Jewish Journal

What Will I Be When I Grow Up?

by  Merissa Nathan Gerson

May 10, 2010 | 7:28 am

Martin Buber knew where it was at.

Dear Yenta,

Will I be happy with the career I choose, and for that matter, which
will I choose?


Dear Couched,

While I am not a psychic, I do love Martin Buber, a famous Jewish philosopher who wrote a number of books addressing, on a basic level, how to live and breathe in the world.

In his book, The Way of Man: According to the Teaching of Hasidism, Buber writes of how Rabbi Baer of Radoshitz once said to his teacher, the “Seer” of Lublin: “‘Show me one general way to the service of [the best that you can be].’ The zaddik replied: ‘It is impossible to tell [people] what way they should take. For one way to serve [the best that you can be] is through learning, another through prayer, another through fasting, and still another through eating. Everyone should carefully observe what way his [or her] heart draws [them] to, and then choose this way with all [their] strength.”

Buber’s method is based on the presumption that a divine spark lives in every thing and being. He sees life as an opportunity to realize this spark, and to use it to better the world. Tikkun Olam is a fundamental Jewish value that literally means, “To repair the world.” Anyone, Jewish or non, can use these guidelines in search of a career. As Buber says, “[The best that you can be] dwells wherever [an individual] lets [this] in.” He suggests you, “Seek peace in your own place,” find a way to live with yourself, and use this as a model as to how to live in the world.

I had a boyfriend once who believed that a job was where you made money, and that after work you were meant to do the things you love. I always disagreed, a strong believer in using the hours from 9-5 to BOTH earn a living AND do what you love. It sounds like a privilege, but I also believe that with a strong vision you get what you wish for. Wishing for things, though, is the hard part.

According to my friend, Mendy, an Orthodox Jew in Yeshiva (intensive religious study), “it is known that life is 20% of what happens and 80% of what you make of it.” He suggests that a person evaluate themselves with a true friend or wise mentor, and see in what field their skills are best suited to, as well as in which field they have the best chances of succeeding and then go for it all the way. He also said that the texts state that whatever is hardest for you is what you are meant to do with your life.

This sounds obvious, but rarely do we stop and assess ourselves. Make a list of the things you have enjoyed in your life. Make a list of the things you have done to better someone else, or the world. As Buber writes, “How about forgetting yourself and thinking of the world?” List your skills, list moments where you felt fulfilled. Find what those moments were, what fed them, what you did to make them happen. You will know when you find the right path because your life will feel right, your body will relax, and people around you will smile more often than you thought possible.

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With more than 10 years of talk therapy under her belt, Merissa has waded through life’s dilemmas with a constant reflective therapeutic bird on her shoulder. Add a few...

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