What Is It That Guides The Choices You Make?

by | Aug 12, 2020

“We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we have selected to govern our lives. In selecting that value system, we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin was an amazing dude. A prolific polymath, the guy had more dimensions than string theory.

He was an author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

I heard that he also made a great mutton casserole.

In today’s day and age where it seems like everyone is a “Co-Founder” of something, Ben was the OG Co-Founder… of a little thing called the United States of America. Ever heard of it?

He even created his own alphabet, for Pete’s sake. Who does that?

Grab a copy of his autobiography and soak it up. His story is remarkable.

Ben Franklin was, by any definition imaginable, a remarkably successful and effective human being. One whose life had deep meaning and purpose, and enduring impact.

Benjamin Franklin's 13 Virtues – Anric BlattIf you read his story, you will learn that he attributed most of his success to defining and practicing 13 virtues, guiding ideas which he believed if practiced, would lead to a meaningful life. Things like…

Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

…and 11 others.

He practiced these like religion, carrying around a pocket card listing these virtues wherever he went. He would reflect on and record his success in living these at the end of each day. Talk about intentional living.

Unsurprisingly, Franklin learned that the more intentional he was about practicing these virtues, the more successful and effective he became.

Back to Ben in a second, but let’s fast forward 230 years. Ray Dalio, founder of the most successful hedge fund of all time, wrote his own autobiography called Principles – the core idea of which was… you guessed it… the guiding principles that he chalks his success up to.

Two different guys. Two different time periods. And two wildly different hairstyles. But with two noteworthy similarities:

#1 – Each established and practiced a concrete set of guiding principles – virtues – that guided their lives, and…

#2 – Each has had enormous success and enduring impact.

Life is, in many ways, like setting sail on a great ocean voyage. Most of us have a destination in mind—whether a career aspiration, a certain life goal, a legacy we want to leave.

But we know that inevitably, the seas en route to that destination will get choppy, and the winds unpredictable. There’s no changing these forces of nature. Things will go wrong. They will be tough.

But virtues serve us like a compass… keeping us on-course towards our desired destination no matter how life’s winds or tides shift.

Inspired by B-Frank, I have been reflecting on, writing about, and refining my own virtues over the past few years. I read them each morning. I try my hardest to live them each day. When life knocks me off my feet (Hello, 2020!), they are the things I try to recenter on to keep me on-course.

My virtues have sprouted from a simple, but fundamental question:

What are the guiding principles that, when I live them, will help me experience a rich and meaningful life?

Here are two of mine:

Play big. Make no little plans. Silence the inner voices that keep your life small, and refuse to settle for modest aspirations. Aim high… dream big… and play full-out.

Accept that much of what happens in the world is outside of your control. Redouble your efforts to influence those things that you can change… and don’t fall into the trap of getting angry or frustrated at the things that you cannot change.

So… what are your virtues? What guides the way in which you live? The choices that you make? 

As the OG co-founder said, “in selecting [virtues], we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.”

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