Secrets of Success - Benjamin Franklin Style

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Secrets of Success - Benjamin Franklin Style

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"Idleness and pride tax with a heavier hand than kings and parliaments."

-Benjamin FranklinSecrets of Success - Benjamin Franklin Style

Nobody likes tax time -- except maybe for accountants. And a lot of us complain (sometimes with good reason) about where our tax dollars go once we've paid them. Since this isn't a political blog at all, we won't discuss government spending.

It's worth noting, though, that the same complaints about taxes were common in Benjamin Franklin's day, too -- even before the outrage of the Stamp Tax. Franklin's the one, after all, who wrote that "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

But Franklin also saw that complaining about taxes was just one way among many, that people rationalize their own failures to take action. Franklin himself was famous for his hard work and thrifty ways, and he rose from humble beginnings to become not just a famous statesman and inventor, but one of the wealthiest people in the American Colonies.

In this post I'll talk about the example he gave us for avoiding idleness. (We can talk about pride another time.)

The Slow Poison of Idleness

If you read Franklin's Autobiography -- which I recommend -- you'll see lots of instances where Franklin credits his own success not to superior ability, but simply to plodding ahead with his work while others loafed. When he joined the staff of a London print shop as a young man, he was appalled to find that the other typesetters and pressmen drank their way through the day. Franklin liked to have a beer himself, but he couldn't believe how lax his colleagues were in tending to their duties. He kept at his tasks and soon became the star worker in the shop -- much to the jealousy of his mates.

That example was an obvious one, but later in life Franklin would get ahead because of others' idleness in subtler ways. When he set up his own shop in Philadelphia, which put him in competition with a former employer, he made sure to start work early every morning -- much earlier than his competitor -- with his shop windows well lit. This allowed him to get more work done in the day, but also showed to the community that he was industrious and ready to serve customers at all hours.

Even if Franklin exaggerated somewhat to cast himself in the most favorable light, it's clear that shaking off idleness so you can do a little more, a little better can make a big difference.

In a great blog post called "The Sad Lie of Mediocrity," entrepreneur and business writer Seth Godin wrote that "The sad lie of mediocrity is the mistaken belief that partial effort yields partial results. In fact, the results are usually totally out of proportion to the incremental effort."

From his experience in business, Godin thinks that 4% less effort could mean 95% less results. Or, if you flip it around, a little bit more effort might lead to hugely better results. That seems to match up with what we know from the lives of Benjamin Franklin and other happy high achievers.

So, following the lead of Franklin and Godin, maybe we should focus as much on removing a few percentage points from our own idleness as from our marginal income tax rates.

Don't get me wrong: nobody in their right mind would want to pay more taxes than they have to. But sometimes we act like life would be hunky-dory if only some external force -- a king or a parliament, so to speak -- would come and rescue us, whether from the IRS on April 15 or whatever other boogeyman. Instead of waiting to be rescued, though, we should free ourselves by the actions we take day by day.

What are you doing to "tax" yourself less with idleness?

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Tim WalkerTim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro living in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated CareOne Blogger

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