Ben Franklin’s 13-Week Recipe for Enjoying Your Talents

by Lisa Rothstein on 03/08/2010

Benjamin Franklin, possibly my all-time favorite DaVinci (next to the original), knew what it was to have an embarrassment of riches in the talents and interests department. When he wasn’t busy inventing electricity, the glass armonica and bi-focals, founding America, practicing international diplomacy or siring illegitimate children, he wrote.  Among his many scribblings, he created what is probably the very first American self-help book, Poor Richard’s Almanack. Less well-known is a tool he wrote for his very own personal development. It was a list of thirteen virtues he wished to cultivate.
In case you’re interested, here they are:Benjamin Franklin, Renaissance Man

Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues

1.    Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2.   Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3.    Order: Let all things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4.    Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5.    Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others; (i.e., waste nothing).
6.    Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7.    Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
8.    Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9.   Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10.    Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11.   Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12.    Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or anther’s peace or reputation.
13.    Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

At first, Franklin carried around a notebook all day and gave himself a black mark every time he failed at any one of the above. As you might imagine, this was not much fun, for the simple reason that trying to improve yourself on so many levels at once is impossible (it’s pretty obvious he seldom got around to #12, chastity).  Ever the experimenter, he reasoned that taking them one by one would give him the best chance to develop them all. So he began to focus on one per week. This way he would hit all of them four times in a year.

One Talent At a Time

A lot of DaVincis try to pursue all their talents at once, and then wonder why they are frustrated and find their gifts a burden rather than a pleasure. So I’ve got an idea. Let’s take a parchment page from old Ben’s book, and get ready to experiment (quill pen optional).

The point is to give yourself permission to devote yourself wholeheartedly to one of your talents at a time, knowing that they’ll all get their turn in the sandbox, rather than trying to do too much at once and burning yourself out. It doesn’t mean that you’ll be pursuing your talent du jour 24 hours a day. In fact, it may be nothing more than a background theme in your life. But you’ll know it’s there; with the intention to honor a talent, you will get a chance to really savor that one thing you love and are good at.

Activity:

1.    List all of your talents, passions or broad areas of interest.

2.    Taking each talent or interest separately, ask yourself if there are any specific projects or activities associated with it that you’d like to pursue, now or just someday. These can be things you’ve wanted to do for a long time, or things that come to mind now as you brainstorm.  Do not edit as you go, just put down any idea that pops up. Be outrageous. If no specifics come to mind, that’s fine, just leave the main talent or interest area on the list as is.

3.    Now pick your top ten (or if you want to be Franklinenque, 13). NOTE: these are not goals. They’re just what jumps out at you right now as what you’d enjoy most, or areas you’d like to work on develop. Change your list until you have one that makes you smile.

4.    Next, decide the blocks of time you’d like spend focused on and enjoying each of these. If you love variety, you might do as Franklin did and switch weekly. If you like immersion, maybe declaring October Landscape Painting Month and November Songwriting Month, etc. would work. If you have projects you’d really like to complete, you could even devote a quarter to a talent before moving on to another. Mark your intentions on your calendar.  Maybe assign a different color to each one.

5.    Now for the fun part. Take a look at what day it is and start enjoying your talent of the moment. Buy those art supplies, or that writing journal. And remember every day this week or this month to think about, celebrate and have fun with your designated activity any way you can.

Like anything else you focus on, you’ll notice more of it around you, and more chances to practice and enjoy yourself. During Cartoon Week, you may find yourself doodling funny caricatures of staff members at a board meeting. During Music Month, you might get the impulse to download some of your favorites from itunes while you’re surfing the net, or amp up your normal shower singing into a full-blown aria. Of course, in your spare time, you can spend as much time as you choose actually working on a project associated with your talent. Or, not. Does this sound like a lot more fun than beating yourself up for not using all your talents all the time?

How do you think immersing yourself in one talent at a time might work for you? Please share your thoughts.
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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The Da Vinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/.

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