The last week or so, I’ve taken on some new roles at CubeSpace. I’m doing more of the budgeting and more of the web development. These are fairly similar functions in that they are both detail oriented, and require use of specialized software. They are also similar in the fact that they are bending my brain.
Working on these projects is good for me, it utilizes a part of my brain I’ve been using less recently: the highly analytical, detail oriented part. But thinking in an unaccustomed way stretches the brain, pushes it, and frankly, kind of hurts. The last week I’ve been coming up for air from working on these projects and felt a touch dazed, wrung out, even.
This is work I used to do with some frequency. I started my career as a market research analyst, and would spend days immersed in data or focus group tapes, analyzing and writing. This is fairly similar. More recently, however, most of my work has been more people focused than detailed focused, and the shift is both challenging and rewarding.
The rewards of this kind of work, for me, are that it has a concreteness that so much of what I do, doesn’t. The questions that can be asked are: does the budget balance? If not, keep working on it. Is the website doing what it is supposed to be? If not, keep working on it.
The challenge of this kind of work is also the concreteness of the questions. It’s the “if not” phrases above. When it’s not right, you can tell and need to keep working on it until you’ve got it in a workable state. This can be frustrating, but the reward of finally figuring it out is enhanced by fighting through the sense of frustration.
Satisfaction in work, by which I mean, feeling like you are fulfilled by your work at the level of your spirit, depends, at least for me, on some combination of working with people and helping them, and feeling challenged by what I’m doing. I’m also more engaged when I’m learning new things and pushing myself to step outside of my comfort zone. All in all, it keeps the work fresh, and keeps me moving in new directions.
A couple of weeks ago, almost on a lark, I submitted a proposal for a talk to be given at Ignite Portland 4. Ignite Portland is an event wherein 13 speakers are each given 5 minutes to talk about the subject they proposed. The trick is, each speaker has to submit exactly 20 slides which will change exactly every 15 seconds during the course of the talk. Somehow, while writing the proposal, that didn’t seem so daunting to me, especially since I didn’t think I had a chance in hell of being selected.
I began to have second thoughts the day after submission, when several people commented on twitter about how interesting they found my proposal. I’ll quote the text for you here:
Spirituality in Community: It’s not just for religion anymore:
Spirituality is a fundamental part of everything we, as humans, do. Given how much of ourselves we invest in our work lives, it’s no surprise that we derive great spiritual satisfaction and disappointment from our work and the relationships in our workplace. Yet this is an area that we rarely think about consciously when choosing a job or work situation.
In five minutes, I’ll point out ways of thinking about spiritual satisfaction that will allow us to apply them to our work lives, and how to maximize the spiritual satisfaction we derive in the course of our workdays. This includes such things as finding meaning in our work, finding meaning in the relationships in the workplace, and appreciating the challenges which face us both as part of the job and as barriers to getting our jobs done.
Now, the problem is, that I have just taken two separate topics, each of which I probably have about a book’s worth of content for, and mashed them together for a five minute talk.
I wanted an outside view of the service on Friday night, and asked Eva to write a guest post about it. She, instead, focused on me. So, without further ado, here it is:
Normally I leave my thoughts in the comments section where they really belong, but this time I took advantage of David’s exhaustion to hijack his actual blog. The occasion is two-fold. The first is that David and I celebrated 10 years together. The second is that David just finished his first post-rabbinical school stint at a congregation. The combination has led me to reflect on the evolution of David into the person he is today.
I first met David in 1989 when he was a young, immature, and very argumentative freshman. We reconnected in 1998 when he had matured considerably (although he remains argumentative—which is alternatively both one of his strengths as well as a weakness). At that point in time he was heading off to rabbinical school and while I knew he had the intellectual chops to thrive, I did wonder a bit about how well he would connect with congregants.
At the end of David’s first year of rabbinical school I attended the school’s graduation ceremony and was incredibly impressed with the rabbis who were graduating. I assumed it was an exemplary class and left it at that. But I was wrong. Over the course of 5 graduations, I learned that rabbinical school was a transformational experience and that rabbinical school somehow turned people into rabbis.
By the time David reached his final year of rabbinical school, he too had gone through an impressive transformation. Part of it was through trial-by-fire with his student congregations, part of it was the self-reflection and personal development he gained through his education. By the time of his ordination, David was a rabbi for all intents and purposes. Well, except to himself.
When David graduated from rabbinical school, the congregational opportunities were pretty slim and we were really homesick for Portland. So we made the choice to return home with David picking up weddings, funerals and other life-cycle events as opportunities arose. David went through the identity crisis that every recent rabbinical graduate seems to go through, but he had the added challenge of being a freelance rabbi and therefore lacked the inherent validation that comes from being a congregation rabbi.
Fast forward 2 years. David was offered an opportunity to serve as interim rabbi for a congregation in Salem. He had already done some sub work for them previously and had liked them as a congregation, so he eagerly accepted the position. The position was fraught with challenges. David was facing a 55 mile commute to Salem (each way) 2-5 days a week, we had just started a business together and our schedules were now completely opposite each other.
Not too long after he started his new position, it became very clear that he had made the right decision. He would often come home and tell me about great conversations he had had or the progress of one of his students or even how a challenging meeting had reached a reasonable conclusion. When I made the (all too infrequent) trip to Salem with David, everyone was eager to tell me how much they loved having David as their rabbi and I enjoyed getting to respond that the feeling was mutual.
Unlike rabbinical school where I was able to attend David’s services regularly, I rarely made it to Salem because I was either completely exhausted and/or working. That made David’s farewell service all the more remarkable because this time I had missed the transformational process. What I saw on Friday night was that David had truly become a rabbi. At his ordination he had become a rabbi because the dean of the college said so. Over the past year David has become a rabbi because he can now recognize that is who he is. And there is a world of difference between the two.
I have watched David grow through three very challenging transitional periods in his life. He has used each one as an opportunity to grow and build on his strengths and try to address some of his weaknesses. You might say that given my love for David I am giving you a biased perspective.Given the tears on Friday night (both from David as well as many of his congregants), David’s transformational experience has been meaningful for everyone involved.
Tonight is my “farewell service” with Temple Beth Sholom in Salem. I’ll be co-leading services with my successor and there is an Oneg Shabbat (dessert after the services) in my honor. I’ll be giving the sermon this evening, though it will be more a “thank you” than a sermon.
I’ve only been with the congregation for a year, but in that time I’ve come to feel so much a part of the community. I’ve been with community members in the hospital and at funerals. I’ve been with them at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations. I’ve counseled people looking for spiritual meaning, and people where the best I could do for them was tell them to go see a psychiatrist (and was later thanked for changing their lives). I’ve given sermons about Torah, and sermons about my life. I’ve become a part of the congregational community, and gained deep satisfaction from it.
I’ve also put 20,000 miles on the car, and I don’t know how much wear and tear on my body. I’ve been tired much of the year, trying to do two jobs at the same time. But being a pulpit rabbi this year has been a privelege and an opportunity for me to learn so much about myself.
Going into this year, I didn’t know whether I’d be a good congregational rabbi. Having done it, I know that I am good at it. I didn’t know if I’d like it: now I know that I do. It doesn’t mean I’ll be looking for another pulpit right away: that’s not the path of my life right now. But I do know that it’s an option I would look at seriously in the future.
It’s been a year, and it feels both longer and shorter. On the one hand, it feels like the year has flown by. On the other, it feels like I’ve been involved in the congregation forever, and it’s hard to remember a time before I was splitting my weeks between CubeSpace and Salem.
I leave the congregation knowing that I did the job I was hired to do, and that the congregation appreciates the job I did. I am very lucky to have had the chance to do work I am good at and enjoy. I am even more fortunate that those for whom I worked appreciated the work I did.
I will miss the congregation and I will miss the work. But it is time for me to move on, to give my successor room to work and make this his community. Yet I will visit, and this year will always be with me, having shaped who I am.