Benjamin Franklin’s accomplishments are otherworldly, and his advice is golden. Here are four life lessons I’ve learned from reading his autobiography (twice). All quotes are by Ben Franklin.
Accept Full Responsibility For Your Life
“Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it, is.”
Benjamin Franklin was born into poverty and obscurity. It was like he started a game of monopoly with $2 instead of the standard $1,500. Do you know what his response was? He said that he would accept a repeat if he could do it all over again.
This response is more profound than it seems, because it means that Ben Franklin didn’t wish for an easier start to life. It was as if he liked the challenge and humility he was born into, while a more common way of thinking is, “If I just had the resources of that family, I could be successful.”
Ben saw the reality of his situation, accepted it, and improved himself steadily into a great man over the course of his lifetime. As I read through his autobiography, I could see the ups and downs in his life average out into an upward line of progress.
Never accept any excuse for your problems, even if your excuse is “a good one.” Excuses make you look and feel weak and reveal a lack of control over your life. If you believe in your excuses, you’re admitting that you were powerless against them, but most of the time, that’s simply not true, or it’s only true because you believed it to be.
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Lesson: What you do with your life is your choice. Ben Franklin’s path was tougher than most, but he didn’t let excuses slow him down.
Expect The Best
“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.”
When Ben Franklin came to Philadelphia as a young man, he had few coins and no contacts. He bought three rolls of bread with his money and gave two of them away to a mother and her child. Most people will look to his generosity and courage in a time when he wasn’t well off.
I look at his perspective.
He lived as if things would work out for him as long as he kept moving forward, and they did. If he was truly worried about starving, do you think he’d give away 66% of his food supply?
“Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”
Lesson: High expectations enable you to reach your potential.
To Persuade People, Take Egos Out Of The Equation
Being a skilled debater, Ben Franklin could usually get people to agree with him using intellectual force, but he found that people were easier to persuade if he claimed appearance over fact. He’d say, “It appears to me that bees fly because I see them airborne” rather than “I know that bees fly because I see them airborne.”
Claiming appearance instead of fact is less threatening to others’ egos, and gives them the opportunity to agree with you without feeling like they lost the argument. Some other techniques he used involved making his tone and demeanor friendly instead of aggressively “taking a stance.” Try this technique the next time you’re arguing with someone, and observe the magic!
Not only does this preserve the ego of the person you’re talking to, it also calms your ego down. Ben Franklin said, “The modest way in which I propos’d my opinions procur’d them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail’d with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.”
Lesson: Take care not to threaten another’s ego, and they will consider your words.
Ben Franklin is known for his virtues and accomplishments, but he had a commendable sense of humor too. I imagine he had a good number of belly laughs in his days. Here are my favorite humorous quotes of his:
- “He that displays too often his wife and his wallet is in danger of having both of them borrowed.”
- “Wine is a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.”
- “He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir.”
- “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
And my favorite funny quote is about why his brother hit him one day.
“Perhaps I was too saucy and provoking.”
Way too saucy Ben. Waaaay too saucy.
Having a sense of humor has several life benefits. It lowers stress levels, makes you more likable, breaks down social barriers, and can deliver almost any message in a non-threatening package. And if you have the perfect life on paper, but don’t have fun doing it, what’s the point?
Lesson: Laugh early, laugh often, and laugh loudly unless they’re sleeping upstairs.
Bonus Lesson: Focus
Another life lesson Ben Franklin can teach us is the power of focus. He said to “never confuse motion with action,” and lived by it too. This quote has never been more relevant. Go to Deep Existence to discover why focused living is superior and how to do it. I’m the founder, Stephen Guise (twitter), and after seven years of experimenting with different personal development techniques, I found one that stood out above the rest – focusing. Now, Deep Existence helps people get focused in a distracted world.
Which of these life lessons do you need to work on the most?