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Learning What Can’t Be Taught

The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

True story: Mrs. R was sitting in the audience as her husband, renowned educator Rabbi R (initials changed) was lecturing to a large, enthralled audience. Sitting next to her was a single woman in her twenties who commented aloud to no one in particular, “He’s amazing.”

Mrs. R turned and introduced herself.

“He’s your husband? You were so lucky to marry a man like that!”

“To be honest, when I married him, he wasn’t like that.”

“Then why did you marry him?”

“I saw potential!”

Fast-forward to a wedding that Mrs. R attended several months later where suddenly, a vaguely familiar young woman calls out to her from across the room. As she approaches, her face lights up with a huge smile as she raises her left hand, showing a beautiful sparkling ring. “Look, Mrs. R: potential!”

No, I haven’t decided to become a shadchan; this is about your career. We all know successful people working in all kinds of fields. And we all know that they have become successful because they have talents and skills that we don’t have. Every new person they meet quickly becomes a friend, and every friend they meet hopes they’ll be sitting together at the next simcha. Every organization asks them to take a leadership role, and every project they take on succeeds. We see them at the front of the room and the top of the stationery. But they weren’t always like that. They started with potential. We can, too.

I’m not promising that you will one day enthrall large audiences across America. But I am identifying something that everyone can do, and most of us should do more of. This activity will have an immediate impact on important transferable skills, and will continue to do so as it is pursued for a lifetime. Improved communication, improved “people” skills, creativity, insight, empathy, leadership—all of these and more, skills that can’t be taught in a class but can be learned. The first and most powerful thing that everyone can and should do is to read. Really read. As in books—serious books. About anything you want to read about. Related to your work and especially not related.

Your brain needs to visit places and people that you can’t. While there, it absorbs language, organized thinking, creative processes, leadership, courage, and lots of stuff that is just plain interesting. If I could suggest one thing that everyone should do to get on the road to success, it would be to read at least five books by Barbara Tuchman. Anyone who’s not fascinated should be checked for a pulse. History not for you? Try biography, sports, you name it. And find others to talk to about it. Can’t imagine sitting at a bar mitzvah talking about 14th-century France (after reviewing the daf)? If you see it as a step towards occupying the corner office, it makes a lot of sense.

I am quite aware that there are people that see reading secular subjects as a religious issue. And some people don’t want to read, period. All I can say to them is that we live in a world in which ten people want the same job you do, and ten companies are competing for your customers. The skills that can be built by reading are the ones that make the difference in getting the job and in succeeding in the job. If you feel you need rabbinic guidance on this, then go ask your rabbi. Whether you decide on professional- or general-interest books, the most important thing is to sit down and read.

For current events and well-considered opinion without a lot of the extraneous fluff, the Wall Street Journal has a lot to offer. There are a few (very few) magazines that still publish intelligent, worthwhile articles. But nothing has replaced books written by serious and thoughtful masters of the English language. No matter how long it has been since you read a good book, starting a reading habit today will make a real and important difference in your working life. A difference that lasts a lifetime. 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

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Posted by on September 17, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.