Spinning goat hair–Passion or purpose?
Parshat VaYakhel-Pekudei: How many of us are wise-hearted in our work and careers? Should that be our goal? Talent acquisition for the Mishkan craftspersons may inspire us in our careers.
By Benny A. Benjamin, Ph.D.
“And every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen. And all the women whose hearts inspired them [wise-hearted] used their skill to spin the goats’ hair” Exodus 35:25–26.
All of the Israelites were engaged in some way in constructing the Tabernacle in the desert. All contributed money (half a shekel from each person) and the required materials, such as colored fabrics, wood, precious stones, and gold, silver, and copper. Those craftspersons involved in the actual design and construction–men and women–were often termed “wise-hearted,” a description intriguing many commentators. A common view of this quality would have both wisdom (derived from the mind––the source of intellect) and the heart (manifesting itself in emotional engagement) dedicated to performing their craft. Many craftspersons were engaged in the construction of the Tabernacle under the supervision of Bezalel, the project manager. We may ask where the Israelites learned these skills, including many intricate, artistic tasks, and it likely wasn’t from their former day jobs as slaves in Egypt.
These craftspersons seemed to have both of these critical qualities––intellect and emotional engagement––with their heart stimulating their technical skills and vice versa. Thus, we may assume that their work on the Tabernacle was infused with the proper spiritual intentions, such as passion and meaningfulness, even when spinning goat hairs used for the Tabernacle’s cloth coverings, resulting in superior outcomes.
Follow your passion?
For a long time, “follow your passion” was a buzzword for getting one’s life and career on track. A job that activates one’s passion would be the one to boost your overall well-being. However, passion is an amorphous entity that is neither easily found nor can be counted on to last. Passion is, by definition, in the eye (or heart) of the beholder. We’ve all heard stories of the garbage collection team, where one worker can’t wait until he goes off shift so he can go bowling with the guys. His partner, however, feels that her mission, calling, passion, and privilege is contributing her energies to her favorite city, helping to clean it, waiting impatiently for her next garbage-collecting opportunity (shift). However, for many of us, when passion’s fire ebbs, does that mean we need to leave that job until our next passion is kindled? And who says that passion can only be found at work?
Hopefully, we can all point to an activity that can fire up our passion cells, whether on the job, with family, or engaging in a hobby. It is not unusual to meet a person in mid-career who feels committed to a fairly repetitious job and is an aficionado in an area unrelated to their work. This side interest has enriched their life, be it music, travel, writing, sports, cooking, mechanics, flora and fauna, dance, or carpentry.
Recent studies have found that a more effective, dependable longer-term career objective is to seek purpose or meaning in work rather than waiting for passion to kick in. People who find purpose in their work are more likely to weather fluctuations in their workday and persevere through work crises. Making a job meaningful may require reconsidering your assignment: Even a routine job can be viewed as actualizing an important value for you by stepping back to see how your actions facilitate it (e.g., a proofreading job that will help non-profits collect funds to help the less fortunate; or simple mechanical repairs that enhance the quality of life and well-being of rehab patients).
Another tack is called job crafting, whereby a worker can fine-tune their job by augmenting it with an aspect that is not highlighted in the HR job description (e.g., a hospital attendant who picks one patient each day with whom to strike up a meaningful conversation or a store worker who deliberately gives extra attention and assistance to recent immigrants). A further clue in our pursuit of the holy grail of career fulfillment is that when tracking the experiences of those reporting higher meaning at work, a common feature is that it is not what they are doing but rather whom they are doing it with––colleagues, boss, clients, or others.
One study sought to distinguish between two popular paths of achieving passion in one’s career: One way is to seek out a job one enjoys doing; another is to look for personally important work informed by the individual’s values. The study concluded that those subscribing to the enjoyment approach were less likely to attain their desired passion, resulting in relatively more frequent turnover than those seeking value-based jobs. Thus, one practical recommendation would be to focus less on what makes you feel passionate and more on what you genuinely care about. Meaningfulness at work has been understood differently by different generation cohorts, with some generations seeking only personal growth and others focusing on the opportunity to serve others. Uniting all these approaches is the notion that greater life-career satisfaction and fulfillment can be attained by seeking a job combining concrete tasks with an emotional commitment.
- As we have seen, not all of us wake up every morning to save the world. However, you may find it helpful to be more aware of what you do want to gain from your work. A recent study identified five work meanings, also called work orientations: In your work setting, you may have colleagues that see their work as a job, primarily providing them with financial compensation to support themselves; as a career, facilitating their advancement and influence in a particular field; as a calling, allowing them to engage in prosocial activity, contributing to others; as seeking social embeddedness, offering them a sense of belonging in a congenial social network; or as an opportunity for busyness, enabling them to be occupied with scheduled activities, structuring their day. Which orientation provides meaning for you?
- If you are still looking for passion but not ready to face the challenges and risk of changing your workplace or career, consider these two options: 1. Notice the element of your workday during which you find time passing quickly. Is it dealing directly with clients, doing detailed clerical work, or designing attractive charts for your monthly reports? This is the endeavor from which you can upgrade your passion quotient by expanding its share of your workday, akin to job crafting. The key is to identify your motivated skills—the skills you most enjoy doing and are good at. 2. Another avenue you can fully control is seeking a volunteer position during a few hours you carve out from your week. The right volunteer position can offer you multiple personal benefits aside from contributing to a worthy cause.
Try this: The 20% project is an innovation of Google, whereby workers are invited to spend a fifth of their time on a project of their discretion that they believe would have value for the company. Other organizations call it dabble time, where workers are encouraged to use company time to innovate. If your organization is not yet ripe for enriching your work day this way, you might consider what has been called a passion project, where you choose a project on your own time that expresses a part of you that you may have neglected over the years.
 Jachimowicz, J. M., To, C., Menges, J. I., & Akinola, M. (2018). Igniting passion from within: How lay beliefs guide the pursuit of work passion and influence turnover. OpenAire.
 Weeks, K. P., & Schaffert, C. (2019). Generational differences in definitions of meaningful work: A mixed methods study. Journal of Business Ethics, 156, 1045–1061
 Willner, T., Lipshits-Braziler, Y., & Gati, I. (2020). Construction and initial validation of the Work Orientation Questionnaire. Journal of Career Assessment, 28(1), 109–127.
 Helpguide.org. (n.d.). Volunteering and its surprising benefits: How giving to others makes you healthier and happier. http://www.volunteercentre.info/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Volunteering-and-its-Surprising-Benefits.pdf
For more Torah–Career connections, visit: https://www.bible-at-work.com/