with no profession, with no calling whatever from which he is sure of getting an independent living. It is sad to see such individuals without money, without homes, in their old age, simply because they did not learn the lesson of saving money and getting for themselves a beautiful home when they ought to have done this. And so, all through life~ we can point to many people who have not learned this lesson that for whatever they under-take they must pay the price which the world asks of them if they would succeed. If we are going to succeed we trust pay the price for what we get; and he who accomplishes the most, accomplishes it in an humble and straightforward way, by sticking to what he has, undertaken. He who does this finds in the end that he has achieved a tremendous success.