Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 27 Getting On In The World

IT is natural and praiseworthy for a person to be looking for a higher and better position than the one he occupies. So long as a man does his whole duty in what he is engaged in, he is not to be con-demned for looking for something better to do. Now the question arises:-How are you going to put yourself in a condition to be in demand for these higher and more important positions?

In the first place you should be continually on the lookout for opportunities to improve yourselves in your present work. You should be constantly on the lookout for chances to make yourselves more valuable to your present employer, and more efficient in your work for him. Suppose you are engaged in the work of milking cows -I think it better to talk of practical things with which you all are acquainted, although I know that many of you boys had rather I would tell you how to go to Congress than how to become successful milkers. Inasmuch, though, as I suspect a good many more of us will have to milk cows than can go to Congress, I think it will not hurt us to talk about milking. If the boy who milks cows now does that thoroughly, by doing it he may lay the foundation to go to Congress later. The point is that we want to be constantly on the lookout for ways of improving whatever work we are engaged in, whether that work be milking cows or doing something else.

In whatever you are doing, there are a great many improvements which you want to become acquainted with. If your work is dairying, read the dairy journals. Get hold of every book or paper that you can which has anything to do with your line of work. Be sure that you know all or as nearly as possible all-there is to be known about milking cows. And then don't be content with what you get out of books and newspapers, for that information is only the result of some other person's experience. By conversing with intelligent and experienced persons, and by your own experiments, you can get much valuable information about your work. Never get to the point where you are ashamed to ask somebody else for information. The ignorant: man will always be ignorant, if he fears that by asking for information he will betray his lack of knowledge.

Know all there is to be known about the position you occupy, but ever feel that there is more for you to learn. There is no person who makes himself of so little use in the world as the one who feels that he knows all there is to be known about his work. If you are milking cows, and feel that you know all there is to be known about that subject, you have simply reached a point where you are practically useless and unfitted for the work. Feel that you can always learn some-thing from somebody else. It is a mark of intelligence to learn, even from the humblest person. I do not mean for you always to put into practice every suggestion that is made to you, or to agree with every statement made to you; but listen to what people say, weigh their plans alongside of your own, and then profit by the one which you are convinced is the best. Persevere in such conversation, and in reading. You will constantly be surprised to find how little you really know about your work, and how much more somebody else knows about it than you do.

You want to get to the point where you can anticipate the wants of your employer. In this way you will make yourself of great service to him. You do not know how vexing and discouraging it is to a man to be compelled to say every morning to those in his employ: "Do this at nine o'clock, and that at twelve o'clock, and the other at five;" or how pleasant it is to have a person with whom you come in contact anticipate the needs of the man who employs him.

Then you can make yourself valuable and in demand just in propor-tion as you consider that the work you are performing is your own. Do not consider that it is being performed for a certain man or a particular organization. Make haste and get to the point where you can feel that everything connected with the shop in which you work, or in the office, or in the stable, is under your care, and that you alone are responsible for it. If you are at the head of a stable or barn, plan day by day how you can best provide for the wellbeing of your cows and horses. When you make yourself master of these humble positions, you will find that the calls to higher places will come to you. The men you see spending most of their times looking for higher and more lucrative positions are, nine times out of ten, men who have made worthless failures in other places.