The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was first published in 1793. In the 1916 edition editor, Frank Woodworth Pine wrote this in the introduction…
Franklin is a good type of our American manhood. Although not the wealthiest or the most powerful, he is undoubtedly, in the versatility of his genius and achievements, the greatest of our self-made men. The simple yet graphic story in the Autobiography of his steady rise from humble boyhood in a tallow-chandler shop, by industry, economy, and perseverance in self-improvement, to eminence, is the most remarkable of all the remarkable histories of our self-made men. It is in itself a wonderful illustration of the results possible to be attained in a land of unequaled opportunity by following Franklin’s maxims.
When Franklin was a small printer in Philadelphia and deeply in debt he developed an idea. You may think Franklin considered himself a big thinker, a potentially major figure in the world. But that’s not true. He was a simple man who thought of himself as ordinary. He didn’t feel he lacked the essential ingredients for success though. Franklin felt that he needed to find a method that would work. He was creative and practical so he devised a method he could use.
He focused on 13 topics that he thought were important for his success. Franklin decided to give each subject a full week’s worth of attention. His goal was to work through the 13 topics in 13 weeks. (My 7×7 Fast Start is a rip off of Franklin’s idea to tackle a single thing over the course of a week.)
Franklin figured he could go through the list in 13 weeks, then start over again. With that sort of discipline, he figured he could work his way through the list of 13 subjects four times a year.
Benjamin Franklin was 79 years old and wrote more on this idea than any other – and the man had many great ideas. He attributed his success to the discipline he exercised pursuing these 13 things. He wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
Well, I’m not a descendant of Franklin and neither are you – it’s not likely. But we can still benefit greatly. Here’s what Franklin wrote about these 13 subjects…and in this order:
- Temperance – eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation
- Silence – speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation
- Order – let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time
- Resolution – resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve
- Frugality – make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing
- Industry – lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions
- Sincerity – use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly
- Justice – wrong none by doing injuries or omitting benefits that are your duty
- Moderation – avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve
- Cleanliness – tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation
- Tranquility – be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable
- Chastity – rarely use venery (sexual indulgences) but for health and offspring, never to dullness, weakness or injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation
- Humility – Imitate Jesus and Socrates
What would your list of 13 be?
If you wanted to come up with 13 subjects that would propel you forward and help you grow great, what would that list look like? What order would they be in?
Here’s your homework for the weekend. Come up with your list of 13 subjects that you’re willing to commit to. Make up your mind to give each subject one full week of focus. You’ll be able to devote a full week to each subject four times a year. That’s a considerable amount of time, effort and energy.
Franklin didn’t likely have the mind insights that neuroscience has discovered long after he died, but he appeared to have an intuition or innate knowledge of what might work for him. Turns out, it can work for anybody.
By concentrating on such things for a period of time we rewire our thinking. Things once difficult become more natural. Easier to think, and therefore, easier to execute. Franklin had figured out how to pursue mastery of things he felt were important to his success. That’s our objective in this podcast. It’s about your leadership.
That doesn’t restrict it to your business leadership. It involves helping you become a better person. It involves helping you grow in every area of your life.
Over at my hobby podcast – Leaning Toward Wisdom – I did an episode a month ago or so where I talked about the differences between wishing, dreaming and hoping. Here’s what I said:
Dreams have desire that may or may not spark action.
Wishes have desire incapable of doing anything.
Hopes have desire with intentions. Something is being done to make it so.
Franklin’s list of 13 things gave him intentions. He began doing something to make these things become realities. That’s the power of his list. And it’ll be the power of your list, too – assuming you’re brave enough to create a list and put in the work.
We all have multiple choices in this test of life.
We can do nothing. This likely the well-worn path followed by millions or billions of people. People consume information, learn something, but never do anything with it.
We can talk a big game, saying we’ll do something. Another very well-worn path followed by herds of people. Maybe their intentions are good and honest. Maybe they’re fooling themselves and others. But no matter, they’re no better than that first group because they don’t do anything.
We can make up our minds that we’re going to shift from dreaming and wishing (behaviors that take no action) to hoping (behaviors that take action intended to make the hope a reality).
So what’s it going to be? What are you going to do?
Let me know. You know how to reach me.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!