Benjamin Franklin Didn’t Have A Life Plan ­– Neither Do I…

Stephen Hussey

I handed in my PhD two weeks ago. I’ve just now arrived back from my victory-lap vacation in Cyprus. Now I have to figure out my future.

Or do I?

Benjamin Franklin never systematically planned out his future, yet he helped to practically build the world we know today. He helped found a country, created a fire-fighting union, owned a successful newspaper, and made pioneering strides in understanding the nature of electricity. And that’s not including his various inventions and writings that survive him today.

I don’t believe in planning out my next ten years in case my life slips away. Who knows if I’ll be here in ten years? It’s not life slipping away that scares me, it’s my days, my weeks, the slither of life I’m comfortable in right this second. What am I doing with it?

Franklin was a man not committed to a plan, but to virtues.

Virtues are like habits: they are ingrained excellences of character that shape how you work, how you make friends, how the people you love will ultimately remember you.

In a recent Youtube video, Matt recently spoke about Franklin’s tips for being a debater. If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you definitely check it out.

But this is just one gem among many. The autobiography is also full of brilliant advice that spells out what made an exceptional man like Franklin’s life seemingly so well-lived.

To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, Franklin realized that it was not goals, but commitment to a specific set of principles that determined a person’s life. Not a single achievement, or a fleeting moment of success, but an adherence to certain ways of living.

Of the many principles I learnt from Franklin, here are some of my favourites:

1. Contribution

Unlike many of the megalomaniac entrepreneurs you read about, Franklin seemed driven by a desire to contribute wherever he could. Though clearly not a man free of ego and the occasional vanity, Franklin saw the value of being of service to others, and used his talents wherever they might benefit the land he found himself in.

He refused to patent his heating stove in 1742, even when made a generous offer by the deputy governor. Franklin instead replied: “we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously”

2. Being Surrounded By Excellence

Franklin saw that the best plan one could really make was to surround oneself with the smartest and most industrious fellows available.

For this he decided to set up the American Philosophical Society, and had his own intellectual group called the Junto, where he would meet with his most learned friends on regular weekly intervals to discuss issues of the day, present pieces of writing, and exchange ideas on self-improvement.

Our next opportunity in life so rarely comes from a detached plan on paper.

More likely it will come from those valuable people in your network with whom you’ve built a relationship of trust and mutual respect for each other’s talents.

3. Frugality

One maxim frequently credited to Franklin is “waste not, want not”, and in his autobiography he repeatedly stresses the importance of living with less than one needs.

As he says when noting his list of habits: “FRUGALITY: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e. Waste nothing”.

He even mentions after getting married how “We kept no idle servants, our table was plain and simple…my breakfast was a long time bread and milk”.

Franklin wasn’t a monk, and later talks about spending more as his wealth increased, but he kept up his habit of frugality his entire life.

He realised that idly giving away money, time, or your mental resources too freely means giving away one’s freedom to focus on what is truly important.

4. Shunning Immediate Glory

One of the remarkable things about Franklin was his ability to sacrifice his need for immediate glory in order to keep moving ahead. He would often proceed early on with rigorous reading pursuits and difficult jobs even when he wasn’t receiving ample compensation, yet he would soon astound people with his industriousness and intimidating work ethic.

Put simply, the man was a mover and a learner, whether the rewards came immediately or not. In a letter his friend Benjamin Vaughan refers to patience as a key characteristic of great men, praising Franklin’s demonstration of this virtue.

5. Unrelenting Curiosity

Franklin wanted to see, observe, and understand the world, and was willing to take risks and venture into the unknown to do it.

It reminds me of what Jerry Seinfeld once called one of his secrets of life: “Ask questions”.

Franklin was a man never satisfied to accept answers from others. Whether it was an idea, a new country, a scientific principle, or a radical political system, Franklin would dive in for himself and take part himself.

He knew that curiosity mixed with hard grit leads to breakthroughs. More importantly, he knew that exploration and questioning is the path to discovery, even if you don’t always know the future you’re sailing towards.

If nothing else, Franklin’s remarkable life is a testament to the fact that just because you don’t have the destination, it doesn’t mean you can’t hoist your sails and surge ahead as fast as anyone else.

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Stephen Hussey helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.

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12 Responses to Benjamin Franklin Didn’t Have A Life Plan ­– Neither Do I…

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  1. Shannon Hooper says:

    My To-Do List:

    1. Don’t own, sell, or promote the sale or ownership of my fellow human beings. Especially ones that are my own flesh and blood (ahem, Mr. Jefferson)

    2. Buy all the shoes. All of them. Especially the leopard print ones because they’re the best ones

    3. Look up possible conjugations of “to learn” because the American school system clearly missed one

    4. When considering, ruminating, espousing, or promoting virtues, see task #1

    5. Do the right thing even when no one is watching

    Dear Stephen,

    I especially like this one, although I can’t really get behind Benjamin Franklin as a man of virtue (please see task #1). But I admire you for openly, sincerely, and without sarcasm promoting virtue and integrity. Especially since I’m nearly incapable of doing anything without sarcasm.

    Best,
    Shannon

  2. Erin says:

    Love this!

    Stephen – for the impact interview series, can we interview Megan Kelly (Fox News Anchor)?

    She had a recent article in Cosmo written on her thoughts on “How to Stand Up to Anybody” – totally an interesting person of impact! :)

    Hope you will consider! Thanks!!

  3. Sofia says:

    I’m so happy to hear you finished this, how exciting :-)

    Frankiln’s autobiography was such a good read. Thank you for this article!

    And again, thank you for teaching me daily gratitude.
    My gratitude letter to my mother that you inspired me to write, was her “most beautiful birthday present” , and she’s coming to visit me in Paris for the first time (I’ve lived here for ten years).

  4. Kathryn says:

    Well done Stephen. All those years of hard work, what an achievement. No wonder you went on holiday. You are so young and with such an insightful outlook on life you will do well whatever path you choose to follow. Some of us have messed up a few more times than you. I’ve instigated major changes in our lives recently and it was only today when I realised that we’ve set sail and it’s too late to return to what was a safe harbour. But we do need to surround ourselves with like minded people, I need to give my son the best life he can as its a short one, and I have to strive to reach a potential even if I really don’t quite know what that is. Another great and very timely article. We don’t meet each other but we do come together to share our thoughts with you weekly.
    Until next week …. Kathryn xx

  5. Allison says:

    Congrats on finishing the thesis, Stephen!

  6. Lisa Young says:

    Loved It Steve, Mucho Gracias!! <3 <3 <3

  7. Aleka says:

    Firstly, congratulations on your PhD, Stephen!
    I love these points and you’ve definitely cemented my curiosity in reading more about Franklin. I must admit, my interest was first piqued when coming across his advice to a friend in taking an older mistress. Reasonable and uncanny man, that Franklin!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXFF0tn6l5M

  8. Samin says:

    First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! Wow! Such happy news…
    Second, This article is very beneficial to me. I’m a 3rd year PhD researcher and as you could imagine I have my ups and downs and moments of “am I in over my head ?” and what am I gonna do next, etc… . This is very practical advice that I can implement and get by day in, day out. So thank you for sharing it.
    Third, not that you need it but good luck with your life in general! :)

    Regards,
    Samin

  9. ann says:

    congrats on your PhD ! :)

  10. Victoria says:

    This statement in the Frugality section is profound:
    “He realised that idly giving away money, time, or your mental resources too freely means giving away one’s freedom to focus on what is truly important.”

    Even if we are not idly giving away our money, we tend to be wasteful with our time and mental resources.

    Victoria

  11. Victoria says:

    Congratulations with finishing your doctorate, Steve! I am very happy for you.

    Victoria

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