“The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what the man or woman is able to do that counts.”
Booker T. Washington, educator and reformer, 1856-1915
Many years ago, I met a person who changed my life by sharing one simple sentence. He said, “In life, you either have results or excuses.”
It may not have been a politically correct statement, but I gave it a lot of thought … and realized he was right. I thought about all the people I knew, and I asked myself how many of them had what they really wanted in life. I realized the number was very small, but their excuses were very large.
By contrast, I thought about one extraordinary individual whose life was characterized by extraordinary results. In 1723, he arrived in Philadelphia as a penniless 17-year old boy. But by the age of 42, he retired as a wealthy man.
On top of that, he became the country’s most outstanding statesman, scientist, and philosopher. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers. His name, of course, was Benjamin Franklin.
How did he do it? He went on a journey … looking for the principles that would bring him the success he wanted. And he discovered 13 principles and devised a simple method for mastering them. He would give special attention to a different principle each week, and in the course of a year or 52 weeks, he would get through all 13 principles 4 different times.
When he was 79 years old, he wrote more about this system than any other thing that happened in his illustrious life. He felt as though he owed all his success and happiness to the practice of these 13 principles. So he penned a message to all of us, writing, “I hope therefore that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
So if you’d like to be as successful as Ben Franklin, here’s his list of 13 principles. Practice each one for a week, 4 times a year, every year.
=> 1. Temperance
In other words, watch what you eat and drink. Take care of your body. After all, if you ruin your body, where else are you going to live?
=> 2. Silence
Franklin hated what he called “trifling conversations.” So he learned to shut up if he couldn’t say something significant or something nice about somebody else.
Of course that’s hard to do. As the American author Alice Duer Miller observed, “People love to talk but hate to listen.”
But it’s possible to learn the art of silence … or at least the art of avoiding negative talk by negative people. Kevin Carey, a senior manager at Time Warner, told me, “I go to lunch with a group of people that all understand that lunch is personal time and that work-related discussions won’t be tolerated.” He’s learned to avoid the all too common gripe sessions that take place in the company cafeteria.
And the result? Kevin says, “I find that I’m much more refreshed after these types of lunches and in a better mood when I get home.”
=> 3. Order
Franklin believed in organization … a place for everything and everything in its place. He knew that a cluttered office or a messy home killed off motivation and innovation.
=> 4. Resolution
In today’s language, we might call it follow-through. Or doing what has to be done. Or doing what you said you were going to do.
Modern-day entrepreneur, Sidney Friedman, echoes the same sentiment. He says, “You can achieve anything you want in life if you have the courage to dream it, the intelligence to make a realistic plan, and the will to see that plan through to the end.”
By contrast, the losers in life lack “resolution.” They see victory as being “too hard” or taking “too much work.”
But the winners embrace “resolution.” Take world-champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong, for example. He says, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”
=> 5. Frugality
Franklin advised, “Waste nothing.” Be very careful about the way you use money.
And if he were alive today, he might say such things as “pay off your credit cards every month” or “save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.”
Some 200 years after Franklin, recent research bears out his “frugality” principle. In Stanley and Danko’s book, “The Millionaire Next Door,” they discovered that self-made millionaires were extremely frugal. They lived below their means, drove older cars, wore inexpensive suits, bought cheap watches, and opted for a mortgage-free home in a modest neighborhood instead of an unpaid mansion.
Stanley and Danko concluded, “What are three words that profile the affluent? Frugal, frugal, frugal. Being frugal is the cornerstone of wealth building.”
=> 6. Industry
As Abraham Lincoln noted, “Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Willing is not enough. We must do.” And Thomas Edison added, “There is no substitute for hard work.”
Both of them subscribed to Franklin’s idea of industry. As Franklin said, don’t waste your time. Get rid of the unnecessary tasks in your life. And always be doing something that is useful.
=> 7. Sincerity
Simply put, in all your communications, be honest. No deceit. No manipulation. Instead of saying “honesty is the best policy,” sincerity tends to say “honesty is the only policy.”
=> 8. Justice
It’s all about being kind and fair. Or as Franklin put it, “Wrong no one.”
And that’s a big issue these days. According to ComPsych, a Chicago-based employee assistance program, people problems are the number one cause of workplace stress. It used to be workload, but now 36% of the surveyed people cite “people issues” … or being wronged by somebody else … as the biggest stressor they face.
That being the case, you would be well served to become extremely skilled in interpersonal communication. It will not only reduce your stress, but it will also propel you towards greater levels of success.
That’s why my program on “Take This Job and Love It! A Program for Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life” is so popular. If you’re interested in having me speak about that at your meeting, give me a call.
=> 9. Moderation
Avoid extremes. Seek moderation. You don’t have to win every argument, for example. You could agree to disagree.
=> 10. Cleanliness
This particular principle struck me as a little bit strange. But Franklin advocated the necessity of having a clean body, clean clothing, and a clean house. Perhaps he was thinking, “If you stink, you sink.”
=> 11. Tranquility
Choose your fights carefully. Don’t get all upset about those things that don’t really matter. As Franklin wrote, “Be not disturbed at trifles.”
Beyond that, there is a certain power that comes with calmness and tranquility. The former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, spoke about that when his leadership was tested on 9/11. He said, “My father used to say to me, ‘Whenever you get into a jam, whenever you get into a crisis or an emergency … become the calmest person in the room and you’ll be able to figure your way out of it.'”
=> 12. Chastity
It’s a rather old-fashioned word these days. But it refers to morality. No one ever got ahead … forever … by doing the wrong things … for long.
And finally …
=> 13. Humility
As Sam Palmisano, the CEO of IBM pointed out, “Some of the best advice I ever received was unspoken. Over the course of my IBM career I’ve observed many CEO’s, heads of state, and others in positions of great authority. I’ve noticed that some of the most effective leaders don’t make themselves the center of attention.” They were humble.
And to be truly humble, to exhibit genuine humility, Franklin simply said, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
If that doesn’t mean much to you, you might like the way Red Aurbach, the professional basketball coach, put it. He said, “Take pride in what you do. The kind of pride I’m talking about is not the arrogant puffed-up kind; it’s just the whole idea of caring — fiercely caring.” And, of course, Jesus and Socrates were humble at the same time they cared deeply about their missions.
When I look at these 13 principles, I think it’s somewhat sad, even pathetic, when people say they have no idea how to be more successful. After all, this list has been around for 200 years. Our only challenge is to put it into practice.