The Job Hunter
By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger
To dream or not to dream. That is the question . . . that will help you decide which side to take in an ongoing debate about career choice and job search. It’s not often that a column like this gets to talk about current events, but a recent (October 12) Wall Street Journal article by business guru and “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams has put this topic on the front burner. Adams had a lot of interesting things to say, and he’s very insightful. But on the role of dreams, or passion, or an inner muse in jobs and careers, I think he’s missing a key point.
If you are one of the many job seekers who feel a warm, caring hand on their shoulder as a soothing voice says, “Follow your passion,” Adams is worried about you. Even more so if there’s a reassuring “Do what you love, the money will follow.” Adams is standing by with a pitcher of ice water to throw on your dream project. He would probably take you on a tour of the subways to see all the passionate musicians whom the money is not following. He tells of his years as a loan officer whose wise mentor taught him that the guy who has a clear business plan and is committed to it will beat the passionate dreamer every time. A lot of successful businesses, and by extension a lot of successful workers, do stuff that is uninspiring, even boring. But if you commit to the plan and stick with it, success will bring happiness in its wake.
Scott Adams is a successful man, with millions of readers around the world. People post his work on their office walls. I’m not in his league, guru-wise—at least, not yet. So I’ll quote bestselling author Daniel Pink, who lists six keys for choosing the right career. Number 4 is “Persistence trumps talent.” That would seem to agree with Adams, but then he continues to numbers 5 and 6.
When choosing a career, when working day by day, key point number 5 is “Make excellent mistakes.” Never shy away from trying something new, different, and even crazy. As long as you are committed to doing the postmortem and learning from whatever happens, every effort leads to success. As Edison point out, before he could learn how to make a light bulb, he had to learn a thousand ways not to make one.
Pink’s next point is even more telling. Number 6 is, “Make a difference.” I had an uncle who was a professor at a prestigious university. In a eulogy, a colleague told how he would often ask my uncle, “What are you working on?” Over 30 years, the answer was always the same: “I’m changing the world.” He concluded, “Because he believed that through his work he could change the world, he did just that.” In any field, a worker can decide to use his work to make the customer’s world a better place. And as business writers like Tom Peters and others have shown, the people who do so not only succeed, they succeed far beyond their competitors. Whether they fly airplanes, or collect garbage, or sell fruit and vegetables, workers who believe that their work makes a difference in the lives of their customers do a far better job and reach far greater success.
I am arguing that Scott Adams has presented us with a false dichotomy. In his world, the dreamers have their heads in the clouds, when the action is here on the ground. But the real dreamers only use the clouds as a vantage point. That enables them to see a future that the practical folks can’t even imagine. Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”
I have spoken to too many people, young and old, whose eyes no longer shine, who are bound and gagged by the need to “be practical.” When I begin cutting away those self-made shackles, the color and sparkle immediately well up. And far more than seeing a pathway to parnassa, they see a pathway to life. 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.