Lesson 2: (Tzav) – Keeping the embers burning– Maintaining motivation at work

Course: Leviticus – Part 1
Lesson #2 of 4

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

Teacher: Dr. Benny Benjamin

14Views | Published: March 24, 2023

“And there’s nothin’ cold as ashes after the fire is gone” —
E. White (recorded as a duet by Loretta Lyn and Conway Twitty)

“The altar fire shall be kept alight; it shall not go out. Every morning the priest shall add wood to it and lay out the burnt offering upon it…. A daily fire shall be kept alight on the altar; it shall not go out” Leviticus 6:5–6.

The Tabernacle’s altar functioned as the focus of burnt offerings on weekdays, Sabbaths, and festivals, operated by the priests. Individuals submitted to the priests their sacrifices to atone for sins and to mark other events. Among the priests’ various daily routine tasks in operating the altar was to ensure that a flame would continually burn from evening till morning. The fire was to be lit at night, fully burning until morning. When morning came, the priests’ task was to remove the ashes and replenish the wood that would fuel the fire for the following evening’s burnt offerings. As noted by the repetition in the cited verses, it was critical that the fire not extinguish during its required time. Thus, there would be no need to reignite the flame. Reigniting a spent fire generally requires more fuel than maintaining a continual flame. The altar’s flame was also used to ensure that the candles in the menorah (candelabra) were to maintain their flame.


Fired up or burned out?

Many images are called up by fire, such as having a “burning desire,” “burning motivation,” or “sparking enthusiasm” to engage in some activity. Fire is energy. And if the fire goes out, we must do our best to rekindle it. Upon seeing an individual working unusually hard, you might hear, “Someone must have lit a fire under him.” This phrase is said to come from chimney sweeping. Lighting a fire under a hesitant chimney sweeper seems to have quickened his pace to complete his climb to the top of the chimney.

All jobs have some downers, when maintaining high motivation and enthusiasm becomes a challenge. Even dream jobs have their moments. This downtime may stem from an afternoon slump, an overdue vacation, a mundane assignment, or even returning to work anticlimactically after completing a major project. Feeling unmotivated at work has ramifications for you, your colleagues, and your organization, especially if that feeling persists. Whether you are fighting low motivation to exercise or to embark on an overwhelming work assignment, familiar tips include a behavioral approach, such as breaking the task down into digestible segments––mini-goals––then rewarding yourself for your mini-achievements. When I need to organize my desk at home, my wife benevolently suggests spending just 20 minutes––no more––on the task and then reveling in whatever headway I managed to make—usually more than anticipated.

However, if you find yourself mired in a long-term work motivation deficit, you may want to reevaluate your career direction. One popular approach stresses the importance of being aware of our career anchors, referring to those work elements that provide the foundation for work satisfaction. These anchors can manifest in different job situations; however, each represents a core of an activity or subject area that the person would be loath to give up. For instance, you may have found that you enjoyed the variety of your workday in general management early in your career, whereas you may now prefer a job with structured hours that allow you to spend more time at home. If you find the day dragging on, you may be missing out on what could be your personal hothouse; that’s why it’s critical to be aware of what kind of job or task you need for your optimal growth conditions. You may never find ideal conditions, but knowing more about your needs will help you actualize your anchor in your current or future job.

Thus Schein’s [1] eight career anchors include technical/ functional competence, general managerial competence, autonomy/independence, security/stability, entrepreneurial capability, service/dedication to a cause, pure challenge, and lifestyle. His Career Anchors Questionnaire [2] is a self-scored tool that can help you identify what you need to maintain your motivation. So, as noted, if you have strayed from your anchor, look for ways to reactivate it, thus reigniting the fire under you.

A close relative was an orthopedic surgeon with expertise in repairing ski injuries. He shared with me that he had always experienced two sensations in his surgeries: First, the challenge and thrill of analyzing the injury to determine the best surgical strategy, and second, feeling the terror of potentially making the slightest erroneous move. After several decades of work, however, he knew all the angles and all the solutions, leaving him with no more challenge or thrill. All that remained was the terror of potential miscues. That was the point at which he decided to transition from performing surgery to mentoring young surgeons. 

Career Tips:

  • It’s usually easier to keep the fire going by adding some fuel than having to reignite an extinguished flame. Find a way to add vigor and variety to your routine at work, such as enriching your day by learning a new mini-skill (formally or from a colleague) and implementing it at work. Even learning a new application or function on your computer can be empowering. Also, periodically offering to help a colleague with an assignment can add some spice to your work, expand your horizons, and contribute to workplace solidarity.
  • If you notice some work burnout-like symptoms (e.g., fatigue, short temper at work and/or home, physiological stress responses), taking a break from work may be right for you. Schedule some daily downtime for relaxation, such as an outdoor lunch break. To avoid ending the week completely uninspired, make sure to engage in an activity that you know you enjoy––like attending a performance, spending quality time with family, or biking through the woods close to home that you have been thinking about for quite some time. 
  • Try this: We often hear clients in career counseling who have long lost the spark in their job. When discussing this with them, we find that much of what attracted them to their work is still there but has been placed on the back burner and is no longer a significant part of their day, whether it involves brainstorming sessions or even communal coffee breaks. These moments can be restored, but they don’t happen automatically. Things that may have once happened spontaneously may now require initiative and planning. Restoring previously enjoyable activities will likely be appreciated by your co-workers, who may have succumbed to the inertia of routine. Albert Schweitzer seemed attuned to this phenomenon of kindling a fire in another: “At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” 

[1] Schein, E. H. (1993). Career anchors: Discovering your real values, Pfeiffer & Co.
[2] Career Anchors Questionnaire: https://www.nelacademy.nhs.uk/downloads/602. Interpretation: https://www.careeranchorsonline.com/SCA/media/images/common/report_sample.pdf 

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