Finding your life’s blueprint and a template for reflection based on MLK’s 1967 speech
Here’s a quick experiment for you to try. First, off the top of your head, how many Instagram or Twitter handles can you think of? Count them out and write down the number. Do not read any further until you have done that. Second, off the top of your head, how many of your life’s guiding principles can you think of? Once you count them out, write down the number. Which number is greater? Which task was more challenging?
See, in this day and age, we are constantly consuming and absorbing information, much of which is useless and even distracting. Without reflection, we are at risk of losing sight of the important things in life. I believe we should know our values. Moreover, I believe we should be able to clearly say those values to ourselves and remember them.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior made a speech to Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. The theme of his speech revolved around answering one question: What is in your life’s blueprint?
Today, to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, I would like to revisit some of the powerful ideas from his speech, which are just as relevant today as they were in 1967. Secondly, I would like to offer a template that I have used to help clarify my vision and blueprint for my own life.
Having a blueprint
In his speech, Dr. King explains what a blueprint is. It’s a document which serves as a guide for erecting a building, and a building is not well built without having a strong blueprint. Analogous to erecting a building, Dr. King thinks our lives need a sound, proper blueprint to guide our actions, otherwise our lives are not apt to be well constructed. He also suggests some things which we ought to include in our blueprints:
1. Belief in your dignity as a person
Number one in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One would be remiss to not mention that Dr. King was speaking to African Americans with this call to belief in their own personhood and dignity. It’s worth taking a moment to pay attention to the history and to the reality of racial discrimination in the United States and around the world. We all have moments of doubt, and we are all significant.
2. A principle of determination to achieve excellence
You’re going to be deciding as the days and the years unfold what you will do in life, what your life’s work will be. Once you discover what it will be, set out to do it and to do it well…. 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 the sun, be a star, for it isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I love Dr. King’s emphasis on action and his emphasis on doing what you can. This is important to remember. Personal excellence is developed through actions. It’s easy to sit back and think in terms of negative comparison to others — whether that’s through envy, jealousy, or through beliefs of inferiority. Negative comparison can prevent us from acting, lead us to not follow our path, and therefore not grow. Be determined in your commitment to excellence.
3. Commitment to the eternal principals of beauty, love, and justice.
If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means, keep moving. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We all have a responsibility to be part of the flourishing of our society. We all have a responsibility to do something to advance our fellow human beings. Similarly, life is fraught with challenges that may lead us to want to give up. Dr. King reminds us of this, and reminds us to never quit in our pursuits. It’s so easy to just leave the world behind, and to live in such a way that just takes up energy. Let us not forget, that there is something we can all do and must do to improve this world.
Make your own blueprint
It’s not easy to know what to do you with your life. It takes reflection. It takes time to figure out. One of the big take aways from Dr. King’s speech is that one must guide one’s life by following principles. For the past couple years, I have had a document that I used to list out my own principles to try to develop some kind of pattern for my own life. When I started making my list, I tried to start with just thinking about things I believe to be certain. I tried to think about the world I want to live in.
If you don’t have a list I highly recommend making one. It has really helped me clarify what I want to do with my life, how to judge my own actions, and has helped me understand where I need to make changes. I hope this helps you in your journey, wherever you are, keep moving.