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Long before the appearance of Dale Carnegie, Brian Tracey and Tony Robbins, Americans eagerly followed the self-improvement advice of a 17th-century inventor, statesman and philosopher. His counsel, published annually between 1732 through 1758 as Poor Richard’s Almanac, continues in print more than two centuries later as a testimony of the author’s wit and wisdom.
Benjamin Franklin was “the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back,” a distinct disadvantage when the eldest son was the beneficiary of a father’s status, wealth and reputation. Franklin had little formal education and was apprenticed in his brother’s print shop at age twelve. Despite his beginning, Franklin became one of America‘s most renowned citizens with unparalleled accomplishments in industry, literature and diplomacy. One of the drafters and signers of the United States Declaration of Independence, his achievements in multiple, diverse endeavors are yet to be matched.
A journey, not a destination
Like those who came after him, Franklin recognized that life is an experience of constant change. He realized that “change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life…When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Tony Robbins reminds us that our pasts do not equal our future. Every day, we get to decide who we will become and the actions we will take to reach that future. “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives,” Robbins wrote.
Obstacles, mistakes and regrets
Franklin quipped, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Robbins updated the sentiment with, “The only people without problems are in cemeteries.”
No one gets their choice of parents or the place of their birth. Some are lucky, born into loving families with advantages and opportunities. Others enter a world of need, cruelty and disadvantage. In each case, the life that awaits them is a matter of personal values, future decisions and persistent effort.
Successes and failures repeat over a lifetime, the duration and impact of each dependent on the actions of those affected. Franklin noted that the practice of living in the moment is essential, avoiding the lethargy of regret and worries of tomorrow. “There are in life real evils enough, and it is folly to afflict ourselves with imaginary ones; it is time enough when the real ones arrive.” Robbins concurs, advising that “Everybody’s got a past. The past does not equal the future unless you live there.”
The lessons of failure
Most children are mistakenly taught that failure is terrible and connected with blame. Parents often blame low grades on a child’s laziness or indifference, never considering that the instruction might be confusing or incomplete. Admitting failure and taking the blame is akin to asking for punishment and should be avoided when possible.
Robbins says, “I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.”
Rather than dodging a mistake, embrace it, examine it and use it to change directions to a new path and solution. Take the opportunity to learn from mistakes, setbacks, and disappointments. To reach a different outcome, you must believe that you can change your life to be precisely what you wish. Two centuries ago, Franklin wrote, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.” Don’t make an excuse. Learn.
Learning from others
Successful people acknowledge that success comes from prior hard work. Isaac Newton said that his success was built “on the shoulders of giants,” applying the knowledge he gained from others to make discoveries and insights.
When Tony Robbins suggests, “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results,” he is repeating Franklin’s recommendation that “those that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.”
People often confuse the meanings of intelligence — the inherited capacity to learn, reason and understand — and knowledge. The latter is the awareness of facts, truths or principles gained through personal experience or the experience of others. Franklin’s belief in the importance of knowledge and disdain for those who fail to seek it is evident in his comments that “we are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
Franklin and Robbins are apostles of continuing education, especially active self-education that results from doing, questioning and listening. Robbins teaches success comes from asking better questions and getting better answers. Franklin claimed that “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” He admitted that he continued to benefit from better information in his older years and often changed his mind, even on important subjects.
According to Robbins, most people dabble throughout life, consumed by the superficial and temporary. They fail to succeed because they never directly focus on what they truly want. In his view, “it is the moments of decision that your destiny is shaped…Where focus goes, energy flows…Knowing is not enough, you must take action.”
Franklin was a self-made man of action who became one of the most revered men of early Americans. He detested a lack of effort, knowing the precious value of time. His advice to others seeking to build a business was straightforward: “Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and he that riseth late must trot all day and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while laziness travels so slowly, that poverty soon overtakes him.”
For thousands of years, philosophers and successful people have taught that success in any endeavor begins with self-belief. That belief, coupled with persistence and action is the path that leads to happiness and the pride of accomplishment.