Ben Franklin: Do Nothing Easy
In our series End Quotes, we’ve been highlighting the last words of history’s most famous “Renaissance Men,” including Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Each man made a unique mark, but America’s own Ben Franklin might be the ultimate example of a life fully lived.
Historians call him “The First American,” but even if he’d never led the charge for colonial independence, Ben Franklin would still be remembered. His inventions — bifocals, the lightning rod, rocking chairs and more — were products of his amazing mind. As a writer, he’s credited with creating an entire literary genre — the “self-help” book. And we all know of his groundbreaking work with electricity and energy.
If you look at the portly fellow on the 100 dollar bill, you might be surprised to learn that Ben was a remarkable athlete. As a youth, he became a Pennsylvania legend for his long distance swimming and feats of aquatic agility. These accomplishments earned him induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.
He was an accomplished musician and composer — a master of guitar, harp and violin. Ben’s skills as a chess player became so refined that he struggled to find opponents, and he was honored as an inductee of the Chess Hall of Fame in 1999.
In an age when people rarely left their hometown, Ben was a world traveler, crossing the Atlantic eight times and living abroad for 27 years. He was such a global celebrity that his arrival in foreign countries made headlines — and his unique charms caused women to swoon.
Ben Franklin was the premiere negotiator of his day; he used inventive advertising and marketing techniques to further the causes he held dear; and his patronage was fundamental to the creation of America’s first hospitals, libraries, and the postal system.
With all that, we are just scratching the surface of his accomplishments. It seems that he could do anything he attempted … and then some.
As Ben Franklin aged into his 80s, his health began to fail him. Obesity and gout forced him to retire and in April of 1790, family members were summoned to his side as he battled pleurisy. Struggling for air, his daughter Sara encouraged him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. He quipped, “A dying man can do nothing easy.” He passed away shortly after.
For a man who seemed to accomplish things so effortlessly, overcoming death was the one feat he couldn’t master.
So what made Ben Franklin such an extraordinary person? Born into a working class family as one of 17 children, he began his career with a basic education and few resources. With no obvious advantages, how did he do so much?
Ben’s secret was an adherence to the philosophy of goal setting and purposeful living. At age 20, he set out to live life by a set of 13 virtues, his personal goals for self-improvement. He pursued them continuously his entire life, focusing on one of the virtues every week. In his old age, he was still striving to learn more, do more and be more. It was only on his deathbed that he finally surrendered this steady quest to get better.