By Dan King
I’m sitting in my office answering email messages when I glance out the window and see Benjamin Franklin leaning against a wall talking on his mobile phone. I rub my eyes and refocus, but Ben is still there. Have I really been transported back in time? I run to the mirror to see if I’m still me, or perhaps some caricature of Paul Revere (with or without the Raiders). I’m clearly having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.
A little perspective. My office is in The Old Corner Bookstore, an 18th century historic building in the center of Boston, situated along the Freedom Trail, a walking tour of revolutionary and early American historic sites. Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street, one block away, on January 17, 1706, in what is now (ironically) a Sir Speedy Printing franchise. Visitors are escorted through Old Boston by tour guides dressed as famous men and women of the Revolution such as John Adams, George Washington, Abigail Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and of course, Benjamin Franklin.
So when I saw him outside my window, Ben just happened to be on his break (thanks in part to more progressive 21st century labor laws). I saw him again a few days later, at Starbucks having a mocha latte with Abigail Adams. Who knew?
As a leading author and printer, politician, inventor, statesman and diplomat, Benjamin Franklin had few equals. His inventions reveal a man of many talents and interests. He possessed a natural curiosity about things, the way they work, and how to make them work better. He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass harmonica to name a few. No doubt, if he were alive today, he would have invented the internet!
Franklin approached his work with passion and purpose, living each day thinking of ways to make the world a better place. His curious nature would’ve made him a savvy user of the many social technologies today. He’d be blogging and tweeting vociferously. If you “friended” him, you could receive rough drafts of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the latest proposals for immigration reform and gun control, and probably a few good recommendations for iTunes downloads.
If Ben were on twitter, he’d have a lot to say about navigating work, life and livelihood. Here’s a likely sample of his tweets:
“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
Continuous learning is a requisite for a meaningful worklife. Franklin observed that “some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.” When you stop learning, you remain rooted in the past, the present passes you by, and the future becomes an ever-increasing threat.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
Meaningful careers are created through the alignment of competence, intention, and purpose connected to the world of work. If you haven’t defined what success means to you, it’s not likely you’ll achieve it.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”
Careers are not static; they evolve and change. Creating a meaningful worklife is not a one-time event, but rather a process that takes courage – to adapt, transform and thrive. Learn to anticipate uncertainty and see changes as opportunities for growth.
“Employ thy time well, if thou meanest to get leisure.”
What do you want from your job above and beyond a paycheck? Interesting projects? Stimulating colleagues? Flextime? Independence and autonomy? Clarifying your work values will help you evaluate whether a job will be satisfying or draining – and whether it creates a life worth living when the work day is done.
“Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sun-dial in the shade?”
Discover your natural abilities and employ them in work you enjoy. Sometimes we get very good at doing things we never chose to do in the first place. Ability has very little to do with enjoyment. Discard the skills you don’t enjoy and fill your bag with new, more satisfying ones. To shine brilliantly, you need to come out of the shadows.
“He that won’t be counseled can’t be helped.”
Although Franklin is credited as being foundational to the roots of American values of thrift, hard work and education, he didn’t necessary advocate going it alone. On the contrary, he sought the advice and counsel of others. Success is not a solo project. Surround yourself with people who can support and encourage you to do the great things you’re capable of accomplishing.
“Well done is better than well said.”
If you want to achieve a meaningful worklife, you have to do more than hope. You need to set goals and act on them. Meaningful work doesn’t come to you; you need to move toward it, one step at a time. In Franklin’s words, “He that lives upon hope will die fasting.”
“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.”
Approach your work with honesty and dignity. Success at the expense of others is not a win. Watch and listen to those around you. Look for mentors or be a mentor to others. Build relationships outside your “sphere” and reap the gifts that integrity brings.
“If your head is wax, don’t walk in the sun.”
I don’t really understand this one, but I remember as a child the dangers of leaving crayons in the sun. I never did it again. Meaning doesn’t always have to be deep.
Benjamin Franklin did not have the technology that we have today. He never traveled in a car, train, bus, plane, or even a Segway; everyone walked or rode a horse. He did not have electric lights or motors. He lived before radio, television, computers and YouTube. Yet he remains an American icon of innovation and invention long after his death.
As we head into this new year, let us reflect on Franklin’s accomplishments and be inspired to create a few of our own. In the spirit of Ben Franklin:
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
Good advice, my friend. See you around the neighborhood.