Martin Elliot Jaffe reflects on work as a way of life or in the way of life as inspired by the writing of Rabbi Zalman Schachter.
As a recently retired career counsellor with 35 years of expertise dealing with a diverse cross-section of Americans facing a turbulent era of career transition and the hollowing out of multiple American industries, I have been reflecting on the life planning wisdom I first encountered in Rav Zalman’s 1995 book, From AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING: A PROFOUND NEW VISION OF GROWING OLDER. As Rav Zalman told an interviewer from the Career Planning and Adult Development Journal in the Fall of 2006 on the role of adult career development, ‘we need to be wisdom seekers, asking not what does everything mean for me, number one—what does it mean for the wealth of the global commonwealth?’
While much of the current services of those who call themselves career or employment counsellors are focused on endless process, i.e. here is a perfect resume format, this method of writing a LINKEDIN profile will lead to the job of your dreams, 80% of jobs are found thru networking, you are not asking for a job you are asking for information ( a mythological approach that always irritated me but that is another article), or, ‘tell me your one-minute elevator speech why should I hire you ?’ (can you imagine being stuck in an elevator with a demented job seeker babbling on?
There is a rich tradition of excellent career assessment and life planning integration that I will delve into as I explore the contribution of Zalman Schachter Shalomi.
Who was Rav Zalman Schachter Shalomi?
Rav Zalman died on July 3, 2014 in Boulder, Colorado. He was a Rabbi, prolific author, college professor of Psychology of Religion at Temple University in Philadelphia and World Wisdom Chair at Naropa University. Born in Poland in 1912, his 20th-century life involved fleeing Vienna as it fell to the Nazis, imprisonment by the Vichy government, and coming to New York to begin a life of scholarship and service.
Rav Zalman’s Vision
By the 1990’s the post-World War IIlifelong social contract type of employment model was in serious decline. In an era of de-jobbing, corporate re-engineering, the concept of stable employment became obsolete. The Reagan revolution that began in the 1980s with an assault on organized labour and the blue-collar American unionized workforce began to eat its’ own children in the 1990s: middle-class middle income, middle American Republican voters were the next wave of downsized, rightsized, etc victims of this assault. My counselling staff and I began to see clients stressed out by insecurity and angst, over-investment in occupations that were less rewarding, secure and intrinsically satisfying than ever before and as one so memorably told one of my counselling staff in 1998, ‘I am trapped in a spider web of endless work /stress and I have lost my sense of balance.’
My aha moment came when I found Rav Zalman’s 1995 book, FROM AGE-ING TO SAGE-ING: A PROFOUND NEW VISION OF GROWING OLDER. Shalomi designed a vision of the adult life cycle comparing development to the months and seasons, with every seven years as a month in the life cycle, for example:
March—to the verge of adulthood, at age 21
April—ends at 28 with steps toward engagement with career, family, education—structuring the base for future endeavours
May-age 35-settled structure of family/career
June-age 42-established social identity and place in the world—after midlife the phases become more inner-directed
July, age 49—leadership, intellectual and personal mastery, the fullness of power and contribution to career, family, community.
August/September-more inward-looking, what have I learned, what can I share with others?
October, November, December—harvesting—reflecting on achievements, contributions, what is left to achieve, legacy.
The Schacter Shalomi model enable my career counselling staff to design counselling strategies and workshops looking at career development in a global sense and adulthood being a process of contributing in realms of community, family, meaning and purpose—an affirmation that identity is complex, full and rich, not dependent on a job title
Rav Zalman’s wisdom for today
The era of career disempowerment that forced adults to reconsider the role of career versus other aspects of life development has not ended—some quick notes from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics:
The peak year of labour force participation for American men aged 25-54 was 97.5 % in 1965—in November 2020, as Covid raged and the United States unemployment rate rose, the rate was 87.5%.
For older workers 55 plus—the rate is at 40.3%
The United States Labor Force participation for men, women all those seeking to be in the workforce peaked at 67.3 percent in 2000; in 2018, the years of the alleged Trump boom, it was 62.7%.
The life planning wisdom of Zalman Schacter Shalomi formed the core of my counselling practice. His comments from the year he turned 60 may inspire a new generation of career counsellors, ‘that we are getting extra years is wonderful—how do we use them to crown our lives?’