The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
“Show me the money!” This bon mot has entered our lexicon as a way of saying, “I’m ready to work as soon as you are ready to pay me some big bucks.” My clients may not say it exactly this way, but they often list “pays well” as one of the things they seek in their future career. After all, as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof said long ago, “It’s no shame to be poor, but it’s no great honor either!”
Most people have a list of the “good jobs,” i.e., the ones that pay well. Doctors, lawyers, maybe a few others get high marks. Teachers, social workers, and a lot more get crossed off. Especially if you want to live in a religious neighborhood, well, there really are only a few options. Why do I guide people in identifying a career that matches their skills and talents when all that really matters is the paycheck?
Even if we accept the idea that “good job” is synonymous with “big paycheck,” the idea that certain jobs lead straight onto Easy Street is simply not true. For example, today, one of the only things about going into medicine that’s nearly guaranteed is the huge debt that accumulates in medical school. Law-school graduates are suing their alma maters because entry-level jobs are low-paying and scarce. Banking, IT–name any field, there are lots of people doing well and lots more that are not. Does that mean that law or med school today is a bad idea? Of course not. All of these options are great ideas–for people who are committed to them despite their challenges. No one can sustain that commitment unless they are confident that their chosen field will allow full expression for the talents, skills, and dreams that they hold most dear.
Just as pursuing these “good jobs” is no guarantee of wealth, following your heart into teaching, social work, or a business that seems less than promising is not a prescription for poverty. The world is full of people who pursued idealistic dreams, and because they discovered a way to do a job better than ever before, or a talent for leading and inspiring others, they found both great satisfaction and financial security. Sam Walton (founder of Wal-Mart) just wanted to bring decent prices to small-town general stores. Bill Gates saw the technology tsunami building and wanted to be part of it. He had several partners who quit after a year or two because there was surely no money to be made with those silly toys.
There’s another side to career choice. It comes from a realization that I’ve written about before, that in a competitive job market, there are ten people who want your job and ten businesses that want your customers. The only way to stay ahead is by delivering the highest-quality work, and the highest-quality product, and doing even better the next day. That can only happen when you are applying every skill and talent you can muster to accomplish something that is meaningful to you. Without that, your work or your product might be good enough. But in a marketplace that provides limitless options, “good enough” is simply not good enough.
There are job-search gurus who assert that finding the job in which you can produce maximum value for your employer is all that really matters. That will be the job where you make the most money and feel the most success. While my guru status is far less established, I disagree.
There is a fundamental point in career choice that is always acknowledged but often forgotten until it is too late. Everyone has seen so many instances that prove its truth that they forget to pay attention. It is that real satisfaction and career success simply have nothing to do with money. A fellow who can only fully express his talents, skills, and values as a yeshiva teacher or a social worker can decide to live happily within the means that his work provides. But if he diverts his efforts in the name of Mammon, one day he’ll wake up with an aching emptiness that nothing will cure. There is simply no paycheck that will make that pain go away. v
Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at email@example.com.