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How to Choose a Career

December 13, 2012 | by Rabbi Benjamin Rapaport

Judaism’s five-piece framework for finding a career that really fits.

Whatever career we choose determines how we spend a large part of our lives. Work that really fits us, that taps into our reservoir of potential and challenges us to become our best, can make all the difference in our quality of life.

It is encouraging to know that the struggle to find a good match between who we are and the work we do is not a new one. Bachye Ibn Pakudei, in his classic work entitled “Duties of the Heart,” written around the year 1040 in Zaragosa, Spain, deals with this issue and offers a brilliant, five-piece framework for finding a career that really fits. Here it is (Duties of the Heart, The Gate of Trust, Ch. 3):

  1. Does it pull you? Just like a cat is drawn to mice, and a hawk is attracted to birds, so too within each of us is a nature and a desire for a particular livelihood.

  2. Does it match your resources? A bird that captures fish possesses a long beak and extended thighs. A lion, that tears apart other animals for food, has powerful teeth and claws. So too, our physiology, and character is more suited for certain types of work than others.

  3. Are you willing to invest? Each profession has its hurdles to overcome, its entering price that needs to be paid before it can be practiced. Medicine requires many years of study. Professional sports require years of serious training. When considering what you want to do, ask yourself if you are willing to pay the price it takes.

  4. Do you have a desire in it? Passion may not always be there, but for you to love your work that level of vitality, of absorption, needs to be there at least some of the time.

  5. Emunah – translated loosely as faith. Keep the faith that once all the above line up and you have committed yourself to whatever path it is, that you will meet with success. Don’t get derailed the first time you get challenged, or even knocked down. Dig deep and stay the course.

If we want the pride of great work, we need to choose our path with these in mind. An easy way to remember these five pieces is with the acronym PRIDE:

P – does it pull you?
R – does it match your resources?
I – are you willing to make the investment
D – do you engage in it with desire?
E – do you have faith, emuna?

Four Common Obstacles

Knowing how to choose well though is not enough. We need to understand the four common obstacles that lie in the way of being true to ourselves, and how to overcome them, in order not to lose the race before we even begin.

  1. Approval and disapproval: We sometimes use career as a means through which to gain the approval or avoid the disapproval of those whose opinion of we care about. This may be a parent, a mentor, or even the society we are part of. This is normal and natural, but can end up being very expensive. Remember that no approval, outside of our own, is worth the price of our life.

  2. Fear: Going for our greatest life often demands that we step out of our comfort zone and do things that are not yet familiar, not yet comfortable. This can be scary. As human beings we crave certainty and safety and dealing with the uncomfortable challenges this need. We need to remember that in every process of growth darkness always precedes light (Zohar). Know that when we summon the courage to break through the clouds that we face, on the other side a sun is waiting.

  3. Failure: No one likes failing. As a result, so many never even try. When we feel like holding back because maybe we might fail, we need to remember Edison. He tried over a thousand different models before succeeding in making the light bulb. When asked about getting discouraged by his many failures, he replied that he never failed; he just learned one more way not to make a light bulb. So often the things that don’t go right are our best teachers. Ask any really successful person and they will tell you that it is was only by making mistakes and learning from them that they were able to reach the achievements that they did.

  4. Giving up too soon: It usually takes a significant amount of time and a lot of hard work to achieve our dreams. Oftentimes, we underestimate what it takes. As a result, when things don’t happen as easily or as quickly as we would like, we feel like giving up. When this happens we need to remember Bachye Ibn Pakudei and keep the faith. Let us refuse to accept less from ourselves. As long as we keep on climbing, one day we will stand on top of that mountain of our dreams and marvel at how we got there.

Finding a career that fits is one of life’s greatest opportunities. When we find the endeavor that pulls us, matches our natural resources, and inspires us with a vision of who we can become, our tremendous wellsprings of energy have the channel they need to rise up and brighten the world. Run with the PRIDE formula and shine.

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