I starting to think that the most effective preparation for a good career is religion.
I am writing this post on the eve of Yom Kippur. I am constantly trying to figure out how religion fits in my life. Sometimes I think it doesn't fit. I mean, I'm a Jew dating a pig farmer. And I can't figure out what to do with my kids on Yom Kippur, so I'm sending them to school. I never, once in eighteen years, went to school on Yom Kippur. So I know it's going to feel crappy. I hope my family is not reading this.
Well, of course they are not, because they are in synagogue today.
I wish I could make my religion problems go away. I wish I could not care about religion because I'm an intellectual. Or I wish I could not care about religion because I am fine doing it however I do it.
One thing that nags at me is that I know for sure is that religion is great preparation for being able to get what you want out of your work life. And, if you read this blog regularly, you know that I think the purpose of work is to get you what you want out of your whole life, not just the work part.
So what I'm thinking, while I'm being a bad Jew on Yom Kippur, is that all career questions are really: “What is my purpose in life?” It's very hard to understand what our career problems are, because we never really understand what we are doing here, in our life.
Wondering if you should relocate is really “What's most important to you in life?” And wondering if you should change careers is really “What is my telos?” And where do you learn to find answers to these extremely difficult questions? I think from religion.
All of adult life is about facing terrible choices.
Why do people tell you you can do anything? You can't. I mean, you can. But it's harder to decide what you're not doing. We make enormous sacrifices everytime we want to get anything: You get no alone time when you have a newborn. You get no more sex partners if you get married. You do not get to live in a small city for some careers. You don't get to live in a big city for some marriages. Adult life is often about making horrible choices that feel like blood letting.
Where else do you hear about this except in religion? Adam and Eve face this problem and that's what the history of humankind is built on. That's the narrative of religion. And it's more helpful than the narrative that you can have everything. Because you can't. And you need some preparation for that.
The most important thing to do at work is good deeds.
So many people tell me that Gen Y is difficult to manage. Gen Y wants constant feedback, top-tier mentoring, and they want someone to help them build the right skills for where they want to go.
So what Gen Y really wants is people to care about other people at work.
What are you doing at work that is more important than helping people? Sure, you need to earn a paycheck, but, people don’t get promoted for doing their job. People get promoted for doing good deeds, which cynics call office politics. But the truth is that if you are well-liked at work it is because you care about people and connect with people and look for ways to help them.
People get promoted for office politics, and office politics is about doing good deeds, and I know you know that the people who are talking, week after week, day after day, about the importance of doing good deeds are the religious people.
Good work is about good rhythms.
We need rhythm in life to successfully reach our goals. Whatever they are. We need to have some things we do that are simply not a decision: Make school lunches for the kids. Say no to fried food. And, when you're really rocking, going to the gym. No decision: You have it on your schedule, at the same time each day, and you do it. Because it makes your life better.
You know what is great training for establishing these rhythms in life? Religion. As a Jew, I can tell you that morning prayers, and evening prayers, and Shabbat, give order to my days and weeks. And interruptions to that order, Rosh Hashannah, or Yom Kippur, for example, shake things up for me. I am used to this sort of rhythm. I've been doing it for a long time. (Religious zealots don’t get giddy: I do this in my own, customized way. I'm the bad Jew of my family.)
Personal responsibility is the most important trait of a successful career.
In order to succeed you do not need more luck. We each have the same amount of luck. It's how you use your luck that differentiates you. Because everyone faces adversity, and the people who are the most resilient to adversity are the one's who succeed. Makes sense, right? Everyone succeeds when things are going great.
So if the differentiator is resilience, the people who are the most resilient are the optimists. The optimists can face adversity and turn luck into a ladder to get past adversity. Do you want to know how optimistic you are? Here are some ways to test yourself. But the big difference between pessimists and optimists is explanatory styles — pessimists blame external factors for circumstances, optimists think circumstances are within their control.
People who think their lives are within their control can overcome obstacles more effectively. And this is personal responsibility. Religion teaches us to take responsibility for being good, and honest, and rectifying things we have done wrong. Religion teaches personal responsibility which could explain why religious people are more optimistic than less religious people.
(A plea for civility in the comments section.)
It’s ironic that I’m looking for a conversation about religion on a day when religious Jews won’t even read this post. But there is a wide range of religious beliefs represented among the readers of this blog, and I don’t think these observations are religion-specific. Also, for the atheists who might want to eat me alive in the comments section: Instead of saying you don’t need religion to get taught these values, which of course is true, why not think about, instead, how interesting it is that the teachings of religion seem to be exactly what we need to face our most common and most difficult career issues?