Benjamin Franklin Autobiography

To be put on the 100 dollar bill, you have to be a pretty badass dude!  Benjamin Franklin is that man.. Unfortunately, many people don’t know much about him besides signing the Declaration of Independence and the whole kite experiment.  There is a lot more to the man and luckily for us, he believed that you should recapture your life by writing it down.  He left behind an autobiography, which gives us a ton of insight into his private life, his beliefs, and his values.  There are some great lessons in this book that I have summarized below, but first, let’s talk about his life.

Benjamin Franklin was Born in 1706 and was one of 17 children.  Initially he was going to be a minister, but he had such a great interest in reading and writing, that he went to work for his brother as a printer instead.  Ben didn’t like working for his brother, so at the age of 16, he ran away to Philadelphia.  He worked for a printer in Philly and then went to England.  Unfortunately, he got stuck in England with no way of getting back to America… So, he worked for another printing shop, worked hard, saved up enough money, and then went back to America.  Once back in America, he worked for a couple more printers and then decided to open his own printing shop.  The business did well over the years and Ben started a gentleman’s club called JUNTO where he and his friends discuss philosophy and science.  The gentlemen in the club exchange books and ideas and even start a private library.

His company continued to grow and he wrote Poor Richard’s Alamanac.  The Junto club got bigger and they even started the first American Fire Dept.  Franklin then became the General Assembly Clerk and Postmaster.  He advocated for a better military and better institutions for higher education.  At this point, he had become a man of great influence.  With his JUNTO club, which had expanded drastically, he founded the University of Pennsylvania.  He also improved other public services like hospitals, paving roads, and road cleaning.

During the French and Indian War (between England and France – America was still under English rule at this time), Franklin helped some of the Generals get supplies and helped build forts in Penn. to defend against the Native Americans.  Franklin also drafts several proposals on how to fund colonial defense.  He succeeded with some of his proposals and plays a large part in organizing the war effort. He even had a proposal on colonial unity, but that was shot down at the time.  Besides doing all of this, he also invented several useful things, conducted experiments on electricity, and was made a member of the Royal Society.  The autobiography ends in 1757 (he lived until 1790).  Unfortunately, he never got to finish it and write about all the great things that happened after 1757.  Nevertheless, the book is still packed with tons of wisdom.  Let’s hit the lessons that I pulled from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.

1 – Always be honest

I grew convinced that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life

Benjamin Franklin had impeccable integrity.  There are many examples throughout the book that show how his integrity impacted the rest of his life.  People trusted him and this changed his life in many ways.  The bitterest truth is better than the sweetest lie.

2 – Be humble

Besides having impeccable integrity, Franklin was also very humble.  Integrity and humbleness make a killer combo.

3 – Always strive for self improvement

When he was 20, he wrote down a list of 13 virtues he wanted to live by.  He focused on one virtue per week and after 13 weeks, he would repeat the cycle (he could do this 4 times per year).  He was not perfect, but tried to improve himself all the time.  This process of self improvement was, as he says, one of his reasons for success.  He was honest with himself about where he was lacking and monitored his progress.  Here is the list:

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 employ’d 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 the 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 but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He made a little chart with all of these virtues listed and would put a black dot next to it for each day he was able to accomplish the virtue.

He had this to say about it:

Though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.

So, set high expectations for yourself.  Make a list of virtues for yourself and review them daily.  Check them in the morning and review at night to see how you did for the day.  It only takes five minutes.  Every night before bed he would reflect on the day.  He asked himself what good he has done today.  He was honest with himself and this helped him grow into the man we all know.

Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man

4 – See the true value of things

He believed we need to look past the price of a thing and see the true value of it.  He believed that you shouldn’t give up real things of value, like virtue, repose, and liberty for superfluous things like popularity, being a people pleaser, and for the accumulation of stuff (aka materialism).  Sure, a purse may cost $400 dollars, but what’s the true value of the item?  Or another example, you may get paid to publish a story, but if it’s not in line with your values, then you’re basically selling yourself short for a few bucks.

When the well is dry we know the value of water

Besides saying that you should know the true value of a thing, he would also say, don’t take things for granted.

5 – Be self-sufficient

It has ever since been a pleasure to me to see good workmen handle their tools. And it has been often useful to me, to have learned so much by it, as to be able to do some trifling jobs in the house, when a workman was not at hand, and to construct little machines for my experiments, at the moment when the intention of making these was warm in my mind

Franklin had a do it yourself attitude and believed that we should all be able to do things for ourselves.  He was able to save money in his early years because he made his own meals.  And when he opened his own printing business, he built many of his own machines.  Being too reliant on others is a huge vulnerability.  That leads to his next lesson.. which is another example of being self-sufficient – reading to improve yourself.

6 – Educate yourself and use your time wisely

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.

As mentioned earlier, he started JUNTO and then a library with his friends.  From a young age he was fond of reading and spent all of his extra money on books.  He spent all of his free time reading.  During lunch breaks and after work, he would read.  All that reading led to a vast amount of knowledge which he was able to open doors with in the future.

This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repaired in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allowed myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolics of any kind; and my industry in my business continued as indefatigable as it was necessary

To be successful in the long term, you need to invest in yourself, both time and money.  Invest your time and money to improve your important relationships, your health, career, and education.  He didn’t waste his time and money getting drunk.  He used his finite time and money to grow, learn, and prosper… and look at all he was able to accomplish with this mental attitude!

He also believed in sharing that knowledge.  He invented many things and didn’t patent anything because improving the lives of others was the reward to him.  That’s awesome.  Lastly, he believed we should never stop learning – It’s a continuous process.

7 – Hard work and diligence pay off

When Ben was stuck and broke in London, he got right to work at a printer’s shop, made some money, and made his way back to America.  He didn’t quit, or feel sorry for himself, he just did what he needed to do.  The same is true of the printing business he started himself.  He would work from early in the morning until very, very late at night.  Others took notice of his hard work and he was rewarded.  After many, many years of steady efforts in building his printing company, he got some large contracts and become very successful.  He believed in hard work and didn’t buy into the get rich schemes of the day! … And yes, they had them back then too!

8 – Associate with people of similar values

Benjamin was financially burned once or twice by his so called friends, so he learned the hard way that his inner circle of friends should be men of high values like himself.  He did just that with JUNTO.  Ben and his friends, who were intelligent and ambitious men, bounced ideas off of each other, challenged each other, and raised each other to new heights.  JUNTO was huge for Franklin and more sub groups spread throughout the community.  This club was a place of creativity and this is where Franklin sharpened his ideas as well as spread them.

9 – Use your time to build wealth and help others

The more wisely you use your time, the more you can build your wealth… not materialism, but wealth.  Franklin retired in 1748 when he was just 42. This allowed him to do whatever he wanted after that, which included reading, conducting experiments, and inventing cool shit!  For Franklin, the accumulation of money was a means to an end.  The accumulation of money meant he had

Leisure to read, study, make experiments, and converse at large with such ingenious and worthy men, as are pleased to honor me with their friendship or acquaintance, on such points as may produce something for the common benefit of mankind, uninterrupted by the little cares and fatigues of business

Think of all the great things he did after he retired.  If he kept working, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article right now because he wouldn’t have been known for all the stuff he did.  He didn’t want to live a foo foo poo poo fancy life.  He wanted wealth so he could grow into a noble citizen who was able to serve others in his community.

10 – Wake up early

The early morning has gold in it’s mouth

Take a look at his daily activity chart.

He allocated three hours each morning to read, study, plan, and prepare for the day.  The morning is a great time to be alone with your thoughts, to read, to journal, to get clear on your goals and purpose, to exercise, and to plan a productive day.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes

You can see from this chart that routine and planning were important to him. It kept him focused.  We can do this too.  Get clear on your goals, prioritize them, and then make a plan to get from A to B.  A routine works because it instills healthy habits.  He wasn’t just about dreaming, he was a man of action.

11 – Have a positive outlook – expect a good outcome

While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us

Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight

12 – Learn how to influence people – don’t let your ego get in the way

Retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engag’d in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure

Don’t clash with people so quickly.  Express yourself in terms of modest diffidence in order to soften your opponent.  We all know that if you attack someone, they will become defensive and won’t listen to you.  If you go with a softer approach, they may open up a little and be willing to listen.  It’s always important to see the other person’s perspective.  We need to understand why they think the way they do.  Ben was great at doing this.  He was great in the art of persuasion and debate.

13 – Have a healthy sense of humor and laugh

Franklin had a good sense of humor and has several funny quotes:

He that displays too often his wife and his wallet is in danger of having both of them borrowed

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid

I think we can all agree that having a sense of humor is critical to a happy life and harmonious social interactions.  If you’re funny, you can almost say anything and get away with it.  You’re seen as less threatening, likable, and it helps to break down any social barriers.

14 – Appreciate the little things in life

Happiness consists more in the small pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a man in the course of his life

 15 – Be a kid at heart.. keep playing, dreaming, creating

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

 16 – Live a life of balance. 

Make time for family, friends, and fun. Give each part of your life it’s time.

17 – Focus on what’s important

Never confuse motion with action

Just because you’re working hard doesn’t mean you’re being productive.  You need to be focused.  When you’re working on something important to you, don’t let distractions get in the way.

Benjamin Franklin was an author, scientist, politician, musician, statesman, diplomat, and inventor.  He is someone we should all aspire to be like.

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