Career: Stuck in a Rut
I'm stuck in a rut: 45 years old, working as an accountant. My job pays well, but it is not personally satisfying. The bottom line is that I'm not happy. Any suggestions for getting out of this rut?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Let's talk a bit about the purpose of having a career.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate from the fruit and were banished from the Garden. God tells Adam that as a consequence of his actions, a curse will befall humanity: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread." While they were in the Garden, Adam and Eve had every need provided. Now the necessity to go out and make a living is a curse!
Western society has a very non-Torah view of "career." Somehow we think that career is the essence of our existence, as if when all is said and done and get to heaven, we will be able to boast that we made it to Vice-President of the corporation. In handing out one's eternal reward, I don't expect that God will be so impressed.
Making a living is a curse, yet today people are voluntarily running after it! Consider the following scenario:
Let's say that I offer you an annual salary of $100,000 to quit your job and work on assembly line screwing in a single piece. What do you say? Too boring? Okay, so I'll pay you $200,000 a year!
Imagine that you take the job. It's not the most satisfying work, but the money is good, so you make the best of it and enjoy the weekends. After few months, you are shocked to discover that at other end of conveyor belt, they're un-screwing your piece!
You complain to the management that this is an absurd use of your time. So they agree to utilize the assembly line to manufacture automobiles.
Satisfied, you go back to your place at the conveyor belt. But in a short time, you come to find out that the new vehicles are being used for one purpose: to bring more parts to the factory. This is an absurd cycle!
You complain again, and the management agrees to give the cars to employees, to enable them to come to work easier to make more parts.
This still sounds absurd, so you complain again. This time, they agree to give the cars to employees of oil companies, so they can to get to work, in order to produce gasoline, so we can drive our cars to work, to produce the automobiles.
This is the cycle of modern economic production. We're no longer "people," we're "consumers." Of course there's nothing wrong with free market economics. But ultimately there has to be a point to all this - beyond just "production and consumption."
Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, would phrase it like this: "Are we living to eat, or eating to live?!"
My advice is to make yourself some non-material goals. How will you help humanity? Improve your character? Develop your spiritual side?
Now make those goals the center of your existence. Build your career in a way that supports and enhances that goal. Ideally, you should find a job that ties directly into that goal, where it both pays your bills and is inherently meaningful. But at the least, even if 90 percent of your day is consumed with the non-meaningful, what gets you out of bed in the morning should be the drive to accomplish your stated goal of how you can uniquely contribute to the world.