Thomas Jefferson's 10 Rules for the Good Life (Part 2)
September 27, 2022
In Part 1, we reviewed the first five of "Thomas Jefferson's 10 Rules of Life," providing an interpretation of their meaning and how they apply in business.
In this article, we will apply the same interpretation to rules six through ten, and throw in a "bonus" of sorts by also discussing two additional rules that Jefferson shared with his granddaughter, Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, several years prior to sharing the now famous "Decalogue of Cannons" with young Thomas Jefferson Smith in 1825.
To reiterate from Part 1, there are certainly many possible interpretations of Jefferson's ten rules. So, as you read through the article, I encourage you to think of how each rule might apply to you both personally and professionally as you seek your own interpretation.
6. Never repent of having eaten too little.
In 2014, my brother and I traveled to a remote northern part of Zimbabwe in Africa on a hunting safari.
Many of the residents we met had cell phones, but most of their villages lacked almost all of the modern conveniences we take for granted in first world countries, like running water and electricity to charge those cell phones (most use small portable solar panel chargers).
My appreciation for the plentiful everything we have in the United States was made most clear when we visited the local "magazine store", or grocery store.
The one room block building had a single row of shelves on the back wall stocked with a colorful array of food items (and plastic croc like sandals). It was enough to maybe fill two aisle endcaps in our local grocery store at home.
As I shared in my article, "How to Be Truly Thankful at Thanksgiving," time spent in a part of the world that gets by happily with so much less is humbling and fills me with gratitude for the life I'm privileged to have.
Jefferson's sixth rule speaks to the benefits of living a frugal life without over indulgence, the latter being near impossible in places like the rural bush country of Zimbabwe where nature is abundant but modern goods are hard to come by.
Gluttony and greed are the opposite of this rule, and certainly prevalent in all societies, rich and poor.
However, when you've taken care to be conservative in your approach to life, exercising prudence and reasonable caution, it can serve you well.
This approach may have given you more time to think through a problem and develop an even better solution.
A more thoughtful approach will almost always be appreciated by your clients, and even your team of employees, when they can see how it leads to better results.
In business, as in life, "fortune favors the bold," but borrowing an idiom used in the interpretation of rule three from my Jefferson's Rules Part 1, we don't want to "get out over our skis."
If some opportunities are missed because of a more cautious or conservative approach, don't beat yourself up over it or dwell on the decision. Prudence and patience, when exercised, have a place and time, and can definitely prove beneficial.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
In 1936, Dale Carnegie wrote one of the most popular self-help books in history, "How to Win Friends and Influence People."
I read the book as a teenager and ever since, have often thought about and put into practice many of the lessons Carnegie shares.
The lesson in chapter 3 is particularly relevant to Jefferson's rule number seven.
Carnegie points out that, "Every act you have ever performed since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something."
He gives an example of a financial contribution to your church or a charity.
You would not have made the donation if doing so did not give you back something in return that you wanted more than the money, such as a positive feeling of generosity or, less altruistically, not wanting to feel guilty by refusing a request.
Either way, your contribution was made willingly, but in the latter example, it could be argued that it may have been troublesome.
As noted in my article, "Never Work Another Day in Your Life," when you're doing activities which are your "unique ability", the activities are truly not troublesome and you are not only doing them willingly, you love to do them.
Unique ability activities are your "superpower." They're activities that everyone knows you do exceptionally well, and have done so all your life, even when you were a little kid.
These are activities that you'd do, and have done, even if you weren't paid to do them. At the end of ten or twelve hours working in your unique ability, you often feel more energized than when you started.
As a small business owner, you need to work as much as possible just on "unique ability" activities, and make certain members of your team are doing the same.
The more work your team does that they consider "not troublesome", and they also do willingly, without prodding or cajoling, the less oversight and management your team will require from you and others.
Following Jefferson's rule number seven will make you and your team much happier, you'll feel less burdened, and everyone will have found greater personal and professional freedom.
8. Don’t let the evils that have never happened cause you pain.
For those of you who were around in the late 1980s, you almost certainly will remember Bobby McFerrin's a cappella hit song, Don't Worry, Be Happy.
The first time I read Jefferson's rule number eight, I thought of this song, for obvious reasons.
Listing this rule in his Decalogue of Cannons is another dead giveaway that Jefferson was a Stoic. It's number 10 on Ryan Holiday's "50 Very Short Rules for a Good Life From the Stoics": "Don’t suffer imagined troubles."
Simply stated, there's enough stuff to worry about that is already happening without the added burden of also worrying about what might or could happen.
We all know at least one person who's a world class worry wart, and it might even be you.
For those people, this rule may be easier said than done, but here's a practical way to look at it.
In my interpretation for rule number one from Jefferson's Rules Part 1, I noted how goal setting can reduce stress and worry when you put off till tomorrow what you don't have to do today.
This approach to reducing overwhelm applies equally to this rule number 8 in both your professional and also personal life.
In a similar way, this rule provides justification for being, "More Organized, More Productive, and More Reliable," as I've written about before.
All your to do's, meetings, and important responsibilities are actually "evils" that you're letting get the better of you, and which regularly cause you pain in the form of stress, worry, and anxiety about possibly missing something.
Set goals to move worries off to the future where they belong, and get organized with a formal "to do list" and calendar, preferably electronic for all the advantages that format provides, or paper if that's a format that you will actually use.
9. Always take things by their smooth handle.
Like many parts of the western United States that have suffered from a never ending drought, Arizona recently had fires in the desert just north of Phoenix, which burned the trees and underbrush, leaving only the tall saguaro cacti as lone sentinels in the now cleared, charred, low rolling hills.
Driving through this fire damaged area, I couldn't help but notice the light colored, dirt network of game trails that crisscrossed the blackened ground.
It reminded me that animals in the wild will always take the "path of least resistance" when traveling from one place to another.
Unfortunately, humans all too often do things in a way that is far more complicated, complex, and challenging than necessary.
We could certainly learn from our friends in the wild by following Jefferson's ninth rule, which is also rule number 26 from Ryan Holiday's "50 Very Short Rules From the Stoics": "Grab the 'smooth handle.'”
In both your personal life and in business, preparation that includes a little research and thinking ahead about how to navigate around obstacles can keep you on a "path of least resistance," making the work you do easier to accomplish, completed in a more timely manner, and oftentimes more profitable.
10. When angry, count to 10 before you speak; if very angry, count to 100.
At the end of three brutal days of fighting at Gettysburg in July of 1863, General Lee and the Confederate army were in retreat, but trapped on the Union side of the Potomac River, swollen by rains.
It was a golden opportunity for the Union army to capture Lee and his army and end the Civil War, but no matter how hard Abraham Lincoln tried, he could not convince the Union general, Meade, to attack and finish the war once and for all. Instead, the river subsided, Lee and his army escaped, and the war raged on for two more years.
Lincoln poured his anger out in a scathing letter addressed to General Meade, but Meade never received the letter.
Lincoln put the letter in a drawer where it was found many years later with numerous other Lincoln letters noted as, "never sent and never signed."
Jefferson's rule number ten and the actions of Lincoln both align with rule number 19 from Holiday's "50 Very Short Rules From the Stoics": "Put every impression, emotion, to the test before acting on it."
In 2017, a member of my Leadership Team, Janet (not her real name), sent me an email in frustration, saying that she thought I had lied to her about something I can't even recall.
I read her email while out in the field working on quality assurance inspections, and it made me very angry.
In my opinion, and from my perspective, she had clearly misunderstood me and was making an unfair accusation.
Driving from one side of town to the other to complete inspections on more homes, I was going to pass right by our office, and wanted very badly to stop and give Janet a piece of my mind.
After driving and thinking about the situation for twenty minutes, the freeway exit to the office came into view... and I drove right by, continuing on to complete my other inspections.
I was still angry, but not ready to confront Janet on her accusation, so I told myself that if I was still angry after finishing the inspections, and thinking more about how best to handle the situation, I would stop at the office on the return trip at the end of the day.
I never stopped at the office, and never said anything more to Janet, thankfully following Jefferson's rule number ten and avoiding an unnecessary confrontation because my pride was hurt (see rule number five from Jefferson's Rules Part 1).
*5. Take care of your cents: Dollars will take care of themselves!
The first of two additional rules Jefferson included in an undated letter to Cornelia Jefferson Randolph was number 5 on that list.
It's generally true that people who focus on getting the details of a task correct, crossing every "t" and dotting every "i", will more often than not accomplish their ultimate objective.
This is because planning ahead and thinking through the details and steps necessary to solve a problem or complete a task results in greater efficiency, fewer mistakes, and less time wasted on rework.
Following this rule from Jefferson means getting the little stuff right, so the big stuff will more likely come to pass.
*11. Think as you please, and so let others, and you will have no disputes.
The second additional rule shared with Cornelia was number 11 on that list.
This rule should not be followed simply to avoid disputes, which is undoubtedly a positive outcome.
Instead, the rule encourages us to let people have their own opinions, positions and thoughts, just as you want to have your own.
As a business owner, it has always been important to me to allow members of my team to think for themselves, allow dissenting opinions, and forge consensus from diverse perspectives.
This approach may result in, rather than help avoid, disputes.
However, the quality of decisions that come from a process that allows others to think as they please, is almost always higher than if every member of the team thought exactly the same.
I hope you found this review of Jefferson's "10 Rules of Life" to be enlightening and helpful.
Some apply more clearly to running your business than others, but all apply to how we choose to live our lives.
Practicing five, ten or all twelve rules will help you to achieve greater personal and professional freedom as you work to build a Freedom Focused business while also staying...
Focused on your freedom!
Listen to the podcast episode: #034 Thomas Jefferson's 10 Rules for the Good Life (Part 2)