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Whatever You Do Don’t Waste It

As a kid my ears would perk up when I’d hear the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) commercial with its maxim narrated in commanding resonance: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

The statement made sense to me even at a young age. It seemed to me those who didn’t nurture their mind were at a disadvantage in society. It was a call to action to put our mind to use.

Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, pursuing a college degree was something frowned upon. While valuing knowledge, with the end of this wicked world so close at hand higher education was a distraction strongly discouraged. Notwithstanding Armageddon, my parents figured if the world didn’t end soon enough, I’d at least need to make a living doing something. Consequently, with prescient wisdom they planted the seeds of curiosity within me. And, ultimately those seeds took root in my mind and cultivated a want to learn.

Come what may, they knew a God-given mind would be a terrible thing to waste.

Notably, they encouraged me to use my mind to seek knowledge on my own. While the learning was primarily geared toward spiritual growth, it communicated to me the message of how nothing is really impossible when we put our mind to it.


Our potential in life is only constrained by the limits we place on ourselves. Though I don’t have a degree, it hasn’t deterred me from taking advantage of opportunities to fortify my mind. However, neither should having attained a degree be the end all be all. Whatever our station in life, we should use each day to learn something new. Life is for learning. Through our experiences we gain knowledge. And knowledge, when properly put to use transforms into wisdom.

There are abundant resources of knowledge available. We can find it in our public or private schools, or our local libraries. We can seek out our favorite teacher or the intriguing next door neighbor. That’s just the short list. Think of the multitude of technology based tools at our disposal in today’s world. Simply put, if we want to learn we just need to make the effort.

Knowledge is literally everywhere if we want it. We must go after it. Recently I learned of this quote from the writer and poet Archibald MacLeish – “The only thing about a man that is a man . . . is his mind. Everything else you can find in a pig or a horse.”


Seems like it’s as true a statement as they come. It got me to thinking again about the power of knowledge. As a result, I soon realized something. We are generally taught to believe our knowledge resources are external. The thinking is we need to go to someone or somewhere to acquire whatever information we need. Obviously it will be true at some point.

Read it again: “The only thing about a man that is a man … is his mind.” The noted motivational speaker Earl Nightingale referred to our minds as “the gold mine”. We come equipped in life with a potential treasure trove of ideas right between our very ears. The beauty of our mind is no matter where we are in life it’s at our disposal. Therefore, we need to use it. Let’s open up the treasure chest and think. Like a muscle being torn and stretched, the more we use our mind the stronger it becomes.

And it’s nothing new. Humankind has always fancied the thinkers of this world. Yet don’t be fooled. Why not? Because the fact is we’re all the thinkers of this world.

Subsequently, we need to take the time to think about our lives. Consider where we’ve been, where we want to go and how we’re going to get there. In addition, it falls upon us to use our mind proactively and productively. Society is more and more reliant on having others think for us. We want everything now. People want immediate solutions to the problems they face. And they want others to find the solutions for them.


We won’t always find the solution to a problem right away. We may not able to solve a problem simply on our own. If we took the time and thought through things a bit more before we acted, I’m willing to bet we’d encounter fewer undesirable situations in our lives. Horses and pigs don’t need to think through issues. Why? Because they have instinct to guide them which serves them quite well.

Yet, we have instinct too. With the added ability to imagine, create, build, solve, and collaborate. When we use these abilities well we do great things. Whether we save the world, save our families or simply save ourselves it all starts within us. In our minds. That is powerful knowledge. As simple as it sounds, most of us will not use our mind to its fullest potential. When was the last time you were actually able to sit down alone with your thoughts and figure out a good solution to a problem you faced? Or, perhaps write a goal you want to carry out and the steps you’ll take to get there?

You’re well ahead of the game if you have. Many go with the flow and take life as it comes. We’re busy people. At work, at home, even at play it’s all hustle and bustle. Yet, imagine the paradigm shift if we thought our actions through a little more each day? If we took the time to open up the treasure chest between our ears and allowed ourselves to dig a bit deeper into our trove.


Thus, our mind. It’s what makes us what we are. It’s our very own gold mine! Unique to each one of us. Therefore, fill it with useful knowledge. Use it to think, to learn, to expand, and to grow.

Most of all, whatever you do don’t waste it.

In conclusion, the UNCF maxim is an old one but still as relevant today as ever. The mind IS a terrible thing to waste!

©Marc Townsend 2016
Originally published on LinkedIn

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