U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, touched on his youngest son James’s battle with drug addiction in comments to students at the Future School of Fort Smith as he shared “five pillars” for mastering the fundamentals of life. The remarks on his son came several minutes into his hourlong address while discussing the pillars of behavior.
Womack said in his own family he had an example of “how when you make a bad decision, it can haunt you for a long time.” He warned that each student would likely face the temptation to “do something incredibly stupid, and at your age, you may not think of the stupidity of it. You may just think about how cool it will be, without realizing doing something like this could be counterproductive to your future.”
“In my family’s case, it was drugs,” Womack said, turning emotional. “And it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life. It has ripped my heart out of my body. I’ve been honored in a lot of ways and accomplished a lot of things in my life — I’ve got things — but I’ll tell you something, I would give every single bit of it away. I would take me back to the very beginning of my adult life when I had nothing if it could be guaranteed that my youngest son did not suffer from an addiction. I would give it all away.”
The admission drew applause from the gymnasium of Future School students before Womack continued, urging students to not just police their own behaviors but also provide leadership to others on a bad path.
Another pillar Womack shared was that of education. He encouraged students to be “thirsty” for knowledge and to challenge their teachers to test their personal limits both inside and outside the classroom. Womack said education is “exactly what separates us from our competitors in the world, here and abroad.” He also asked students to lean into the things they’re not good at and try to practice until they can move the needle in a positive direction. “The tendency in life is to concentrate on the things you’re really good at and let the things you’re not good at fall down the pecking order. But the things you’re not good at, focus on those. It will lift you as a professional.”
The third pillar — health, Womack said — was one of the most important to the future of the country because people “are making awful decisions and creating a financial condition in this country that we cannot afford to continue to sustain.”
As a congressman on health care committees, Womack said, “Your health is important to me because the cost of healthcare is off the charts, and a lot of the healthcare problems that we’re having in this country are self-inflicted. It’s people making poor decisions with their body and not taking care of what the Good Lord gave them.” Examples of these self-inflicted problems include “obesity which can lead to diabetic conditions, smoking, and a whole host of other physical maladies that will serve to hold you back from success.”
Womack continued: “You can do something about this, and the best time to do it is now. It’s about developing the right habits and making a commitment to yourself. Every one of us needs to eat better, exercise better, and some of us need to give up a few of the things that we’re doing that are not so doggone healthy for us. Your health and the cost of health care in this country are the single biggest threat to the future of the republic.”
On service — the fourth pillar — Womack encouraged students to do something for other people “without any expectation of getting anything in return.”
“We need to understand something about our country. You can’t appropriate enough money to provide everything this country needs. It needs you. And I don’t know what your calling is, but find it. It’s good for the soul,” Womack said.
Finally, with the fifth pillar of money, Womack urged students to start saving a small percentage of every dollar they make from the time they get their first paycheck.
“Pick a number — 5% — but whatever that check is, put it somewhere as an investment fund. Five percent of a $50 check is going to be $2.50. That’s not going to buy a lot of stocks and bonds, but it’s not how much it’ll buy on the front end, but what it will grow to be on the back end.”
Womack cautioned that “a lot of people have spent their lives spending 100% of what they make, and when they get to retirement, they can’t sustain a decent lifestyle.” He said if students would set aside just 5% of everything they make, “you will be shocked — completely blown away — by how much money that will become 40 or 50 years from now because it’s not only the money you’ve put in it but the fact of compounding over time.”
He added: “We need to be talking about a time when we have hair the color of mine — old people. And what that money will grow to will give you some level of freedom later in life.”