Editor’s Note: In 1726, Benjamin Franklin found himself on an 11-week voyage from London back to Philadelphia. He had spent some time in England learning the printing business, and was now, at age 20, ready to return home and strike out for himself. Young Ben was on the threshold to adulthood, and his thoughts turned to the kind of man he wanted to be. For the first time in his life, he set out some rules for his self-improvement, calling them his “Plan of Conduct.” Soon after, he would create a whole program designed to motivate himself to become more virtuous.
Benjamin Franklin’s Plan of Conduct
Those who write of the art of poetry teach us that if we would write what may be worth the reading, we ought always, before we begin, to form a regular plan and design of our piece: otherwise, we shall be in danger of incongruity. I am apt to think it is the same as to life. I have never fixed a regular design in life; by which means it has been a confused variety of different scenes. I am now entering upon a new one: let me, therefore, make some resolutions, and form some scheme of action, that, henceforth, I may live in all respects like a rational creature.
1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe.
2. To endeavour to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action — the most amiable excellence in a rational being.
3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.
4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.