Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane “pill-flipping” life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

5 Lessons Pharmacists (and Everyone Else) Can Learn From Benjamin Franklin

NOVEMBER 29, 2016

The recent political upheaval our country has faced caused me to think about what our Founding Fathers would think of our country today. That, in turn, spurred me to read 3 biographies on Benjamin Franklin.
 
Every American knows the classic tales about Ben Franklin. He created the lightening rod. He started institutions such as the hospital, the first fire station in Philadelphia, the first library and the first public university. He was fond of French women.
 
But, after reading these biographies, it became apparent that there were many life lessons from this Founding Father that we can learn from and apply to our pharmacy careers.
 
Lesson No. 1: Accept people as they are.
 
Benjamin Franklin faced a lot of adversity. He was the 10th son in the family line, which certainly made for a scrappy boy. Early in his life, he seemed to be destined for things that were not of his own choosing. Namely, his father wanted him to become a minister because he loved to read so much as a boy. But eventually, he quit his pursuit of ministry and also the pursuit of his family's own business of candle-making to become a printer under his brother.
 
Unfortunately, his brother oppressed him greatly. Because of this oppression, he decided to leave and become a runaway. Upon coming to Philadelphia, Benjamin established himself as a printer journeyman.
 
Armed with his talent and zeal for being excellent at what he did, he attracted the attention of the Governor of Pennsylvania, who desperately wanted a new printing business because he had a poor opinion of the current printers in Philadelphia. The governor promised Benjamin money to start up his own business and said if he would go to London, he would be able to get the money and the materials.
 
So Benjamin, full of zeal, went to London only to find out that there was no money there at all. Benjamin learned a hard lesson due to his naïveté. Upon his return to America, Benjamin decided to accept people as they are.
 
He would accept that, by human nature, we are flawed. We make mistakes and we often have our own selfish desires. Knowing this, Benjamin was able to get in the minds of other people and to help them gain what they wanted — while he got what he wanted.
 
Here’s an example: As he became more involved in public office, there was a man who was adamantly against Benjamin Franklin being re-elected into a Secretary position. After learning this, Benjamin discovered that this man was very interested in and proud of his book collection.  of books. Benjamin requested a book from him (because he was very interested in reading it) and returned it the next day, along with a lovely thank you card. Benjamin showed that he admired him for his library and flattered him because of it. It probably comes as no surprise that this man eventually no longer spoke against Franklin, and even promoted him — and became a lifelong friend.
 
Lesson No. 2: Don't settle for “no.”
 
Benjamin had a tenacity for not giving up. When he returned from London without the money he had been promised, he was determined to create his own business. Before going to London, he requested his father's permission to seek an  investmentment to start his own printing business at the age of around 17 or 18. His father said no because he thought that Benjamin was too young to be trusted with such a sum of money. But that didn't stop him.
 
When he returned from London, he adamantly sought out people who could help him make his dream come true. He found a man whose father was wanting to support his son, and convinced the man's father to lend them the money to start up their own printing shop — all while he was in his 20s.
 
When you are trying to pursue your own career goals, don't settle for the first “no.” Don't think that things cannot change. Always be considering, "Who can help me achieve my goal? Who can help me become published author? Who can make it so that I get a salary? What can I do in order to attain a higher salary or more vacation days?"
 
Lesson No. 3: Measure what really matters.
 
Benjamin Franklin is known for his pursuit of perfect moral virtue. He laid out for himself 13 virtues that were meant to help him achieve the perfect moral status that he wanted. Today, many people have financial goals, career goals and life goals, but few people actually achieve them. The New York Times recently reported that 81% of Americans want to write a book, for example. My guess is that a small percentage of people actually become authors.  
 
Of all the people who have goals, even fewer people have a character goal.

The saying is true: "Your reputation precedes you." You can want everything in the world, such as growing a business, advancing in your career or being completely debt free, but if people know you to be a sleazebag, then whatever you want is probably not going to happen. Or, at the very least, it's going to be difficult to achieve.
 
You develop your character every day, whether it's intentional or not, because you make a decision every day to behave in your character. For instance, if you consistently act impatient toward people, then that becomes your character and people will know you as someone who can't stand to wait.
 
Lesson No. 4: Frugality is the path to wealth.
 
You may be surprised by this, but Benjamin Franklin retired when he was 42 years old. This was at a time when retirement plans didn't exist—no 401(k)s or back-up plans—and people often worked until the day they died. Benjamin literally came from nothing, had nothing and built his own wealth.
 
What he outlines in Poor Richard's Almanac is his path to wealth, which can be summed up in one word: Frugality. Unfortunately, when pharmacists ask me about money, I often point them to Tim Ulbricht, yourfinancialpharmacist.com, as an expert in this area.
 
People often say that they are stuck financially. And the reason that they are stuck, more often than not, is because they have purchased too much for themselves. They have overindulged and exceeded what they can afford on their salary.
 
There's a great blog, www.thepharmacistblog.com, by a guy who writes about pharmacy school and shares his dream of retiring in his 30s or early 40s. According to his status updates, he's well on his way to making progress toward that goal.
 
Frugality is a choice—and it is possible, even with a large family and increasing taxes and healthcare costs. No matter what your circumstances, living beneath your means now is the key to becoming wealthy later.
 
Lesson No. 5: Compromise is the path.
 
Unfortunately, you and I live in the real world, and so did Benjamin Franklin. For Benjamin, conflict was the norm and the US Constitution wasn't exactly easy to put together. There were multiple heated debates where tempers flared.
 
Benjamin Franklin, being the eldest on the board, played the role of the mediator. At the time, large states wanted representation of the state by population, which would obviously give them a larger pull for the Legislature. Smaller states, however, wanted representation based on equal number. That way, their voice would still be heard.
 
This heated discussion on this issue didn't seem to end. Benjamin Franklin gave a speech and was quoted to say, "When a broad table is to be made, the edges of planks do not fit. The artist takes a little from both and makes a good joint. In like manner here, both sides must part with some of their demands." His efforts to persuade both parties to lead to a bicameral legislative body, which we know as the House of Representatives and the Senate.
 
If you've been a pharmacist for long, you know that patients don't really listen to you. Physicians don't really listen, either. Even other pharmacists don't listen. That’s because everyone has their own desires, wants and needs, and sometimes your desires don't match up with theirs.
 
Compromising on these delicate issues is the path. Finding out what is most important to others and getting them to compromise on what they can do is a great way to apply motivational interviewing. That's not just true for patients, either; it's true for all of your coworkers. From technicians to other pharmacists to your own manager, compromising will smooth negotiations when others don't want to cooperate.
 
Sadly, most of today’s grade-schoolers probably don’t give Benjamin Franklin a second thought — beyond issuing a silent “thank you” for his experiments with the electricity that now powers their devices. Like his causes, experiments and inventions, Benjamin Franklin’s guiding principles still have an impact and can help you to achieve your goals, have a great career, and live your best life today.

 


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