Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Excellent Job Advice in Pirkei Avot

One of my favorite sedarim in learning is Pirkei Avot. This last Shabbat we learned the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, and, as is true of all Torah learning, no matter how many times you learn the same material, it is never the same. There is always a new insight to be gained, a fresh perspective that can be seen, and a new level of relevance that can be found.

In the third pasuk of perek Alef, it says "Antigonus, leader of Socho, received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of receiving a reward; instead be like servants who serve their master not for the sake of receiving a reward. And let the awe of Heaven be upon you." (Translation from the ArtScroll Siddur).

Oftentimes, I find that advice of our sages on how to approach our relationship with Hashem, is also excellent advice on how to approach our relationships with people. Just like you wouldn't interrupt your tefillot to chat on the cell phone (ok, ok, I'm aware that there are people who do this), it would be a terrible idea to interrupt you date to chat on your cell phone (yes, I too am personally aware of occurrences such as these).

It occurred to me last year when learning Pirkei Avot that this way of approaching Hashem, was also an appropriate way to approach your job. This year while learning this portion, a memory from a previous job of mine resurfaced. My co-workers and I were gathering information from an agency that was needed for our purposes. The manager at the agency was very busy, the information was readily available, and all that was needed was for someone authorized to access the information to access it and provide us with what we needed.

Since the manager was pre-occupied, she asked an employee who was sitting around with nothing to do but file her nails, to pull the information that we needed. What ensued next was the talk amongst our co-workers that lunch (I think we were all shocked!). The lady proceeded to grill her job manager on her exact job description in her contract. Since this particular task was not in the job description, could not affect her pay, and the refusal would not get her fired, she would not lift a finger.

This employee was only willing to work for her paycheck. She had no vision of where she wanted to be, no sense of the future, and no interest in how her approach would affect her relationships with her co-workers. The project that I was working on was one of my first professional projects and has long since been completed and is probably collecting dust in a library somewhere. My copy is collecting dust right here in my own home. I'll never know what happened to this lady, but my educated guess (barring a major change in approach) is that if she is still employed at this agency (the big if), that she is still sitting in the same desk, alienated from those around her, and wondering why she never has been promoted to a higher paying position.

Well, there are certainly no earthshattering observations to be found in my personal commentary on this portion of Pirkei Avot. But, I thought that I would share it anyways since I find that attitude and willingness to go the extra mile, can serve as the keys to success and it is often important to remind ourselves and our children of that.


Anonymous said...

Agreed 100%. If someone doesn't take ownership of their job, it really is just killing time to receive a paycheck. I can't imagine that existence.

Ezzie said...

Absolutely. What a selfish attitude - without people working together, nobody can get anywhere. If everyone only did what they absolutely had to, nothing would ever be accomplished.