In her new book Cultivating Your Character, Deanna Becket, a leadership coach as well as a mom who homeschools her children, teaches readers how to apply the thirteen virtues that Benjamin Franklin personally cultivated to their own lives to become better, happier, and more successful people.
Becket divides the book into thirteen chapters, one for each virtue, and she asks readers to spend a month on each, thinking about that month’s virtue, writing about it, and trying to make it a daily habit. This introspection and life analysis will ultimately allow people to become well-rounded with more integrity and also a clearer vision about what they want in life.
While Becket puts a modern spin on some of Franklin’s virtues, using terms more familiar to us today, they are still the same virtues we all need if we want to build our characters—virtues like responsibility, honesty, balance, perseverance, and peace.
For Becket, having character means being able to do the right thing even when it is difficult, being tough when the odds are against you, and knowing when to tune out the world and listen to your inner voice and what God would want for you. Becket finds it important to find great examples of character in those who went before us—certainly in figures like Benjamin Franklin and Jesus, but also in everyday people in our own lives who can show us the way. She gives examples of how her parents and grandparents emulated character virtues and have passed down their beliefs and examples to her and her children.
Becket also has a healthy appreciation for the pioneers whose shoulders our modern world is built upon. She continually reminds us to look around and see what the character of our ancestors created that we today benefit from—our roads and bridges, technology, and all the modern comforts we enjoy.
When we think about what our great-grandparents did that has lasted for generations, we can feel great gratitude and appreciation, but we can also be inspired to create our own legacies for future generations. Here is just one passage from the book that illustrates this point:
Even into the 1930s, only 10 percent of the farms had electricity. Imagine if Edison had not finished his discovery or pushed on another day. I may have never finished sewing this quilt. Imagine if these companies had not persevered in their vision or growth. Imagine if they would have stopped expanding electricity westward. It may have eventually gotten to the other coast, but how long would it have taken? How much technology can we have if one more person never gives up on something new that he has his hands on? Is it you? Press on in your area of interest. Keep discovering, keep reading, and keep on even when others make fun of it.
Becket also entertains the reader with many personal stories to illustrate her points, sometimes poking fun at herself for her own faults. As when she talks about how easily we can be distracted and too busy and how it leads us to making mistakes. In her case, she drove off with a gas pump hose still in her gas tank, ripping it from the pump and needing to pay for a new hose.
It’s a funny story, but one that also shows how we tend to cram too much into our days and then it backfires on us. In other stories, she is deeply honest with the reader about mistakes she has made, such as time wasted partying when she was young. Fortunately, she has learned from her mistakes and now feels a responsibility to help others.
Throughout the book, Becket tells it like it is, not being afraid to point out the culprits in our society that hinder many of us from developing true character. She is a firm believer in the phrase “You are what you eat,” but she applies that to other areas, including what we listen to and watch on TV.
She actually turned off her TV after the September 11 terrorist attacks because she couldn’t take any more of the negativity. She also learned not to listen to music with negative lyrics. Instead, she has filled her mind with positive and uplifting books, music, and conversations.
Many of Becket’s stories are about growing up on a farm in the Dakotas and also raising and homeschooling her children on one today. She believes in the old virtues like family time and also taking time for oneself.
She reminds us that we can’t do it all, so we have to pick and choose what is best for us. She states: “When you let go of many of your responsibilities that others are fully capable of doing, you will release your stress and give others the ability to learn how to lead, communicate, grow, and manage themselves and others.”
Each chapter ends with a series of questions relevant to the chapter’s virtue that asks readers to think about their own lives, determine what changes they need to make, and cultivate their character in new and exciting ways. I found the questions both insightful and motivating.
Cultivating Your Character is a book to savor, one to read slowly, ponder, reread, and ultimately use as the jumping off point into the next chapter of your life—a life that can be happier and more in tune with who you are and what you truly want from it. That life all begins with cultivating your character, as Benjamin Franklin would testify.
For more information about Deanna Becket and Cultivating Your Character, visit the author’s website.