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Unexpected Lessons at Work

Unexpected Lessons at Work

Thanks to my boss, work is surprisingly enhancing my spiritual journey.

by Rachel Benjamin

To My Boss,

I've been reflecting on some unexpected lessons I have learned at work.

I remember a moment on my first day at the job; the instructor was extrapolating on an issue related to some legal jargon. My mind wandered and I glanced out the window thinking, Is this what I'm going to be spending 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, delving into? Me? The lady who has a hard time getting through a mundane household task like washing dishes without a Torah tape on in the background to keep herself inspired? The lady who is always trying (with questionable degrees of success) to improve her character (believe me, there's a lot to refine)? What is going to happen to my spiritual journey?

I felt I was "selling my soul."

As a driven person, I felt the pressure mounting during the execution of a project. Despite the looming deadlines, you retained your composure and consideration. At first I was appalled by your laid back attitude. Didn't you realize that the job had to get done? How did you expect us to complete it if you didn't crack down on us?

Amazingly, the projects got done and the calm, friendly work atmosphere was retained. I realized that fierce drive is not an essential component of a well run business. It's okay to be nice, things will get done better, and the people involved will be happier.

One day the work load was light and I wasn't filling every moment with unceasing productivity. Feeling guilty for being a bit lax at the employer's expense, I clocked out but continued working to make up for the time I wasted. Before leaving, I told you what I had done. You looked uncharacteristically distressed and said, "Please don't do that anymore..."

I thought, "Now I'm in trouble. You're probably going to tell me how I shouldn't be wasting time ..."

I was totally unprepared for the completion of your sentence, "... don't penalize yourself without asking me first."

The sum total of a person's value isn't measured by how productive they are.

Your reaction conveyed the message that, "The sum total of a person's value isn't measured by how productive they are. Even if someone doesn't do their utmost, he or she still deserves to be treated with dignity."

You once asked me to help complete a difficult stage of a project. I needed material from a co-worker which you assumed would soon be available. It turned out that I only received it at the end of my work day. By that time I was exhausted and wanted to go home. But I also really wanted to do the job. I ignored my limitations and told you that I was tired, but I would do my best. You saw my conflict and told me to go home.

As I left the office I remember thinking, "I really have to learn when to let go." I was appreciative of the fact that if I didn't have the wisdom to respect my limitations, at least my boss did. I learned that there is no need to push yourself beyond your capabilities. Achievements aren't everything in life.

You also taught me by example not to trample people on the roadway to truth. It's more of a priority to behave like a mensch than to assert your view – even if it is correct. And that the main consistency that matters is being consistently considerate of other people's feelings.

The lessons I am learning at work have trickled down into my personal life. I have become more flexible, less overbearing, more capable of letting go and enjoying the moment, more respectful of others, and I hope a bit more humble. People in my life appreciate the transformation.

Thank you for your ongoing demonstration of consideration, sensitivity, proper priorities, remaining balanced and just plain being a mensch. Surprisingly, work is actually enhancing my spiritual journey. Far from "selling my soul," I feel I may finally be getting closer to reclaiming and rectifying it.

June 10, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) ziva, June 21, 2006 12:00 AM

Powerful article

This article strenghtened me and made think about the right balance between my career and my family. Thank you for posting great articles like that.

(6) Daniela, June 15, 2006 12:00 AM

um...lemme guess

The "Boss" in the article is actually HaShem and the job is life, right ??

No job is this good. No boss is this good. Except G-d. Thanks for reminding me not to be so hard on myself. :)

(5) Rivka Muskat, June 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Thanks for writing this!

This article surely spoke to many of us in the work force for (too) many hours. I applaud your boss' sensitivity and your own too. May we retain the inspiration in our own workdays!

(4) rgf, June 13, 2006 12:00 AM

elevating the mundane to opportunity for spiritual growth thru choice

Read this right after Jeff Jacoby's article "The Silence of G-d" with his answer to the Pope. How beautifully this essay by Rachel Benjamin exemplifies a Torah-observant Jew's response to whatever happens in this world: perceiving each situation as full of opportunities for ME to choose, opportunities for ME to make the world a better place by my own spiritual growth; learning to analyze the moral bases & repercussions of different responses. Gotta try more to apply the lessons from her examples. Looking forward to more. Thanks for the inspiration.

(3) Abe Berkowitz, June 12, 2006 12:00 AM

lessons at work

This is a terrific article. They should put it on the front page of and have Rachel Benjamin write every week. When will Ms. Benjamin write another article?

A. Berkowitz

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