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The Ben Franklin Approach to Deciding on a Job

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Sometimes when you receive a job offer, it can have an unsettling effect on you.

Yes, you need this job. Yes, you want a job. But you’re not sure if this particular job is the right one for you.

As I’m learning more and more in life, when faced with a problem to which there seems to be no solution, it’s best to turn to the wisdom of the ancients for insight into how to resolve it.

In this case, we turn to one ancient: Benjamin Franklin.

In a missive to Joseph Priestley, Franklin detailed his specific approach to determining how he should make a decision. Drawing from this writing, we break his method down for you:

1. “To get over this, my way is, to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one pro and over the other con...”

Simple enough, right? So before reading on, grab that sheet of paper and make those columns.

2. “…then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different times occur to me for or against the measure.”

What caught my eye here was the “three or four days’ consideration.” To me, this is the most crucial part of decision-making: Don’t rush it.

Ask your potential employer for time to decide. If they really want you, then they’ll grant you at the very least 24 to 48 hours. If you can wrangle for yourself three or four days, do it. One way you can offset this, however, is by starting the decision-making process before you’re actually offered the job. After you leave an interview, sit down at your computer or with a pad of paper and put down your impressions of the interview and how you would feel about working for this organization.

3. When I have thus got them all together in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and, where I find two (one on each side), that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con, equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies; and if, after a day or two of farther consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly.

In a previous post, we mentioned how job decisions sometimes need to be made clinically or with cold calculation. You don’t get much more clinical than Franklin’s above approach.

We here at PracticeAlert think this Pros vs. Cons approach to deciding on a job is pretty solid. We’ve even used it ourselves for various life decisions.

However, it’s not completely foolproof. Even Franklin realized this: “And, though the weight of reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet, when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less liable to make a rash step; and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation, in what may be called moral or prudential algebra….”

It’s avoiding that “rash step” that is critical here.

Still, what do you do if you’re not clear even after weighing the Pros and Cons? In an upcoming post, we’ll give you some more insight into this matter.

In the meantime, have you ever used the Franklin Pros vs. Cons approach? Did it help you to more easily arrive at a decision? What is your process to making tough decisions, especially in relation to being a physician looking for a job?

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