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The One Key Factor Behind Benjamin Franklin’s Success

By Shaun Cooper, Director & Senior Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the United States. He accomplished some incredible things in his lifetime. What was even more astounding was that he was born into a poor family, and thus had a humble upbringing and only two years of formal schooling. As well as being very involved in politics and civic activities, he was a leading author and established inventor.

So What Was Behind This Renaissance Man’s Success?

Benjamin Franklin was a firm believer that his success would be a reflection of his character. More importantly, he believed he could develop his character and therefore the degree of his success was entirely in his hands. Subsequently, at the age of 20, Mr Franklin wrote down 13 virtues he would like to live by... as a means of developing his character, and achieving his goal of moral perfection. The word 'virtue' is explained as a disposition of character that leads to good behaviour.

"Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

- Stephen R. Covey

Benjamin Franklin would work on one virtue each week and "leaving all others to their ordinary chance.” By his own admission, Mr Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and he fell short of them many times. However, he believed the attempt to live by his virtues and come back to them time and time again, made him a better man and contributed greatly to his success and happiness...

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

- Benjamin Franklin

Here are his 13 virtues:

  1. Temperance - Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence - Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order - Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution - Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality - Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  6. Industry - Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity - Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice - Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation - Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. 
  10. Cleanliness - Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloathes, or habitation. 
  11. Tranquillity - Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. 
  12. 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. 
  13. Humility - Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

"In order to keep track of his adherence to these virtues, Franklin carried around a small book of 13 charts. The charts consisted of a column for each day of the week and 13 rows marked with the first letter of his 13 virtues. Franklin evaluated himself at the end of each day. He placed a dot next to each virtue each had violated. The goal was to minimize the number of marks, thus indicating a “clean” life free of vice."

Read more at the Art of Manliness

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