Character Building  by Booker T. Washington

Chapter 7 Don't Be Discouraged

LAST Sunday evening I spoke to you for a few minutes regarding the importance of determining to do the right thing in every phase of your school life. There are a few things that enter into student life which, in a very large degree, cause the untrue to fall by the wayside, and which prevent students from doing their very best. Among these things is the disposition to grow discouraged. Very many people, very many students, who otherwise would succeed, who would go through school creditably, graduating with honors, have failed to succeed because they became discouraged.

Now there are a number of things in school life that cause a student to become discouraged, and I am going to try to enumerate a few of them, although I do not know that I shall mention nearly all of them.

Students frequently become discouraged on account of their indus-trial work. It is not of the character that they want it to be, or they do not get assigned to the trade they want to work at. Still others become discouraged because of their classroom studies. They find that their studies are difficult; that their lessons are too long and their memories too short. They find that they cannot understand the teacher, or they think they find that the teacher does not understand them. Some become discouraged because they think that they are entirely misunderstood, are misunderstood by their classmates and by their teachers. They think that their efforts in the classroom and in the shop are not properly appre-ciated.

Others become discouraged because they feel that they are without friends. It seems to them that other students have friends on every hand who are encouraging them, who send them money, who supply them with clothing, and that they themselves have no such friends.

You become discouraged for such reasons as these. You feel that your highest and best efforts are not appreciated. This tends to discour-age you. There are not a few of you who get discouraged because you feel that you belong to a despised race; that for a long time you have been trampled upon because of your color, and because of certain peculiar characteristics; that you have been neglected or oppressed, and that there is no reason why you should make an effort to go forward; that you belong to a race that is doomed to disappointment, to stay under, and to not succeed.

Some of you become discouraged and despondent because of poverty. Perhaps here I strike the basis of the reason for most of the discouragement. You come here, and your parents disappoint you. They do not supply you with money. You become discouraged because they do not supply you with proper clothing, or with what you think you ought to have, and, very often, with such as you really ought to have, and that disheartens you. You find that other students have money, and you have none. They have money not only for the necessities of school life, but for some of the luxuries, while you have not enough for even the bare necessities. Other students are more than supplied with cloth-ing, while you are very scantily supplied. You shiver, in many cases, by reason of the cold, while others are comfortable and nicely dressed. Sometimes you are even ashamed to show yourself in public, because of the appearance of the old coat, or trousers, or shoes that you have to wear.

Some of you become discouraged because you find yourselves without the proper books. Some of you cannot get the, money needed to purchase books, a tooth brush, and other necessary things. You find yourselves cramped and hampered on every hand. You are discouraged at this point and at that point, and you feel that nobody's lot is as hard as your own. You become discouraged, you become dissatisfied, and you feel like giving up.

Now I want to suggest to you tonight that this very thing of discour-agement, as an element in life, is for a purpose. I do not believe that anything, any element of your lives, is put into them without a purpose. I believe that every effort that we are obliged to make to overcome obstacles will give us strength, and will also give us a confidence in ourselves, that nothing else can give us. I would ten times rather see you having a hard struggle to elevate yourselves, having a hard time either at work on the farm, or on the buildings, or in the shops, without money and without clothes, than to see you here having too much money, and having everything that you want come to you without any effort on your part. You are blessed, as compared with some people. The man or woman who has money, without having had to work for it, who has all the comforts of life, without effort, and who saves his own soul and perhaps the soul of somebody else, such an individual is rare, very rare indeed.

Now it is not a curse to be situated as some of you are, and if you will make up your minds that you are going to overcome the obstacles and the difficulties by which you are surrounded, you will find that in every effort you make to overcome these difficulties you are growing in strength and confidence. Make up your minds that you are not going to allow anything to discourage you. Make up your minds that poor lessons, scoldings on the part of your teachers, want of money, and want of books; that none of these shall discourage you. Make up your mind that in spite of race and color, in spite of the obstacles that surround you, in spite of everything, you are going to succeed in your school life, and are going to prepare yourself for usefulness hereafter.

Every person who has grown to any degree of usefulness, every person who has grown to distinction, almost without exception has been a person who has risen by overcoming obstacles, by removing difficul-ties, by resolving that when he met discouragements he would not give up. Make up your minds that you are going to overcome every discour-agement, and that you are not going to let any discouragement overcome you. Those of you who have been inclined to be moody and morose, or have been inclined to feel that the whole world is against you, that there is no use for you to try to elevate yourselves, make up your minds that your future is just as bright as that of anybody else Do this, and you will find that you have it in your own power to make your future bright or gloomy, just as you desire.