I write these words just one day before my youngest is due to come home from seminary and find myself facing a jumble of mixed emotions. I am excited and joyful – my baby is coming home! – but swirled in with all that happiness is an element of trepidation. For me, the prospect of a daughter returning from seminary is a lot like jumping off a cliff.
Allow me to explain.
From the time you enroll your child in preschool, the steps on the ladder of progress are well- defined: preschool, elementary school, high school ,and for many of us, seminary for girls and bais medrash for boys. For the girls, especially, landing on the tarmac in JFK or Newark means that the future looms large, and the time has come to follow a direction that may be different from those of their friends.
Having been down this road with my three older daughters, I have seen girls who have had no idea how to choose a career path and no one to guide them in that decision. While it may seem logical to consider our children – whom we deem mature enough to get married – adult enough to choose an occupation, the vast majority of them don’t have the vision, objectivity, or knowledge of the career world to make that decision on their own.
Finding a Path
Lawrence resident Adele Dubin found herself facing a conundrum several years ago when her own daughter returned home from seminary.
“I saw how she was making decisions,” Adele says. “She was focused on the short term and how quickly she could finish school. She jumped on the bandwagon of what everyone else was doing without looking inwardly to see who she was and what she would enjoy.”
The process made no sense to Adele, especially in a day and age when most couples in the Jewish community need two incomes just to survive. She couldn’t help but wonder how the same parents who agonized over finding the perfect high school and seminary for their daughters were letting them choose college programs that were on point from a hashkafic perspective but not from a career standpoint.
“How were we not paying attention to this?” Adele reflects. “I could see how they were making decisions, flip-flopping all over the place without really getting anything out of the programs they chose. They were wasting time and not feeling good about themselves. Basically, it was a train wreck.”
From her own experience, Adele understood that there were several elements that anyone making a career choice needed to consider. In addition to stepping back, analyzing their own interests and skill sets, and setting out long- term goals, it was important to understand the job market and employment opportunities beyond the ones that everyone already seemed to know about. Having left an ambitious career to raise her children more than a decade earlier and contemplating a return to the workface in a way that would be more meaningful than taking another corporate job, Adele teamed up with Natasha Srulowitz. Together they founded WayFind Careers to guide clients towards productive, rewarding careers that were well- matched to their own talents and interests.
“We all know the typical jobs like OT and PT, but there are so many other things these boys and girls can be doing,” observes Adele. “We are trying to educate them about who they are, what they bring to the table, and how to use the abilities Hashem gave them while showing them what is out there and what they can be doing on a daily basis. It is so important to enjoy what you are doing in order to feel good about yourself. We need to educate people about themselves and what jobs are out there so they can choose wisely.”
Even parents who are fully engaged in their children’s career choices may not be aware of all of the potential job possibilities that exist in today’s world, many of which do not require a master’s degree. Adele notes that there are many professions with solid earnings potential and has steered clients towards possibilities such as EKG technicians, hearing aid specialists, and fields including product management, digital marketing, mental health, ABA therapy, industrial psychology, insurance, data analytics, cyber security and other high-tech areas. Her own daughter got an online bachelor’s degree from Touro College and went for a 12-week boot camp program in the growing field of UX design. She is already at work and earning a salary while many of her friends are still in school.
Getting to Know You
WayFind’s process begins with an assessment and the Highlands Ability Battery, an online natural ability test which objectively asses and measures an individual’s natural capabilities in over a dozen areas. After reviewing the results, Adele meets with clients to discuss the findings and understand what they mean.
“We use the test results indicating their natural abilities as our foundation,” explains Adele. “After that, we blend in their interests and goals. What kind of lifestyle do they envision? Do they want flexibility? Are they expecting to earn a big paycheck? We have them take us down the road of their dreams and explore what gives them satisfaction in their lives.”
The Highlands Ability Battery is just one of many tools that can guide a person to a satisfying career choice. The Myers- Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is probably the best known personality quiz for identifying traits including spontaneity, confidence levels, creativity, sociability and willingness to try something new, but there are also other multiple free online tests that can help a person better understand themselves, an important step in choosing a prospective field that best meshes with their unique preferences and skill sets. It goes without saying that a creative extrovert may not find satisfaction working at home as a bookkeeper, while someone who is at ease with strangers is probably very well- suited for a career in sales. Some exams even offer a list of possible career choices based on the test- takers’ results.
Of course, there are other ways to chart a path towards a rewarding profession, many of which are extremely low-tech. While introspection doesn’t always come easily, taking the time to sit down with a pad of paper and pen and create a simple handwritten list of personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as likes and dislikes, can be an effective tool in the march towards a satisfying career. Since our opinions of ourselves can often be colored by a variety of factors, it can be helpful to ask friends, family members, former employers, teachers, or school staff for their un-bias perspectives on what skills one can bring to the table.
For those who are zeroing in on a particular job, it can be helpful to speak with people who are already working in the field to gain a broader understanding of what life is truly like in the trenches. Working as an intern, both paid or unpaid, can also be a valuable investment of time, giving you a first-hand preview of what day-to-day life is like in a particular job before making a serious investment of time of money in a specific career choice. In addition to providing invaluable work experience that can be listed on a future resume, it can also yield excellent job-related references and an inside track to future paying jobs and advancement opportunities.
Career-wise, today’s Jewish community presents a unique set of challenges. It wasn’t all that long ago that four-year college was the norm, with a significant percentage of yeshivah boys taking advantage of night courses as they worked their way towards a bachelor’s degree. In my own time at Queens College, I found myself in classes filled with Bais Yaakov girls and other members of the Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom spent four years finding their respective niches and going on to pursue careers in computers, accounting, speech, and law, just to name a few.
Today, the situation is vastly different. Secular colleges are a far cry from what they were just a generation ago in our uber-liberal society, leaving many to contemplate other educational options. Our Bais Yaakov system is producing a large percentage of graduates who want their husbands to stay in yeshivah for as long as possible, making it even more important for our girls to find lucrative careers than ever before. And with girls starting to date as soon as they come home from seminary, most cannot afford to invest four years in college discovering what field of study most appeals to them. While accelerated programs that get young adults into the workforce as quickly as possible are a viable and necessary solution to that problem, it is crucial to step back, do some serious thinking, and take concrete steps to pinpoint suitable career choices to ensure the best possible outcome.
Things are even more complex for boys, many of whom are so focused on their yeshivah studies that they don’t even begin contemplating employment prospects until they find themselves in their late twenties, with several small children and mounting financial obligations. While they may be bright and have much to offer career-wise, many are so buried in bills that they feel that they are too far behind the eight ball to invest the time in themselves at this particular juncture in their lives.
“They just want the short-term job because they have bills to pay,” says Adele, who estimates that approximately 40 percent of her clients are men, many of whom come to her when they are already in fairly dire straits. “I try to explain to them that this decision will shape the rest of their lives. If they invest the time, they can have a job where they will be happy and have a great salary.”
The results can be disheartening, and Adele says she has seen far too many cases where dissatisfaction at work can spill over to shalom bayis problems at home. The horror stories also extend to girls who picked careers because they were popular choices at the time, only to find out later on that they are miserable in their chosen profession.
Jumping Off the Cliff
There are no one size fits all answers to ensuring that our sons and daughters find jobs that are tailor made for them. As with everything else in life, siyatta diShmaya is the key to that particular puzzle, but there is plenty of hishtadlus that can be done on our part, and timing is everything.
For starters, the time to start having the job discussion with your kids is not when they return from seminary or are winding down their yeshivah careers: it should have begun already. By the time your kids are in high school, they probably already have some idea of what areas interest them and which they prefer to avoid like the plague. Take note of their strengths and preferences. You should be having frequent conversations about career opportunities that seem well- suited for them. If at all possible, encourage your children to take CLEP exams in high school, while the coursework is still fresh in their heads – yes, college- level material may be a little bit above their current academic status, but many high schoolers do well enough to pass, earning them college credits at bargain basement prices. Consider having your child take AP courses in high school as well, if they are being offered. Those extra college credits can be a lifesaver, especially in accelerated programs, paving the way to a degree from a respected institution in a relatively short amount of time. Finally, it is always helpful to speak with that cousin, neighbor, parent, professional counselor, or that guy in shul who has his finger on the pulse of the job market and always seems to know everything. Have your child spend some time chatting with them to identify potentially meaningful employment opportunities.
Currently, in the Eller household, we are engaged in this phase (daughter home from seminary) for the fourth and final time. I feel fortunate to be married to someone who is quite talented at navigating the college maze; it has been a real lifesaver for me. Having a solid number of CLEP credits behind her, and several online courses taken both last summer and in the upcoming weeks, my daughter is on track to get her bachelor’s from a highly regarded college next summer so that she can move on to her master’s in her chosen field without delay. Although I have done this with all of our other kids, it really does feel as if my baby is jumping off a cliff from childhood into adulthood as she embarks on this next chapter of her life. But far from just leaping into the unknown and seeing where the winds take her, I would like to think that the time and effort spent ensuring that she maximizes her potential will serve as a parachute, guiding to a safe landing in a career and a life where she can truly shine, both at the job and throughout her life.
Because, after all, isn’t that what we all want for our kids?
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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