An “Entrepreneurial” Rabbi

During my time in rabbinical school I have been assigned three mentors, and I am currently awaiting my assignment of a fourth. I have been incredibly lucky that all of my assigned mentors have been kind, caring, and wise. All of them either have or are in the process of becoming not just ascribed mentors, but actual mentors. In the fellowship, I have been assigned a supervisor. Supervisors by their nature are always ascribed, yet I am happily discovering that my supervisor is quickly also becoming a mentor.

I made this discovery during our last meeting, in which we veered substantially from the task at hand. My supervisor asked me about my job prospects, when interviews began, and my long-term career plans. In order to describe the impact of my subsequent conversation with my supervisor, I will digress a bit. Questions about my long-term career plans have always been difficult for me. I entered rabbinical school knowing without a doubt that I wanted to be a congregational rabbi, but since then I have realized that there are many ways to be an effective rabbi other than serving a congregation. It has been extremely difficult finding out exactly how to build a career when I’m not sure what kind of career I want. I often feel like I am asking someone for directions but cannot tell them where I’m trying to go.

Because of my uncertainty, I have told myself that I ought to try congregational work for a variety of reasons. I want to see if perhaps it is exactly the career I want. I have not grown disillusioned with the idea of working in a congregation, I simply have seen the vast array of other possibilities. Additionally, I want to learn certain skills from congregational work, and possibly create certain connections and networks that could support me if I ever try a different career path. In general, congregational work is a step that I can take in order to get moving, even if I don’t know just exactly what direction I ought to be going.

When I explained all of this to my supervisor, his initial reaction was the same piece of advice I hear often. In today’s non-profit world, they say, you have to be entrepreneurial. If you want to do something, you can’t find your job, you have to create your job. As often as I hear this, I have no idea how this is done. If it were as simple as creating a job and then doing it, I thought to myself, everyone would create their own job. Fortunately, my supervisor continued. He told me that I’m not ready to do this yet, as there are skills I need to learn and connections that I need to make that cannot be accomplished in school. He gave me different ideas of what I can do in order to learn the skills so that I can be entrepreneurial in the future. He even gave me advice for how to start out and what some of my first moves ought to be. I found someone who actually created his own career, who already has done that which I hope to someday do. He told me what his successes were and what he messed up.

After this conversation, I still have no idea what kind of career I want in the future. I do, however, have an idea of where to start. I feel confident in my decision to enter the congregational world, and I have a better idea of what experiences I can seek to open opportunities in the future. Furthermore, I have gained a mentor in the process. He may have been assigned as a supervisor, but by taking the time to find out more about me and my aspirations and by sharing his personal experiences and wisdom, it is clear to me that I am learning not just from my fellowship experience, but from my relationship with my supervisor as well.

Josh Herman

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