“You cannot hope to succeed if you keep bad company. As far as possible try to form the habit of spending your nights at home.”-Booker T. Washington, “A Sunday Evening Talk: On Influencing by Example”
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
The adage that one is known by the company he or she keeps is an oft-expressed one, but the founding principal and president of Tuskegee University, Booker T. Washington, extends the adage even further both in the aforementioned passage and in another commonly quoted passage: “Associate yourself with people of good quality. It is better to be alone than in bad company.” Moreover, his additional suggestion to “try to form the habit of spending your nights at home” is a very practical one worth noting. Insofar as it is possible to discern from his autobiography, correspondence, letters, speeches-and more importantly his accomplishments-the man, Booker Washington, apparently did little else but read, write, work and stay at home with his family. And while it is easy to regard Tuskegee (Institute) University’s founding principal with an overwhelming sense of awe, one can begin to appreciate and understand him in view of his own self-discipline and self-sacrifice. (Everyone suffers but few suffer voluntarily. Yet, if one learns how to suffer, one will learn how to succeed.) One need not be reminded that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, but how one spends those hours is what ultimately distinguishes men and women. (One would simply be amazed at how much more time can be committed to a meaningful mission or a purposeful project if time is not spent in (un)meaningful and (un)purposeful ones that do not result in progress.) Clearly, recreation, fun and leisure have their place but not if these things come at the expense of sustainable success. (Mr. Washington suggests that it is even better when one’s recreation, fun and leisure become part and parcel of one’s work.) For when an individual can transform his or her home into an extension of their workshop, they have the benefit of continuing, doubling and multiplying their labors when others have ceased from theirs.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.
7th President, Tuskegee University