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Lesson 1: Can the Bible Really Help Me with My Career?


Course: Bible at Work Introduction. Lesson #1 of 1

Series: The Bible at Work: Career Coaching in the Torah

Teacher: Dr. Benny Benjamin

17 Views | Published: November 17, 2022 | Revised: December 2, 2022

The Bible has sparked the imagination and inspired humankind as a classic text for millennia. It brings eternal characters and narratives to life and has served as a lighthouse––even in contemporary times––to guide us as we “chart our way through the wilderness of life.[1]” Divine Providence accompanies the biblical narrative, whether explicitly or implicitly, reminding us of prized values that we strive to integrate into our lives.

So how do people’s careers and workplace dynamics work their way into this course, which seeks to draw contemporary career insights and tips from the Five Books of Moses? We will observe ways of coping with natural disasters, sibling rivalry, despotic leaders, next-generation family businesses, # MeToo, the toxic workforce, demands to expand one’s comfort zone, and many other career (and life) exigencies. 

In modern times, especially during the bulk of the 20th century, individuals’ work and career commitments were viewed as distinct from family and other life spheres. These boundaries have blurred in the 21st century, further driven by the pandemic era. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated many work and career-related dynamics, transforming how many of us view our careers. High among the pressing concerns of the era are balancing family and work obligations and seeking purpose and meaning in our work and careers. 

Indra Nooyi,[2] the former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, inspired her company and others to strive for Performance with Purpose, realizing the importance of working for greater goals and ideals than earning a living. Indeed, many career decisions are now being considered through the lens of purpose and meaning: Does my job give me a sense of worth? Am I contributing to a goal larger than myself? Biblical careers offer us a glimpse into individuals’ commitment to higher goals.

Recounting two landmarks in career theory will aid us in understanding our own careers as well as those of the biblical figures we will be reviewing. 

The pioneering vocational psychologist, Donald Super, introduced the Life-Span Life-Space concept,[3] portrayed as the Life-Career Rainbow.  This notion revised the concept of career, acknowledging that a person’s career comprises the totality of their life roles, which demand time and energy differentially at various life stages. The real world requires us to juggle multiple functions in our lives. These include roles as son/daughter, student, friend, worker, spouse/partner, homemaker, parent, leisurite, and citizen, some competing for our attention and demanding resolution. Integrating these often-conflicting life roles comprises the bulk of the biblical narratives we will encounter as they encompass life itself. 

A second critical milestone in career theory has been the Chaos Theory of Careers.[4] This approach acknowledges that careers do not proceed linearly in the real world. Careers are subject to twists and turns that cannot be anticipated when individuals begin their working careers, thus posing periodic career dilemmas. Given increasing job market uncertainty, this approach recommends always keeping eyes and ears open to unanticipated barriers and opportunities, maintaining modifiable fuzzy goals rather than overly fixed career plans, and learning to adapt to changing contexts. 

The oxymoron of planned happenstance [5] has become a byword that recognizes seemingly chance events as a central feature of our career development. Indeed, some may argue that nothing is random, as Divine Providence may supplement our efforts by pulling the strings behind (or above) the scenes. Thus, we have become more humble in the past decades, acknowledging our lack of control over our career trajectory and leaving us to adjust and adapt to the increasingly frequent workplace and job market fluctuations. Interestingly, when we ask people how they got to the job or career they now enjoy, expressions like “by chance” or “accidentally” will likely crop up.

This course will track the careers of many key biblical protagonists, such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Jethro, and Joshua. Readers will quickly note that these figures are not portrayed donning a halo in their daily interactions. These biblical personages are shown to confront predicaments and learn from them as complete human beings, enabling us to learn from their exploits. 

We are privy to these biblical heroes’ strengths and weaknesses and their successful and less successful efforts at dealing with challenges and dilemmas. For instance, upon seeking to extract drinking water from a boulder in the Sinai desert, Moses let his anger and frustrations get the best of him, perhaps a consequence of leadership fatigue, striking the rock twice rather than speaking to the rock as God had instructed.[6] We may be surprised to learn how leaders today can learn from Moses about the challenges of transitioning from managing a Gen X workforce to a Millennial and Gen Z workforce. 

The richness and elasticity of the Five Books of Moses are epitomized by a 19th-century Hassidic master[7]: “…In every generation and in every era, new understandings [of the Torah; Hebrew for the Five Books of Moses] emerge from the Heaven which are appropriate for that generation….” 

As so many of us are challenged daily by career and work-related experiences and dilemmas, we are fortunate that the Five Books of Moses can offer us a trove of inspirations and insights that impact our lives in the 21st century. For our task ahead, we will use the lens of career development, teasing out insights that can help advance our careers, especially during our working hours. 

Here are some examples:

  • Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden to work for their livelihood. Was this a punishment or a blessing?
  • Why was it so crucial for Abraham to leave his father’s home? What role do family dynamics play in the individual’s career choice and development?
  • What can we learn from Joseph in his proactive moves as an effective networker in the Egyptian prison and as a career coach preparing his brothers for their (elevator) pitch to Pharaoh, King of Egypt?
  • What can today’s organizational consultants glean from Jethro’s working model, as he advised Moses on how restructuring his judicial system would help forestall executive burnout and enhance customer experience? 

I plan to offer a literary analysis of biblical verses and narratives from the Five Books of Moses in a weekly blog, beginning––at the beginning––with Genesis. 

  • For the biblical sections, you’ll find some original interpretations as well as those from medieval and modern commentators, all contextualizing the relevant career insight. 
  • For the career sections, insights from traditional and cutting-edge human resource literature and anecdotes from my years as a career counselor, coach, and job search workshop facilitator will hopefully enliven the text for you, the reader. 
  • Each blog will conclude with practical tips supported by the previous analysis, entitled, Points to Ponder and Try This. Most of these suggestions can be applied “tomorrow morning.”

So…can the Bible really help you with your career? I’ll make every effort to make that happen!

Benny A. Benjamin, Ph.D.

 

[1] Sacks, J. (2009). Covenant and conversation: A weekly reading of the Jewish Bible. Genesis: The book of beginnings. Maggid Books and The Orthodox Union
[2] Nooyi, I. (2021). My life in full: Work, family, and our future. Portfolio/Penguin.
[3] Super, D. E., Savickas, M. L., & Super, C. M. (1996). The life-span, life-space approach to careers. In D. Brown, L. Brooks, & Associates (Eds.), Career choice and development (3rd ed., pp. 121–178). Jossey-Bass.
[4] Pryor, R., & Bright, J. (2014). The chaos theory of careers (CTC): Ten years on and only just begun. Australian Journal of Career Development, 23(1), 4-12.
[5] Mitchell, K. E., Levin, A. S., & Krumboltz, J. D. (1999). Planned happenstance: Constructing unexpected career opportunities. Journal of Counseling and Development, 77(2), 115–124.
[6] Numbers 20:7–12.
[7] This quotation is attributed to Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter (The Chiddushei HaRim) (1799 – 1866).

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