Beyond Deadlines and Compromise: Learning to Tend to Your Work Soul

It begins innocently and self-indulgently: It’s close to midnight and you would rather just go to sleep.

That report you have been compiling gets a lot shorter than it should be. Rationality enters: You have no caffeine, three looming deadlines, and an early morning meeting.  Is this not the perfect time to re-watch Seasons 3-5 of Grey’s Anatomy? (By the way, nothing says “deadline” like eight hospital break-ups and a motivational speech you choose to ignore from the Chief of Surgery).

More than enough has been written on being busy, whether the psychological, political or the existential ramifications, let alone what it does to your marriage, body, and brain. I won’t add to the corpus. But I will say this: we are becoming quite selective with our teams, with our information, and with just about everything that involves working with others. And our selectivity is not only eating up our time, but it’s starving us of what we can collectively accomplish.

Entrepreneurs are notoriously rich in over-scheduling and the trap of what one might call over-aspiring. We want to move mountains and we want to move at light speed. But the problem is that, in our quest to cross the finish line, we are are compromising our work and leadership quality. 

We’re all guilty of it. We’ll take on a new project, but we won’t call the team to gather feedback. We’ll carve out time to create a vision, but make no time for ongoing research or discussion. We’ll collect the data and, because we are tired – or, worse, uncomfortable – we’ll prune it to the bare minimum, so, by the time we are finished with it, it looks like exactly what we want it to be. And it ends up being tidy and without the complexity of thinking or including anybody.

This is precisely the kind of conundrum that links Jewish entrepreneurs and their sages. When the rabbis were faced with even the appearance of impropriety, they were so concerned that they tended to ban all associated acts completely (just take a look at what they had to say about picking up coins in front of idols). Why the fuss? Because every impression mattered and, in every action, existed the possibility for teaching.

The work of entrepreneurs benefits not only from self-reflection, but even more: from communal accountability.

Entrepreneurs are enriched by assessing where they stand in the arc of their tradition and, whenever possible, consulting it. Any movement forward should not come at the expense of difficult conversations, consultation or community. When the approach to our work becomes self-serving, we owe it to the people we work with to re-consider how we work.

Now I am not suggesting we ban prioritization, multi-tasking, or even Grey’s Anatomy, but I am suggesting we seek an alignment between our actions, our intentions and, also, our tradition.

How we select our priorities relates directly to how we choose others and how we choose to engage in living. And, as we create our works and our lives, all of our doings must be accompanied by Jewish teachings.

That’s why I implore you to ask a new question this week. Talk to the people who work closest to you and ask them about your work soul: Who are you at work and how does your soul reflect in what you do?

Feel free to post what you find.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.