It’s All Ben Franklin’s Fault!

Because we are approaching Thanksgiving and because I am preparing for a trip to Boston, this post is a continuation of my series on early American writers

Why are you reading this blog post when you could be working?

I am stressed, frazzled, and tired.  I never feel like there are enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done.  In this respect, I would venture to say that I am like the majority of Americans of working age.  We are all, it seems, working frantically to get ahead (or at least keep up) at the workplace.  In addition, we are expected to work at home to create the Perfect Homes and Families.  Then, of course, we have to work out to create ideal bodies.  After that, we have to read self-help books in order to improve our dismal selves as quickly as possible (preferably in three easy steps.)

Are you, like me, exhausted and fed up with the endless pursuit of excellence?  If so, blame Benjamin Franklin.

Sure, Mr. Franklin was a great guy who rose from humble origins to social and political prominence.  He did some cool things, like signing the Declaration of Independence, discovering electricity, inventing bifocals, yadda yadda yadda.

I’m ticked off at him anyway.  I’m peeved because he wrote The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1791) which is one of the earliest and most successful “self-help” books ever published.   His basic idea is that, with hard work, anybody can achieve anything they want.  (I’m sure you’ve heard this idea before if you are American.)

He also proffered the idea that we can and should aim to improve ourselves not just financially, but also morally.  As he put it, “It was about this time that I conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection.  I wished to live without committing any Fault at any time; I would conquer all that either Natural Inclination, Custom, or Company might lead me into  As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.”

Now if Franklin wanted to get ahead and become morally perfect, more power to him.  The problem is, his autobiography (and the example of his life) became so prominent that suddenly EVERYBODY in America was expected to follow his suit and spend every waking hour in pursuit of Success and Perfection.

This, dear reader, is why YOU are overworked and stressed!  This is also why our (virtual) bookstores are overflowing with shelves of self-help books.  They are just following the lead of Franklin, who showed us in his autobiography HOW he achieved such prominence.   HINT:  He devoted every minute of every day to some sort of “improving” activity.

Between 5:00 and 8:00 a.m. for example, this is what he did.  He rose with the Morning Question of “What Good shall I do this Day?  Then he would “rise, wash, and address Powerful goodness, Contrive Day’s Business, and take the Resolution of the Day; prosecute the present Study; and breakfast?”

After that, he’d go to work for several hours.  During the lunch period he would “read, or overlook my Accounts.”  He’d then go back to work, and so forth.

I call BALDERDASH!  It’s time we Just Say No to being more productive, to working harder, to getting ahead!  Enough is enough!

In my anti-Franklin self-help plan, I would propose a schedule more like the following:

 5:00-8:00 a.m.:  Sleep, of course!

 8:00 – 10:00: a.m  Drink coffee, eat breakfast, read whatever you want, take a shower, put on comfy clothes that are neither fashionable nor flattering.

     10:00 – 12:00 : Go to work.  If you must.

12:00 – 2:00:  Long leisurely lunch accompanied by a bottle of wine.

2:00 – 4:00:  Nap or other restful pleasures.

4:00 – 6:00:  Work some more if you insist.

6:00 – 9:00:  prepare dinner, eat it, converse, drink more wine.

10:00 – 12:00:   Relax after your hectic day in whatever way you like.

With my plan, you are guaranteed to achieve minimum productivity, but you’ll enjoy the ride a heck of a lot more.

I am so eager to help you out, by the way, that I am willing to send you the details of this remarkable strategy for anti-success for a mere $25.00.

However, if you prefer a more traditional approach to success, then you may be interested in my other book, which has helped millions of people.  It’s called How to Find True Love, Get Rich Quick, and Lose Weight Fast by Having Sex in the City with Vampires.  ($35.00 Hardcover.)

Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

13 thoughts on “It’s All Ben Franklin’s Fault!”

  1. When did Benjamin Franklin become holier than thou? I thought he was reported to a bit of letch. I did hear about early to bed early to rise and so on. Anyway, I never wanted to be like Ben Franklin. I thought our crazy work ethic had something to do with Calvinism.

    1. Good points, Deborah. Keep in mind that I am referring to the public persona/the autobiography of Franklin rather than the actual individual. I have heard that he was in fact a horndog, especially with the French ladies. And you are right that we should really blame it all on Calvin. The Puritans decided that they became prosperous, it would be a sign that God had chosen them (in other words they were saved from damnation). That’s why they decided work was a good, holy thing and prosperity was even better. Franklin was a child of Puritans and a child of his time (like we are). He just expressed many of the ideas that were already “in the air.”

    1. When I become president of the U.S., I will enact a 20 hour work week, and I will take lots of Franklins from the rich and give them to you (and me). Deal?

  2. Boo Ben Franklin, and boo Abigail Adams who ran their profitable farm while John was in Paris doing business for more than a year at a time. I tried and failed at being Abigail Adams, but I did find a lifestyle similar to what you have proposed–that is living and/or working anywhere where Ben or Abigail didn’t live, nor the Puritans, preferably along the Meditteranean, or many other developing countries.

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