Great lessons from great men

Because I write a personal finance blog, I read a lot of books about money. I’ll be honest: they’re usually pretty boring. Sure, they can tell you how to invest in bonds or how to find the latest loophole in the tax code. But most of them lack a certain something: the human element.

Over the years, I’ve found that it’s fun to read a different kind of money book in my spare time. I’ve discovered the joy of classic biographies and success manuals, especially those written by (or about) wealthy and/or successful men. When I read about Benjamin Franklin or Booker T. Washington or J.C. Penney, I learn a lot — not just about money, but about how to be a better person.

Here are some of the most important lessons that these books, written by and about great men of years gone by, have taught me.

Be Tenacious

“Anybody can be a halfway man, but the one who rises above this class is the one who keeps everlastingly pushing.”J. Ogden Armour, Touchstones of Success (1920)

More than any other, one lesson stands out from the books I’ve read: Never give up. If you have a goal or a dream, pursue it. If there’s a cause that you truly believe in, then fight for it. That’s not to say that you should doggedly chase greed or gluttony, but that you should do your best to achieve those things that are important to you. Great men — and great women too! — struggle through daunting obstacles to reach their destinations. In everything that you do, do your best. And remember: The road to wealth is paved with goals.

Exercise Self-Control

“‘Tis easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it.”Benjamin Franklin, The Way to Wealth (1758)

Because he had very real trouble regulating his impulses, Benjamin Franklin famously attempted to codify his quest for self-control. As Brett wrote at The Art of Manliness, Franklin committed himself to thirteen virtues, and he developed a system for tracking how disciplined he was in his daily pursuit of these ideals. There’s nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence. But when the indulgence becomes a habit — or worse, a vice — this can affect your life. Even destroy it. If you have habits that prevent you from fulfilling your potential, find a way to boost your self-control. (You might, for example, use Joe’s Goals to track your progress, much like Benjamin Franklin did.)

Do the Right Thing

“To be truly rich, regardless of his fortune or lack of it, a man must live by his own values. If those values are not personally meaningful, then no amount of money gained can hide the emptiness of life without them.”John Paul Getty, How to Be Rich (1961)

Have a code of honor, and live by it. Your code of honor might come from your faith, or from your education, or from your family. Whatever the source, live by these values. Life is filled with temptations. The more you accomplish, the more people will tempt you with offers for quick gains or passing pleasures. Many people succumb to these, but those who do rarely achieve what they might have if they’d stuck to their principles. The books I’ve read are filled with stories of folks who have resisted the urge to compromise, and who believe that this has been a key to their success. Don’t cheat. Be honest. Work hard. And embrace the golden rule.

Embrace the Golden Rule

“Good will is one of the few really important assets of life. A determined man can win almost anything that he goes after, but unless, in his getting, he gains good will he has not profited much.”Henry Ford, My Life and Work (1922)

James Cash Penney — the man behind the J.C. Penney chain of department stores — believed that success could be measured by how a man treated others. In his book, Fifty Years with the Golden Rule, Penney describes his life-long adherence to this maxim: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Other great people through history have believed the same. They believed that their fortunes came not from pursuing money itself, but by producing something of value to others. But this principle also holds true outside of business. In your dealings with your friends, your family, and with strangers, treat others as you would like to be treated. Doing so builds social capital, strengthening the fiber of the community.

Pay Yourself First

“Many a man is poor today, although he has worked like a slave, simply because he could not save.”Orison Swett Marden, The Young Man Entering Business (1903)

Another common thread in most of these books — and in personal finance classics like The Richest Man in Babylon — is the importance of saving. “Pay yourself first,” the old adage goes, and it’s great advice. If you will set aside ten or twenty per cent of all that you earn, your fortune will grow far beyond that of your peers. Some of this money should be invested in a manner that makes you comfortable. (You should learn about the concepts of asset allocation and diversification, if you haven’t already.) But some of your money should also be set aside in an emergency fund. When you save — when you pay yourself first — you are using the strength of your youth to insure your uncertain tomorrow.

Avoid Debt

“Be assured that it gives much more pain to the mind to be in debt, than to do without any article whatever which we may seem to want.”Thomas Jefferson, Letter to his daughter Martha (14 June 1787)

Many young people struggle with debt — I did so myself. But those who are not able to overcome their spending habits are likely to find themselves always poor. When you pay interest to someone else, you cannot earn interest for yourself. When you’re in debt, your options are limited. You cannot choose, for example, to take a month off to travel across the country with a friend. You cannot quit a job you hate. If you did, how would your bills get paid? To be sure, a certain amount of debt is useful in business, but make it a policy in your personal life to never borrow for something that will decrease in value. (And if you’re already behind, make it a priority to get out of debt as soon as possible.)

Keep Well

“The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum of fortune; it is the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick.”P.T. Barnum, The Art of Money Getting (1880)

Your health is your greatest asset. If you lack health, you cannot work, and cannot produce an income. Health allows you to engage in productive activities, at work and at play. It allows you to enjoy the company of your friends and family. And it allows you to live with vigor. Guard your health. Do not neglect your body. Eat well. Exercise regularly. If you drink or smoke, do so in moderation. You will not live forever, but with some care and foresight, you may get a little closer!

Do Not Covet

“By wishing to be what he calls ‘up-to-date’ as his friends or boon companions, many a young man mortgages his future.”Orison Swett Marden, The Young Man Entering Business (1903)

It never pays to compare yourself to others. For one, you can find yourself longing to own the same things they do. Your best friend buys a new Ford Mustang, and suddenly you want one too. Your co-workers go out for drinks on Friday evening, but you’re broke — the temptation to join in, to have what others have, can be unbearable. Focus only on yourself and how the things you own and do relate to your goals. Don’t be jealous of others. (This is one message in the famous essay, “Acres of Diamonds”: Instead of looking elsewhere for wealth, look at your own life.)

Live Modestly

“This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth…To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or arrogance.”Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth (1889)

This is the flip side to “Do Not Covet”. Just as you should not allow the behavior of your friends to influence your spending decisions, so too be conscious of your influence on them. If you have money, don’t flaunt it. And if you don’t have money, don’t pretend that you do. It’s fine (even good) to buy quality products, but don’t be flashy. Live modestly, simply, and well.

Practice Patience

“No matter how great the talent or the effort, some things just take time: you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report (1985)

Too many people want to “get rich quick”. They’re on the lookout for fast money. They also want to lose weight now, to be a great writer now, to be in management now. This obsession with “now” is a problem. In his new book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell writes that the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is 10,000 hours. That is, those who achieve mastery have patiently practiced their craft for at least 10,000 hours — the equivalent of five years of full-time work. When people ask me why Get Rich Slowly has been successful, one of my responses is that I’ve worked at it 60+ hours a week for the past fourteen years. Practice may not “make perfect”, but it certainly breeds success.

Give Generously

“Thrift does not end with itself, but extends its benefits to others. It founds hospitals, endows charities, establishes colleges, and extends educational influences.”Samuel Smiles, Thrift (1875)

I wasn’t raised in a culture of giving. It’s only something I’m beginning to learn in middle age. But as I read about the choices of those who have come before me, it’s clear that they have derived satisfaction (and have done a lot of good) by giving generously — not just of money, but also of time and knowledge. Do not hoard the things you have. Share them so that others might profit, too. Think abundance, not scarcity.

Embrace an Abundance Mindset

“I learned the lesson that great men cultivate love, and that only little men cherish a spirit of hatred. I learned that assistance given to the weak makes the one who gives it strong; and that oppression of the unfortunate makes one weak…I would permit no man, no matter what his colour might be, to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (1901)

Look, people are people. Each of us is trying to make our way through this life the best way we possibly can. I may not agree with your approach and you may not agree with mine, but that does not mean we can’t peacefully coexist. I don’t have to hate you for what you believe; you don’t have to hate me for my worldview. There’s too much hate in this country (and this world) right now. Hate stems from a lack of patience, a lack of empathy, a lack of spirit. Fundamentally, hate is the scarcity mindset in action: “There’s not enough for me, so there’s certainly not enough for people like you.” I don’t buy it. I believe there’s plenty for everyone, and that it’s our responsibility to help others share in the abundance. Sounds cheesy, I know, but I truly believe in the abundance mindset.

Learning from the Average Joe

Over the past decade, I’ve enjoyed reading the real-life stories of how great men became great. (And great women too!) But I’ve also found it enlightening to read about the experiences of the average everyday person — people like you and me.

One book I strongly recommend (especially considering the state of the economy) is Hard Times by Studs Terkel. Hard Times is an oral history of the Great Depression. Terkel interviewed scores of men and women about their experiences during the 1930s. Their stories are amazing, and they offer great insight about how we can live better lives today. (I wrote more about this book in the thick of the Great Recession.)

Go forth, my friends, and do great things.

Note: This article originally appeared at The Art of Manliness in a slightly different form. Also, for Mother’s Day, Tanja Hester from Our Next Life shared a companion piece profiling Great Lessons from Great Women. Check it out!

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There are 57 comments to "Great lessons from great men".

  1. Sam says 25 January 2010 at 05:22

    Regarding the footnote on lessons for women, I think the above mottos or lessons are equally applicable to men AND women. Sadly, not nearly as many great thoughts and lessons from women were captured and published during historical times.

    For me, being debt free, except for the mortgage (and our real estate mortgage) has been the most freeing lesson.

    And following being debt free we find ourselves living modestly, practicing patience, working on not coveting, and exercising self control. By taking debt out of lifestyle we buy less stuff (live modestly), we save up for purchases and experiences (patience and self control), and we ignore what our peers are doing/buying (no coveting).

  2. Craig Ford says 25 January 2010 at 06:09

    “Embrace the golden rule”
    As a Christian for a long time I thought the golden rule was something that worked in church, but would be a terrible thing to apply to a business. I viewed the business world as competitive and cutthroat.
    Then I started talking with successful business owners. Over and over they said that the golden rule helped their business grow.
    I guess sometimes the nice guys still win.
    I was happy to see this important principle listed today.

  3. Jennifer says 25 January 2010 at 06:49

    This is a great post. Thank you for the valuable information and interesting read. It’s something I will come back to for sure.

    And, good timing on a sleepy Monday morning: Be Tenacious “Anybody can be a halfway man, but the one who rises above this class is the one who keeps everlastingly pushing.” Ok! I’m up, I’m up!!

    One comment about great women – it’s seems a different or bigger sacrifice for them. I have read a couple of books on successful business women and it seems a little sadder for them. They need to work harder and longer and many seem to neglect many things that are important to them to make it – family, health. I wonder if others see it differently?


  4. Beth says 25 January 2010 at 07:00

    Great post! Though I’ve always been a little annoyed at how people seem to think “great men” and “great women” have to be divided up. Why can’t we have “great lessons from great people?” (No offense, J.D.!)

    One of my favourite quotes is :

    “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” — Helen Keller

  5. David says 25 January 2010 at 07:07

    Your breakdown of 12 important people and their philosophy reminded me of a book I read years ago called “The Change Makers” by Maury Klein.

    The Intro is incredibly boring, but after that his profile of 26 famous entrepreneurs is interesting, as you see the common threads running through their lives.

  6. Jackie says 25 January 2010 at 07:26

    I think tenacity combined with integrity (plus a little help from others) will get you where you want to go, once you have a clear picture of what that destination is. I think it’s interesting, too, that so many of the great men seemed to have one overriding principle that they could distill their lived too. (With the exception of Ben Franklin, who had the 13 he monitored and worked on daily.)

  7. Little House says 25 January 2010 at 07:39

    I find it fascinating that J.C. Penney wrote about providing quality goods and sticking to the golden rule, they’re still around. Sears, however, has been struggling for years and will probably not last another 20. I wonder if Sears had a book about life or finance?

  8. HollyP says 25 January 2010 at 07:39

    I can think of three women off the top of my head: Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics magnate who build a business from scratch and died worth $100 million. The second is St. Marguerite d’Youville, the first Canadian-born Catholic Saint. Her husband ran up enormous debt and then died, leaving the young widow destitute. Not only did she pay off the debt, but she built a small business which earned her substantial funds. Later, after she’d formed the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, she took over the nearly bankrupt City Hospital and turned it into a going concern. The last is Amy Daczyn,who wrote the Tightwad Gazzette.

  9. Ami Kim says 25 January 2010 at 07:47

    Thank-you for the list of books. I have an easier time digesting financial principles if I get to read a story with the lesson 🙂 (The Richest Man in Babylon is a great example)

    Another woman to consider: Maggie Walker, who was the first African American woman to found a bank (whose successor I believe is still open in Richmond).

  10. Dustin | Engaged Marriage says 25 January 2010 at 08:27

    Excellent post and a great read to start off a new week. I love that quote by Warren Buffett. I struggle with patience, and it is wise words like these that I can keep in mind when my anxiety starts to take hold.

    Outliers is on my books that I need to read soon.

  11. Jenzer says 25 January 2010 at 08:28

    If you can get your hands on a copy, I highly recommend Dorothea Brande’s book -Wake Up and Live!-. I first discovered it in the library of a liberal arts college where I worked years ago. The book was published in 1936, as “a practical handbook for those who would like to escape from futility and begin to live happily and well.”

    Brande is better known for her book -Becoming a Writer-, which is still in print.

    • Opus says 21 June 2020 at 14:42

      Just bought the 2 books. Thanks for the suggestions!

  12. GayleRN says 25 January 2010 at 08:43

    I love this stuff. Investor’s Business Daily has a daily feature of biographies and inspirational stories on the third page. Yes it’s that important to feed your mind and spirit with positive examples. How about Mother Theresa, Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Mary Kay Ash, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, any number of athletes, Florence Nightingale, etc.

  13. Amy says 25 January 2010 at 08:49

    Great Article! Thanks for this on a Monday morning. Much needed kick in the butt.
    I immediately thought of two Great Women – one for business – The woman who founded the Estee Lauder Company and Cori Ten Boom – The jewish sympathizer and nazi concentration camp survivor who went on to create a place for people to come and start emotionally healing after WW2 was over. She’s less business and more faith driven, but her story is inspiring.

  14. Nicole says 25 January 2010 at 09:01

    I went to an academic talk on leadership once, and the guy who gave the talk said the number one predictor of being a leader among the CEOs he studied was wanting to be a leader. He (unsurprisingly) also pegged integrity as the thing that kept CEOs out of jail.

  15. Shara says 25 January 2010 at 09:05

    Thank you, JD. I get really tired of people talking about businessmen as though they are soulless ‘do anything for a buck’ type people. In John Stossel’s first book he talks about his years as a consumer reporter and how there were always businesses who were willing to cheat, but they didn’t typically last very long. People typically deal with businesses the way we deal with other people: if we don’t like how we’re treated, we avoid them. If we can’t avoid them (the only grocer in town for example), we do what we can to minimize exposure.

    90% of businessmen/women I know are ethical ‘golden rule’ type people. And I think that’s a much higher %age than I know of the general population.

  16. Kent Thune says 25 January 2010 at 09:09

    J.D, the philosopher! I’m loving it! One could add Socrates to the list. He willingly died to defend his values and virtues. According to Plato, Socrates said this just before he was forced to drink the hemlock that would take his life:

    “I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.” ~ Socrates



  17. Ris says 25 January 2010 at 10:09

    I’d love to see a list of books you’ve read that you really like. I’m always looking for interesting reads to impress and inspire.

  18. Tomas Stonkus says 25 January 2010 at 10:09

    People’s life long wisdom summed in one article! Awesome!

    Yet, I think it is going to take me about as much to learn all of the above lessons. It’s easy to recite them, but very difficult to live them.

    I like these lessons as guidelines, but I have fallen out of favor of trying to follow any of them. I realized that I have to learn my own lessons and create my own rules.

    If I try to follow somebody else lessons, then I am not sure I am living my own life or if I am understanding the lesson completely.

    Anyway. Just my two cents.


  19. Chickybeth says 25 January 2010 at 10:26

    This was a great post and I do try to apply all of these things to my life.

    I think a good woman of our time to profile would be Oprah Winfrey. She started out poor and built an empire by herself. All long, she seems to get the most joy from helping others and truly seems to want others to be as successful as she is.

    On another note, It is kind of sad to me to see the great-grandkids of the well known American rich take it for granted now and throw their lives away. It seems they learned the least from their forefathers. Maybe we can learn from their mistakes now as well as from the lessons they never learned.

    • HS says 02 April 2011 at 17:14

      Woah – – not all the great grandkids of rich people take it all for granted and waste their lives. My aunt June is very rich and always impresses upon her family the importance of hard work and integrity. That is what led to her success. Her family – – all of her family – – still work very hard and do not take anything for granted because they remember how they worked for what they now own.

  20. Oleg Mokhov says 25 January 2010 at 10:32

    Hey J.D.,

    “Do not covet” is possibly the most valuable lesson here.

    The personal development ones you’ll work on regardless of if you’re doing it in an organized manner, or just as a “grow as you go” approach.

    But not comparing yourself to others is something you shouldn’t do – but most of us fall into the trap of doing.

    Like that quote “be yourself; everyone else is taken,” you’ll only be as good as a good-enough imitation of someone else.

    Just look at all the me-too’s after Apple’s latest creations. Very few gadget companies innovate and make something so useful and desirable – they play catchup or try to make a more X-version of an Apple product. No game-changers.

    A practical tip is to consume less information. Follow your industry less. Don’t care what people think.

    Only consume and follow enough to get what you need–what you believe in–done. The just-in-time info, not the just-in-case.

    When you do what you really believe in, and you have an effective direction you’re moving in with it (ie. you know people will want it), then you can truly become great.

    Awesome list of life lessons from the greats,

  21. Conector says 25 January 2010 at 11:12

    Your post reminds me of another life-altering book, “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. Originally published in 1938, Hill was challenged by the great industrialist Andrew Carnegie to interview 500 successful men and women in order to distill their success stories into a simple formula that could be duplicated by the average person. JD’s list of life lessons echoes many of Hill’s conclusions.

  22. Catherine says 25 January 2010 at 11:40

    If you could find a quote by/about Hetty Green, that would be great — she was one of the first women investors in the US and was known as the “Witch of Wall Street”. She was extremely stingy and I don’t think there is much out there about her.

  23. elysianconfusion says 25 January 2010 at 11:45

    J.D. One good overview is Written by Herself, edited by Jill Kerr Conway. It’s autobiographies of American women and they are fascinating stories.
    Keep well and gaining good habits, I wanted to share as a good way to hold yourself accountable for forming good habits. The theory being that it takes 21 days to form a habit — make your own up and then it asks you every day if you were successful the previous day. I’m finding it very helpful.
    Finally, I am not sure whether you’ve covered this and I missed it, but I’m trying to figure out how to plan for the future if I end up in a nursing home or with Alzheimer’s. I don’t want to do all this saving and have it all go to a nursing home — I want it to go to my kids. How do you plan that properly?
    Thanks always for your suggestions.

  24. Jay says 25 January 2010 at 11:55

    JD, thogh I enjoyed the overall idea of this article a little more research would be needed to show that some of these great men failed to follow their own advice.

    Thomas Jefferson on debt – Jefferson was in immense debt for most of his adult life due to he money he spent on Monticello. He also owned over 600 slaves in his lifetime. There is nothing to show he treated his slaves any worse then other slave owners, but indentured servitude is indentured servitude.

    Andrew Carnegie on modesty – though know as one of the world’s greatest philatropists, Carnegie also was the second most wealthy man in the world behind John D Rockefeller. He owned Skibo castle in Scottland and was a founding member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club that caused the Johnstown flood.

    Benjamin Franklin on suppression of desire – a great and brilliant founding father was also a drunk and a womanizer while helping form the country.

    Yes these are great men, yes they did things well above anything I will ever accomplish, but we shold look at them as men, men with faults. JD please do a little more reaseach on this before putting them out.

  25. Lori says 25 January 2010 at 12:02

    Great advice in here! Never live beyond your means, always budget, and if you are in debt, make getting out of debt be your number one goal. So much freedom in being debt free. Keep on with the good articles, I hope many more will stop by here to read this and heed the advice!

  26. CB says 25 January 2010 at 12:35

    Jay, I think the point to remember is that they are regarded as great men. Yes, in their day they were men just like anyone else. But for what they’ve done and what they strived to be they can be considered great.
    We’ve grown accustomed to discovering the faults of those who we regard as great that we’ve forgotten what made them great actually was something worthy of greatness. This has become such a part of our lives that we almost eagerly wait to see our leaders fall so that we can dismiss them as no more worthy of our attention than our next door neighbor. Yet we haven’t completely lost hope because we hungrily look to the next leader hoping that they will be the one who meets our expectations.
    Yes, most men have faults and you can find them if you dig deep enough. However, if we admire the good qualities of people and learn from the bad, we become greater than if we blindly follow the legends that ignore anything that could be perceived negative, or outright dismiss anyone with flaw.
    JD, I’m looking forward to the second part of the series with April. Thanks.

  27. DreamChaser57 says 25 January 2010 at 12:38

    Classic post, J.D., – I am quite confident that this will be in the Best of 2010 list by any metric, most viewed or most posts! I’m also quite impressed that you read a lot of finance material, which serves to constantly expand your knowledge base. Learning is a journey and not a destination. This demonstrates that you honor your role as an emerging financial expert.
    @ #2 (Craig) – your post resonated with me. with the doctrine of “separation of church and state” it’s easy to assume that we have to divorce our fiscal and spiritual lives, but the reality is for most human beings those lives are incredibly integrated. a book that delves deeper into this is entitled doing business by the good book by david steward (mastermind behind WWT, a technological firm that has revenues in excess of one billion)
    @#5 (Hillary) wow! Love the choice of words you used, trying to get rid of debt to move onto goals -for so long my family of origin’s debt philosophy was just debt management – if you got through the year and paid all your bills you were doing fine, paying bills is not a financial goal – retirement, charity, travel are goals – being a hamster on a wheel to swell the profit margins of my debtors is not a goal.
    J.D. – I’m very much looking forward to your comparable women post, that’s not to say that I did not enjoy this one immensely

  28. DMC says 25 January 2010 at 12:40

    I liked this post and have been reading your blog for the past year or so. The only constructive criticism I have for this particular post is that you may want to use terms that are more gender neutral.

  29. HollyP says 25 January 2010 at 12:55

    @Catherine, my great-great grandfather grew up in Bellows Falls, VT where Hetty Green lived, and he knew her children. Based upon what my grandfather heard from his grandfather about Mrs. Green’s children, she wasn’t big on life balance. This millionairess stuffed her kids shoes with newspaper when they got holes, rather than replace them.

    • HS says 02 April 2011 at 17:20

      Maybe her habits of thrift at all cost that helped her get rich were hard to break. Or maybe to get rich she neglected shopping so much she diddn’t have but one recourse. Or maybe she was ill.

  30. CorMom says 25 January 2010 at 13:27

    There is another book that seems to be the same way called “Lost 10 Years” written by Barry Braodfoot in 1973. The stories are real and tell of some scoundrels and some angels, but mostly about the normal people at that time and how they survived. Most of the stories are about 2 paragraphs and the book is quite a long one. I keep it as a survival bible for when times get rough. I have recommended reading it to everyone, especially at the begging of 2009.

  31. RetirementInvestingToday says 25 January 2010 at 13:52

    Great post. Pay yourself is something that I actively practice. In the modern day it really is very easy to spend everything you earn. There is always something out there taht you would ‘like’.

    Then as you grow older and maybe get a pay rise it’s so easy to just increase your standard of living to match. All sounds really great until about 40 years later you realise you have nothing.

  32. Dane says 25 January 2010 at 14:21

    I just wanted to say I always admired Benjamin Franklin’s technique, so I loved the Joe’s Goals site. I’m already signed up!

  33. namesarehardtopick says 25 January 2010 at 14:22

    I’d add to the list Solomon. Though he may or may not have been a historical character, the Book of Proverbs, which most of is written by him, encourages hard work, the embracement of knowledge, and avoiding mistakes with the mouth.

  34. RJ Weiss says 25 January 2010 at 14:30

    The old quote, “The more things change, the more things stay the same” must have originated in personal finance.

    It doesn’t take a genius to see that the same principles that helped make people successful even 200 years ago, still apply today.

  35. says 25 January 2010 at 14:32

    Tenacity: A friend and I were eating dinner one night and the subject of what set the people we knew that had done really well apart from the others and we both came to this word immediately. Success doesn’t happen overnight and its amazing how many failures you need to go through to get there.

    I can remember thinking for many years that every time I moved two steps forward it seemed like there were not 1 but three steps back. But eventually, you look up and say, “How the heck did I get here”. Never giving up is a huge part of success. Almost nobody is successful without a ridiculous struggle. It is too bad that the media portrays those who have succeeded as somehow getting their almost overnight.

    I agree that Oprah is great woman to examine, someone exemplifying what 25 plus years of hard work can turn into. If you go back to her early shows, she was the underdog to Phil Donahue and few people gave her much of a chance. But her tenacity and genuineness found a huge following. Whether you like her show or not you have to admire how she became ultra successful after having about one one the roughest childhoods you could imagine.

    More on Oprah at Wikipedia:

  36. Meg says 25 January 2010 at 14:54

    Gloria Jean would be another good woman to profile! Doris Christopher (she started Pampered Chef) would be another interesting person.

    Great article!

  37. PL says 25 January 2010 at 18:59

    Awesome post.

    I think the idea that every successful person has had disappointments and their success has usually only come because of their tenacity and effort.

    I also like the idea that doing the right thing should be a primary goal in and of itself. You do not have to manipulate, cheat, lie, or treat others badly to move ahead in life.

  38. sarah says 25 January 2010 at 20:48

    Great post — I have been trying to practice my own 13 virtues like an updated Ben Franklin list, and the ideas in this list adds to my thinking. To not covet is critical as is the 5,000 hours — I loved the addition of that concept.
    Thank you for sharing these insights!

  39. Elizabeth says 25 January 2010 at 20:48

    Great post! One point I would add in the “Keep Well” section:

    You only allude to physical health. I think that mental health is as important, if not more important, than physical health.

  40. S. B. says 25 January 2010 at 22:37

    This is a great post, J.D., and I totally agree!

    Strangely enough, most of the important financial lessons I learned never came from financial books. They came from non-financial books that focused on other things, but nonetheless contained things that were applicable to the financial realm on a much deeper level than the typical book about finance.

  41. David/Yourfinances101 says 26 January 2010 at 03:47

    Sometimes it can help to look at things with a historical perspective to gain insight.

    What is the saying—those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

    Don’t know if that necessarily applies here, but it makes sense to me.

  42. basicmoneytips says 26 January 2010 at 04:53

    I think this article hits on some great points. Of course they are harder to follow.

    This certainly sums up a well rounded person, that is for sure.

    One thing I would add or comment is that discipline is important in anything you do. Whether that be in spending or being envious of someone else, a person who can exercise discipline over their emotions is usually better off.

    Again, good article. Thanks

  43. Holly says 26 January 2010 at 06:46

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    One woman who should be on your list would be Madam CJ Walker. She became a millionaire with her own business producing and selling hair care products for
    African-American women, and in 1917 had the largest business owned by an African-American woman. Considered America’s first self-made female millionaire, she believed that giving economic opportunities to others was part of her mission.

  44. Rob says 26 January 2010 at 07:29

    Great article. You’ve mentioned a couple of the books which where your inspiration for this article. I love to read these kind of books. Whenever you have more recommendations… please let us know! (/me is updating my “to read” list)

  45. Glen says 26 January 2010 at 14:14

    I second the motion to read about Helen Keller (and Anne Sulivan, for that matter). Very amazing woman, and forgotten in so many ways (beyond bad jokes). Although I hear rumors that a remake of the Miracle Worker is in the works.

    Also, Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison from the early part of our history were two amazing women. Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister wrote books about women’s roles in the home; I haven’t read these, but supposedly they were quite ahead of their time.

  46. Aase says 26 January 2010 at 15:57

    Good post.

    One major caveat to the Golden Rule, as usually stated, is that it only works as long as other people want to be treated the same way you would like to be treated. Due to differences in personality, culture, and so on, this is often not the case. What we should try to do is to treat others as THEY want to be treated (I’ve seen this version called “the platinum rule”) – and you first have to discover what that means to each person.

    A corollary is to never assume that others know or can guess how YOU would like to be treated – you usually have to let them know somehow, either directly or by how you respond to them.

    (This may all be obvious to people born with good social skills – unfortunately some of us have to LEARN this stuff! 😉 )

  47. brian says 27 January 2010 at 05:07

    I read Barnum’s book, The Art of Money Getting, last night and another book Marden mentioned above. I was amazed by how much has not changed when it come to money advice in the last hundred years. Barnum’s book in addition to having good advice was also just darn funny.

    BTW, I downloaded the books free from It would be great if you do a post on the classic money books and authors that are available in electronic form for free.

  48. susan says 29 January 2010 at 12:12

    Late getting to this post. I love reading and one book
    I highly recommend is “life is so good” by george dawson and richard glaubman. Probably not the average joe but truly an extraordinary life story! I wonder how far this man could have reached if he would have been born today.

  49. Eric says 29 January 2010 at 19:01

    Thanks for a great post. As mentioned above, all of these books are available for free on the web. Google books has them all. I’d be interested, too, in a post pointing to some other good money/finance books that are available in the public domain.

  50. Chase says 01 February 2010 at 18:46

    Don’t forget Charles Dickens! He knew his stuff on living within your means.

    “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

  51. Jennifer says 21 June 2020 at 15:38

    Hey JD,
    Been reading you off and on for a long time. Don’t usually comment. While I appreciate you trying to bring in the human element, I had to say I was pretty disappointed at the “great MEN” focus. While it can take a little more time to bring in a little more balance, I know you can do better – the (great women too) felt like a token and I was pretty turned off by your headline.

    • J.D. says 21 June 2020 at 21:28

      Did you have the same complaint last month when I published Tanja’s “Great Women” piece?

      I realize this response might seem glib but it’s not mant to be. It’s a serious question. I make great efforts to keep things gender balanced here, and it’s frustrating that a male-centric piece on Father’s Day causes consternation yet a female-centric piece on Mother’s Day does not.

      • Jennifer Maurer says 23 June 2020 at 21:45

        I have a couple of different answers, and appreciate you truly wanting to know. Sorry for the frustration.

        First, I personally think there’s a difference between signal boosting an often ignored minority in a space, and focusing on exclusively the majority in explicitly exclusionary way. For example, to draw parallels to another hot topic, signal boosting black authors because often overlooked versus list of only white authors.

        Second, the first article came with a bit more framing of why they were being featured “often ignored / hear less about, so let’s focus on them today”. That gave the why.

        Finally, I was catching up on blog reading via Feedly on Sunday, and honestly didn’t notice it was published that day / tied to Father’s Day. If you had included that bit of context (“In honor of Father’s Day, great wisdom from great men”), probably wouldn’t have felt the same way when reading it.

        Thanks for listening.

        • J.D. says 24 June 2020 at 08:05

          Fair enough, Jennifer! Thank you for the feedback.

          We intend for both of these pieces to be annual Mother’s Day and Father’s Day articles. When they come forward in 2021, I’ll add some framing text that clarifies that these are articles tied to that day in the hopes that it’ll make it more obvious.

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