The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
We have all seen it, probably traveled on it many times, but how many of us have thought about the life lessons that can be learned from Interstateâ€‘95? It traverses the entire Eastern seaboard, connecting the urban centers which are home to the great majority of America’s Jewish community to their deepest roots in Miami Beach. And then, like an exhausted salmon that has finally reached the headwaters of its birth, it quietly fades into a local street. But along the way, passing through the hinterlands of the Carolinas, it passes a spot called “South of the Border.”
South of the Border is probably best described as a gas station run amok. Located just south of the border between North and South Carolina, it may have once been a simple place to fuel up and continue along the journey. Then, taking advantage of certain laws that were more lenient in the fiercely libertarian southern state, especially regarding fireworks, it began evolving into something more. Today, what it is depends on whom you ask. Some may still see it as a rest stop, cutting through the glitz to the utilitarian gas and other necessities. Some may see it as a useful diversion to break up a long trip, a way to overcome the boredom of hours in the car. But some have actually turned it into a destination, spending whole vacations surrounded by cheap trinkets and worn-out clichÃ©s. And in this, it can be seen as a metaphor with important lessons to teach.
My imaginary client, Beryl Klein, has been reaching out to working people to gather information about careers in the world of sales. His goal is to reach a point where he sees a convergence of his talents, background, and skills with the requirements of the job, so that he can make a strong case to a potential employer. One thing that often happens when young people start talking to businessmen about their interests, skills, etc., is that someone will ask them, “Why don’t you just come to work for me?” When that happens to Beryl, as it has happened to many of my real clients, I get an excited call asking, “What should I do?” We could think of this as a trip down the Iâ€‘95 of life, and Beryl has just ended up at South of the Border.
It seems to be a serendipitous moment. Beryl is looking for a job; a job has fallen into his lap, what could be better? But the truth is more complex. Because Beryl knows that the job he seeks is one where he will create maximum value for his employer, while engaging his talents in a meaningful way. So he is not looking for any job that comes along. On the other hand, he knows that his family would like him to bring home a paycheck sooner rather than later. Should he take the job he’s been offered and make the best of it, or stick to his methodical search until it leads him to a job he really wants?
Someone who stops at South of the Border, picks up what he needs, and moves on has not damaged his vacation. Sometimes in order to reach a destination, you stop for necessities. If Beryl has been offered a job where he can pick up some valuable experience, learn a useful skill, or meet a wider circle of people who can become resources as he builds his future, then taking the job is a fine idea. Beryl can stay focused on his ultimate career goal, and even if the job has clear negatives, they’ll be tolerable.
It is also possible that Beryl will not find much to like about this job. It may not offer anything that will help for a future career move. But it is still worth taking, if the stress of being jobless has reached a point where it threatens to invade other parts of Beryl’s life. But like a diversion for car-weary kids, it needs to be done with clear limits. Beryl’s search for the right job has to continue. His network-building and information-gathering, if anything, need to be increased, not set aside. Because now there is a danger which is more ominous than not having a job. That will happen if Beryl gets stuck in the wrong job.
Like a vacation spent at an overgrown gas station, eventually the fun will wear off. The satisfaction that comes from receiving a paycheck will fade. Frustration and broken dreams will remain, along with the aching awareness of what could have been. Some well-meaning people will urge Beryl to “man up” and just be glad he has a job. But Beryl never saw himself as a wage-earning drone. He always imagined that he had something more to offer the world, and so should everyone else.
It can be really hard to say “no” to a job offer. But a well-thought-out “no” will be a lot better than a hopeless, defeated “yes.” 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.