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Benjamin Franklin's Way to Success: Analytical Essay

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Success has been stated that it is not the key to happiness but instead, being happy is the key to success. People say if you love what you are doing and following your passion, you will be successful. What determines success? According to Malcolm Gladwell, you need to follow the 10,000-hour rule. Has anyone thought about this amount of time? It is equivalent to about 5 years, putting in a 40-hour work week. “One of his invaluable contributions to society was the fact that he inspired millions of people to focus on self-improvement, to which he devoted one or two hours each day.” (Franklin 1986: 87) Is that how long it takes to be successful? What if you are not enjoying what you are doing and dreading the work instead? Benjamin Franklin is widely regarded as an icon of American success and a symbol of a self-made man. Franklin came from a poor family and he and his father did not agree on his career choices. However, Franklin made himself through independent choices. His determination has often made the public think of him as the example of his own innate genius. He was called America’s “first great man of letters” by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, Franklin was a “writer, printer, publisher, scientist, philanthropist and diplomat, and was the most famous and respected private figure of his time.”

Through Malcolm Gladwell’s, Outliers: The Story of Success, this narrative non-fiction book explains the factors that contribute to being successful. Gladwell believes that success is not just about abilities. Instead, it combines other factors. One is that timing is very important as well as working hard as it relates to his 10,000 hour rule to gain mastery. Having the opportunity and cultural legacy are also contributing factors to success. His belief that people benefit from random factors such as birthdates and where you were born influence the opportunities you have. In his book, he gave an example of a hockey team and the data that showed those hockey players that were born earlier in the year such as in the months of January, February, and March, had a head start, were stronger, bigger and taller than those players that were born in December. He concluded that if they were born earlier in the year, they had a much better life-long advantage to be successful. Other factors included the way each person was brought up by their family, and the values they had as individuals. While Gladwell’s beliefs that success depends on random factors and other things that a person cannot control is fascinating, his beliefs when applied to the life of Benjamin Franklin as related in his Autobiography, that behind successful people timing counts, meaningful work and with the support of others helps determines success; similarly my mother, who had numerous family dysfunctions and obstacles to overcome, Gladwell’s theory is complicated because she attained success on her own in spite of the many difficulties she faced growing up.

In Gladwell’s book, one of his beliefs is that timing is a critical component of success and opportunity. Benjamin Franklin was the youngest son for five generations and the 15th child out of 17 back in 1706 born in the month of January. In their family, most of his brothers became apprentices working in trade since that was the custom back in the 18th century. However, this is not what the intent that his parents had for him. They wanted him to go work in the church, so they enrolled him in a grammar school. He was at the top of the class and because of this, he was sent to an even better school. While there, he knew he never wanted to work in the church or work in the trade industry. He found he loved books and he loved writing. Those became an important part of his life. Gladwell also believes that opportunity knocks for some but not for others. He did have this opportunity that his siblings did not since he was sent to good schools and he was able to witness his older siblings daily work. This is an example of an area that I agree with Gladwell on. Benjamin Franklin was born in the first month of the year and sending him to school and finding what he loved, was an opportunity and were recognizable contributors to his success.

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Another key factor of Gladwell’s was meaningful work. Gladwell believed it was critical to success along with working hard. For Benjamin Franklin, while having the opportunity to attend schools, he found that books, literacy, and writing were very important not only to him but to that time period. Gladwell’s belief of having meaningful work was correct. His work and passion for writing gave him real purpose and that is why Franklin worked even harder. Also, a main factor of success from Gladwell is the 10,000-hour rule. He believes that the most successful people work much harder than others and that if you practice hard for 10,000 hours in a certain area, you will be very successful. If you extend that time over a ten-year period, that is at least 20 hours per week to be accomplished. Franklin definitely worked hard, centered around books, literacy, and writing. However, part of his success was his determination and the wealth he earned which enabled him to do other things, such as opening a library, volunteering in other jobs, and experimenting with science. Many people work hard, and some put in over 10,000 hours and are still not successful. Many factors contribute to that especially in our modern world of change. An example is a person who has been with a company for over 30 years, may not be as successful because of the change in technology, management, age, salary, family issues, debt, etc. There are so many factors that contribute or hinder success. Our world is changing at a fast pace and you may not be as successful because of outside factors even after the meaningful work that someone has achieved. I believe these factors complicate Gladwell’s claim that success is achieved by hard work and the 10,000 hour rule.

Gladwell’s belief of putting in timing and meaningful hard work is not always true. I am going to use my mother, Michelle Presnall as an example. She was born in the month of March, the fifth child of six and was very determined to follow her chosen field. She did not have the support at home, not because they didn’t want to give it but financially, they couldn’t and back then, it wasn’t the norm. Because of a dysfunctional family and her parents divorcing, she had her own apartment and worked full time while still in high school. Despite how hard it was, she continued to put herself through college all on her own and earned her teaching degree. While doing this, she broke her back, had major surgery, and was in a body cast for six months. That didn’t stop her since she had to pay the bills and continued even in the cast to teach full time. Her goal to earn a master’s degree in education never faltered. She taught during the day and went to college in the evenings and finished while dating my dad. They married when she finished that and had three children, all boys. She continued to always work full time despite three children and tutored students after school. Her determination was there, and she worked hard not only as a teacher but as a mom. She was successful but Gladwell talked about the three elements for satisfying work: autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward. In teaching, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, the reward of salary will be what the schedule allows. Even if a person is a great teacher, they will only receive the increase in pay by the steps on that salary schedule. The reward was enjoying what she wanted and working with the students. I was the youngest of the three boys. When I graduated from high school, she decided to follow what she really wanted to do and went into administration at a County of Education in Southern California. She had earned her Administration Credential while teaching. She really enjoys it. My mother was great at teaching, but family and responsibilities help make the choices for her career. She says the only thing she wished she would change is that she had gone back to college and got her doctorate in education but that was not possible because of costs, time, and family. Again, she put in thousands and thousands of hours as Gladwell points as a key factor but that didn’t make her more successful especially in earning the set salary of a teacher.

Being successful is important. But just as important is the concept of the American Dream. Following your passion, being happy, and doing what is important to you, will aide in you being successful. Benjamin Franklin was able to earn a great deal of wealth which helped him continue to pursue other things that he valued and was determined to do. Today, many people work hard to be successful but the high cost of living, family responsibilities, the cost of college and debt, the cost of health care and insurance, and the cost of housing are considerations in choosing what a person can do in life. This is where I believe Gladwell’s argument to success is complicated. Costs are continually skyrocketing. Even if you have the determination and follow the rule of 10,000 hours which is hard to do since people change jobs every few years now, you may not be able to do things financially or because of our vast changing society. Gladwell doesn’t include the everyday obstacles that can hinder working harder to be successful. Loving what you are doing and being happy is just as important in being successful. A quote by Bo Bennett helps understand being successful today, “Success is not in what you have, but who you are.”

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