Throughout Benjamin Franklin’s life, he consistently devoted about an hour each day to deliberate learning. He woke up early to read and write; he set personal growth goals (which he later shaped into 13 Virtues); he created clubs for like minds to share ideas toward collective improvement; he did experiments; and he opened and closed each day with reflection questions. Without a doubt, Ben Franklin was a lifelong learner. However, by giving an hour of time to self-education, he sacrificed an hour that could otherwise be used to work and complete some other daily task. Therefore, over the course of a week, one might find that Ben did not accomplish as much as he would have had he spent those extra 5 hours in labor. To carry the math further, if he completed 5 fewer hours of work per week, then he completed 20 fewer hours per month, and 240 fewer hours per year. Yet, in the course of his lifetime, he completed so much quality work that he is today known as a Renaissance Man and one of the most accomplished geniuses the world has ever produced. Needless to say, his investment paid off in a far greater way than the simple sum of hours he seemingly lost to study. Ironically (or perhaps not), he produced more in the long-term by producing less in the short-term, validating such truisms as “think before you act…” and “less can often be more.”
On the contrary, if Franklin is proof that learning opens our minds in ways that better our chances of making an impact over the long haul, then how do we explain those folks who are as cantankerous and self-righteous as they are educated? We’ve all encountered “know-it-alls” whose knowledge we are forced to respect in spite of their tunnel-vision. Unfortunately, learning for many exists on a Bell curve; it is good until it isn’t good anymore. In its early stages, new knowledge opens the mind, broadens the horizon of possibility, and eventually allows the learner to form well-researched opinions. While this process is both natural and admirable, the learning stages that follow strong opinions can become a hindrance to free thought and openness. For so many, any learning that occurs after opinions are firm is done so as a method for validating said opinions. Therefore, real life-long learning must be deliberately sought out as a matter of self-reflection and as a method for challenging the validity of current beliefs. Franklin’s 13 Virtues, after all, were created as a means for explaining and overcoming his shortcomings rather than a simple recipe for all his great success.
In life, we are forced each day to choose how we will spend our time. What will we do and what will we avoid? What is worthy and what isn’t? If you have never taken the time to read and interpret Franklin’s 13 Virtues, I encourage everyone to do so. I would also like to conclude by sharing my own simple and general checklist for what I call, A Day Well-Spent.
A Day Well-Spent:
Time is spent wisely if it accomplishes one or any combination of the following:
- Builds Your Knowledge and Free Thought
- Learn, apply, reflect, and repeat.
- Builds Your Bank Account
- Money is very simply a problem everyone needs to solve in order to afford themselves time and opportunity.
- Builds Your Health
- “You can live to be 100 if you give up all of the things that make you want to be 100.” – Woody Allen
- Feeds Your Soul
- Spirituality matters. Period. “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” – Gandhi
- Create, Share, Inspire
- In one way or another, building things, contributing to bettering the world, and inspiring others to do the same is what we are all meant to do.
For now, farewell, and may your day be well-spent!
Matthew Thornton is an Austin-based artist and a history teacher. Originally from Corpus Christi, his wide-sweeping artistic interests range from writing and film-making to photography and painting. His work and studies explore patterns within the endless nuance of life as he remains constantly in search of the so-called, “big picture”.