The most successful person in Babylon

Babylon mosaicOne of  the biggest barriers to developing yourself and your career – and one of the themes of modern life – is being busy. People simply don’t have the time to do the things they know would be good for them.

Recently, I found the cures for this problem in a surprising place – a 71-page, poorly typeset pamphlet published in 1926 called “The Richest Man in Babylon”.

“7 cures for a lean purse”

When one of the smartest people I know recommended the book, I was expecting rich historical fiction or perhaps some stimulating anthropology. Instead, it was about “thrift and financial success, using parables set in Babylon to make each of [the author’s] points.”

Written by George Clason, owner of a map company in Colorado, the parables were distributed by banks and insurance companies to help teach everyday people how to manage their money.

The book opens with “7 cures for a lean purse.” And I was struck by how each one of the cures is also a valuable lesson for managing our most valuable resource – time.

Start thy purse to fattening

The richest man in Babylon’s first and most important lesson was to set aside 10% of your money before spending anything. “A part of all you earn is yours to keep. It should not be less that a tenth no matter how little you earn…Pay yourself first.”

And so with time. Before you schedule your first meeting or take on another responsibility, put aside 10% of your time for investing in yourself.

Control thy expenditures

“What each of us calls our ‘necessary expenses’ will always grow to equal our incomes unless we protest to the contrary.”

Somehow, we all have different jobs and different schedules, and yet no one has time. Every time you say yes to a meeting or a task, you’re saying no to something else that could be much more valuable. Don’t be a profligate spender of time.

Make thy gold multiply & Guard thy treasures from loss

If you’ve saved money, you want to make it work for you so the value compounds. And you want to be careful not to lose it on wasteful ventures.

When it comes to the time you’re investing in yourself, compounding value comes from gradually developing skills. It’s not just another hour writing or presenting or developing a purposeful network, it’s another hour towards greater personal mastery.

Each one of those hours is precious. Don’t fritter them away. The average American spends more than 140 hours a month watching TV on top of 12 hours a month playing video games and 8 hours a month on Facebook. Are these good investments?

Make of thy dwelling a profitable investment

This lesson was about investing in the place where you live, spending your precious money on something important that you need and use every day.

The analog to that is investing in your health. One of the best ways to use the time you’ve saved is to exercise. It makes you feel better every day while reducing time you might lose to being sick. Importantly, regular exercise is a keystone habit, meaning that it produces other, seemingly unrelated, benefits such as better eating, greater productivity, more patience, and even less financial debt.

Insure a future income & Increase thy ability to earn

The final two lessons are about planning for the future, ensuring you’ll be able to earn more over time and you’ll be prepared for when you’re older. “As a man perfecteth himself in his calling so doth his ability to earn increase.”

You can buy career insurance, too, by investing your time in developing skills and a network that create more possibilities, that improve the odds:

Career insurance is simply taking control over your visibility – and your access to opportunities – by using social platforms to purposefully shape your online reputation.”

The richest man in Babylon wasn’t the smartest or best-educated man or even the hardest-working. He was the son of a humble merchant. But he applied some simple guidelines in a disciplined way to manage his most precious resource. And that opened up possibilities the other Babylonians dreamed about.

Every one of us has the chance to be the most successful person in Babylon. But to do so, you must “cure your lean purse” and get out of the busy trap. Only then will you have the time to invest in yourself and create the life you want.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
This entry was posted in Self awareness and improvement and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The most successful person in Babylon

  1. John: Truly excellent ant timely. Thanks

  2. Joachim says:

    Excellent piece, John. It requires discipline, as the Babylonian recognized, but which is being chipped away in our world through daily media bombardments. Shields up!

  3. Reblogged this on Houldsworth's Random Ramblings and commented:
    Spend your time wisely – a lesson for everyone.

  4. Sumit Rai says:

    Fantastic post John…

  5. julianstodd says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing these thoughts 🙂

  6. Marie-Louise Collard says:

    A fascinating and thought provoking post John.

    It is often easier to be a master at avoiding doing the things you know to be good for you because of the perceived “change” in the status quo of your current existence and what that may mean – “effort” and discipline (as you imply)!

    Sometimes this may also be because your existing priorities are shaped by the needs and actions of others around you. Not by you.
    You may even have found “value” in avoiding the things you know to be important because you can still bring benefit to others – even if it is taking you in a different direction to the one you really want to go in .

    Sometimes putting aside that 10% to invest in yourself may mean not only changing how you manage time, but how you manage the needs of others in the status quo, how you balance your gain against another’s potential loss.

    Thank you

  7. yemi says:

    Thanks for this John – great article. Articles like this help re-evaluate areas for improvement. My particular favourite is “pay yourself first” – all to easy to attend to others first. The advice about oxygen masks in airplanes holds true in many other situations!

  8. Pingback: Working Out Loud: the 12-week program | johnstepper

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