How do you know what career path is right for you when it’s time for the next step?
When it comes time to leave the four walls of the beis medrash, there are a lot of different thoughts that jump into the average yungerman’s head. The one that usually gets the most attention, at least to begin with, is “OK, what now?” In many situations, the young man’s life for the past few years has been primarily focused on learning as his end-all, be-all. Flipping the switch on that thought pattern and turning to thoughts of career is an unknown and murky process.
Many young men in this situation don’t really have a solid idea of how their practical skills, some of which have been developed in yeshiva, might translate into marketable skills. Some aren’t aware of having practical skills in the first place. “I know how to say a chabura, but what does that have to do with getting a job?” Truthfully, there are skills involved in any success in a particular setting. Saying a chabura is actually a relatively simple skill set to figure out. You’re doing research and analysis. You’re organizing information and presenting it publicly. That’s informational analysis and explanation, not to mention public speaking. Many times, there’s a deadline involved. Working under pressure is also a developed skill.
Did you write your chabura down? Are you an avid note-taker? Are your notes covered with doodles and sketches? There are skills involved in all of those as well. Acknowledging them could help you decide on a career path that utilizes them. Think about it for long enough, you’ll find more.
Many people have long-ignored hobbies from their youth which might also translate into marketable skills. The trick is getting in touch with those long-forgotten means of relaxation and talent. Who hasn’t played with Lego as a kid? Maybe you were one of those kids who liked to write stories in their spare time. The means of play that we gravitate towards as children says a lot about our general preferences, and what makes us tick. Think back. What made you tick as a child? Odds are, that characteristic is still there in some way or another. It may be front and center, or very subtle. It’s just a matter of finding it and bringing it out. It’s something you enjoyed, something you were good at, and something you can use.
Aside from acknowledging your practical skills, you can also pay attention to different ways of thinking that you’ve connected with. Perhaps there was a sefer that resonated with you. Perhaps it was a particular piece of Gemara that you really enjoyed. Maybe there was a subject in school that you enjoyed. What was it about? What did you enjoy about it?
Go through your experiences and notice what skills you’ve enjoyed using, what thoughts you’ve enjoyed thinking. Run them off. Distill them. Find common themes. Put all these themes together, and you may have some idea as to what kinds of activities have resonated with you in the past. It’s a good bet that your best career option, at least in terms of your skills and talents, will include one or more of these areas.
Think about specific career paths that might include these skills. As you’re thinking about it, you may find yourself leaning more towards one option than another. For example, one yungerman had gone to a career coach, and discovered that the two options that incorporated many of his skills and interests were becoming an electrician, or getting a degree in psychology. He felt himself leaning more towards psychology for some reason. After much discussion, it turned out that he felt doing something which was so focused on physical labor would not fit his self-image of being an intellectual. This was a part of himself he valued. He wasn’t ready to let that go by becoming something he identified as not intellectual. The lesson here is that aside from finding something that you enjoy, you have to be comfortable with that professional identity. We can philosophize and discuss hashkafa about how you don’t need to identify yourself as your professional life. At the end of the day, though, you will. Part of a man’s build is to provide, and how he does it will have a tremendous impact on how he relates to himself and others.
You need to find out as much as you can about the career options that you’re considering. That way, you can decide whether or not it’s a good fit, from an environmental perspective, a life-work balance perspective, and a financial perspective.
Connect with people in the industry, on all levels. You want to see what it’s like getting in, moving up, and topping out. How will the day-to-day affect your life, both in the short term and the long term?
You’re going to need to do some research. This means outreach to people who are already in the industries that you’re considering. You’re going to find it valuable to speak with people from all ends of the profession; early professionals who have just gotten on board, long time workers who are in the middle levels, and people towards the top. The reason for this is simple. You’re considering a career path. A career is a long term prospect. Whatever you decide on, you don’t want to find yourself with buyer’s remorse within a few years. It’s certainly not uncommon for people to change careers completely over the course of their lives. You want to do whatever diligence you can to postpone that possibility, though. That includes finding out what it’s like to get in, rise up, and top off. This includes financial expectations, understanding what the life-work balance is like, and knowing what the working environment could be like. What kind of education will you need to start out? What will you need to continue?
You’ll need to do some preparation for your phone calls. Have specific questions to ask your contacts about their experiences. Develop these questions together with your wife by figuring out what’s important to you as a person, and what’s important to both of you as a family. What’s important in a career in terms of supporting your life values? This is important. You’re both in this together, and you need to plan together as well. Are there specific concerns that you both have about going out to work that you can ask about? What do you want? What do you not want?
By the same token, it’s also important to get input from a mentor when developing these questions. A good mentor who knows you well can help you maintain realistic priorities and expectations of yourself as a Ben Torah in the working world. One of the primary causes of spiritual burnout following leaving kollel is having undue expectations of yourself that you can’t meet. Hold yourself to high standards, definitely. Just make sure that those standards make sense beforehand.
After you do your research, collate your answers. Put them together, and see what picture comes out. Is it a good fit? What looks like it’ll work? What looks like it won’t? How do these factors match up with your priorities? What’s the big picture look like? If it looks good, and fits to the point that you and your wife are both comfortable with the projected picture, it may be time for the next step.
It may be time to leave.
Check out our second post in this series! Leaving Kollel: What Is The Right Mindset?