The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
“I hope I win!”
I had asked my client, a young lady in the process of choosing a career, to describe her dream job, the one which would demand the most of her talents as it creates the greatest value for the people around her. She described an exciting combination of music and art that would move people to think deeply about important issues. She had begun developing the elements that she would need, but her dream was to study with the greatest teachers in her field, in Europe. She entered a competition that would award several full scholarships for exactly the program she wanted to pursue. She felt that she had a good chance of winning; that’s when I asked her, “Well, what happens if you don’t?” (Note: some details changed but the basic story is true.)
“I hope I win!” in this context is the same as saying, “I don’t have a Plan B.” In other words, if the scholarship doesn’t come through, the dream gets shelved. Maybe forever. After all, the scholarship award is many thousands of dollars, so if there’s no scholarship, where would that kind of money come from? It’s a fair question, but it suffers from being asked at the wrong time.
This young lady did all the right things when she started thinking about her future. She took her talents and her dreams seriously, and she thought deeply about what meaningful, unique contribution she would be able to make if she developed them fully. She sought guidance from people whose work she found fascinating, asking questions about their experiences and how they had developed their own talents. That’s how she learned about the program in Europe and the scholarship that might make it possible.
And that last phrase is the poison that leaves so much greatness on the shelf, undeveloped and ignored. Because a future cannot be left in the hands of a scholarship committee. Or anyone else. For every person who has a vision of doing something that matters, something that only they can accomplish, there is a message written in small letters in an inconspicuous corner of the picture. It says, “It’s up to you.”
So I asked again, “And if you don’t win?” and there was no answer. So I supplied my own. I said, “If you don’t win, go anyway.” If someone has a dream, if they have a real awareness of where their future lies, then the answer to every question of “What if . . . ?” must be, “I’ll go anyway.” There’s a huge difference between saying, “I will go study in Europe if I know how I’ll pay for it” and “I will go study in Europe. How will I pay for it?” In the second version, the goal is not in question, only the means. And the question is directed to only one person. The self.
In this particular case, I pointed out that the large price tag that the scholarship would cover was attached to a certain package. It included living in a certain type of apartment, a generous allowance for meals, and other amenities—none of which were required to get to study with the great teachers. There was nothing stopping this young lady from earning enough money for a plane ticket, finding a cheap apartment and a part-time job in Europe, and enrolling in the same course. But the details here are beside the point. The rule has to be, “Go anyway.”
After deciding on “Go anyway” (or “do it anyway,” or whatever points you towards something really great) it is time to ask yourself, “How do I pay for it?” (or, “How do I overcome whatever other obstacle stands in my way?”) Anyone who has small children might feel that this sounds familiar. It sounds like that virtuous hero, Bob the Builder, whose “Can I fix it?” always leads to “Yes, I can!” Believe it or not, the research really supports this. The wellsprings of creativity and innovation are opened when someone has decided on a goal, and then asks, “Can I . . . ?”—and well, you can fill in the blank.
Far too often we leave our dreams in the fickle hands of others. A teacher, a boss, the scholarship committee, whoever—all nice people, and maybe they will provide the means for reaching our goals. But there needs to be a clear answer to the ever-present “What if . . . ?” The answer must always be “Go anyway.” 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.