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We Didn't Stop The 🔥
But we can't start a 🔥 without a spark...
“Why do we play with fire? Why do we run our finger through the flame? Why do we leave our hand on the stove- Although we know we′re in for some pain?” -Jonathan Larson, "Louder Than Words," Tick Tick Boom
Since I started Moneyball Judaism, I’ve made a number of references to the hiring crisis facing Jewish organizations. Sometimes, there are “solutions” to this problem standing in plain sight that leaders simply choose not to see (it’s amazing the efforts that some people will go to avoid fundraising so that they can pay higher salaries, but I digress). That said, poor compensation is a disease that infects certain organizations more than others, and a number of Jewish organizations pay extremely well but have high turnover and terrible morale.
Burnout is a powerful force.
Join the Revolution
Herbert Freudenberger defines burnout as “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.” Freudenberger does not apply his definition to a particular profession but notes that burnout can be a byproduct of any profession to which one has a strong emotional attachment.
(Cue every Jewish professional nodding glumly…)1
“God spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it. The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a pure place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.”
If this choice seems odd, I don’t blame you. Although this text from Parashat Tzav is found at the beginning of most siddurim, it is seldom recited in communal prayer. You may also wonder what this text has to do with burnout. A number of years ago, I discovered the Sefat Emet’s interpretation of the command that the fire on the altar “should not burn out”:
“In the soul of every Jew there lies a hidden point that is aflame with [love of] God, a fire that cannot be put out. Even though “it may not go out” here refers to a prohibition, it is also a promise.”3
People tend to work in the Jewish Community because they have a “fire” for a mission, and it is comforting to remember that God promises us an internal fire that won’t go out, even when it feels like it should. As such, when I read this text, I pray that my external fire will never burn out, and thank God for giving me an internal, eternal fire that no person can touch. Reciting this text every day is one of the most meaningful parts of my tefillah experience.
But prayer only goes so far…
Do you trust nurses?
If you said “yes,” you’re in good company. According to Gallup, nurses have been rated the most trusted profession in the United States for the past twenty-one years. In fact, if you exclude 2001 when firefighters were rated the most trusted profession in the United States (for a very good reason), nurses held this crown uninterrupted since Gallup started collecting this information in 1990.
However, nursing, like many other helping professions, currently faces an incredible staffing shortage. The cruel irony is that professions that most people admire are often mistreated, whether through poor pay, long hours, or high turnover.
Compassion Awareness Resilient Responding Empowerment
Compson offers C.A.R.E. as a “systemic framework for structuring burnout intervention” by looking at “ the different components that lead to burnout, and then offering evidence-based practices to address these factors.”5
Admittedly, a cursory look at this acronym can make C.A.R.E. seem like cliche pop science, but it is anything but. Read the entire article and see what you think.
The Power of Full Engagement
While burnout is typically associated with habits of the mind, burnout also begins in the body, which makes it a perfect opportunity to introduce Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement. Loehr and Schwartz are performance coaches who bring their tools from athletic performance to leadership development.
Loehr and Schwartz argue that great “time management” is actually great “energy management,” and that we have far more control over our energy than our time:
“Leaders are the stewards of organizational energy—in companies, organizations and even in families. They inspire or demoralize others first by how effectively they manage their own energy and next by how well they mobilize, focus, invest and renew the collective energy of those they lead. The skillful management of energy, individually and organizationally, makes possible something that we call full engagement.”6
I love this book because it is a classic reframing, similar to the kinds we’ve previously seen regarding decision fatigue and scarcity, where a new idea provides illumination on a number of problems that often appear intractable:
Why are inefficient meetings problematic? Because people are spending mental and physical energy sitting through something where they are not performing at their best when they need energy at other times to be at their best.
Why is the quickest pathway to improved employee morale in Jewish organizations higher salaries? Because professionals who have difficult jobs should not be forced to spend mental energy worrying about fulfilling basic needs, or working second and third jobs so that they can do the work they love.
Why do people resist change? Because people who seem snarky about change are often the people overburdened the most by sclerotic systems, and they have no energy to put up with new leaders who choose to ignore their needs.7 Expensive, painful, and ineffective processes ultimately hurt certain people more than others, usually not the people who launch them.
Loehr and Schwartz argue that the more we look at leadership as a process of managing our energy and the energy of others, the more we can unlock tools that make a big difference in the lives of others. I love this book and consult it often; I hope that you will, too.
Tim Ferriss and Jim Loehr
Chat GPT Sermons: Remember when I predicted that a robot would write my Divrei Torah within five years? Turns out, I was wrong. It’s already happening.
A Lesson on Residual Confounding: Emily Oster has been one of my favorite writers ever since she decided to use a data-driven approach to parenting. She has a wonderful Substack, and this recent post on how she looks at data was excellent.
The Right Now List: Sometimes, the best time management hacks are the simplest. Here’s one that you should read right now (pun intended).
Demise of the Playful Workspace: Remember where there was an idea that workspaces should be “playful”? Turns out, things are more complicated.
Keeping Your Confidence Up During a Lengthy Job Search: Over time, I’ve learned that many people who sign up for this newsletter are currently between jobs or are currently looking for their next job. Here’s a helpful piece on how to keep up your confidence.
Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, Power in Helping Professions (Zurich, Switzerland: Spring Publications, 1976), 23-24. Referencing clergy specifically, Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig writes:
“Doubt is the companion of faith. But no one wants to hear doubt expressed by a clergyman; we all have doubts enough of our own…A man of God in the ideal sense must bear witness to his faith by his actions. He cannot prove what he preaches. He is expected to provide by his own behavior a foundation for the faith which he represents. And this opens the door to another of the clergyman’s dark brothers—the one who wishes to present himself to the world (and to himself) as better than he really is.”
For Craig, the fear of being labeled the “false prophet” drives most religious leaders to hide feelings of doubt and depletion, which Craig concludes leads to internal self-loathing for what clergy may perceive as their internal hypocrisy.
Sefat Emet on Vayikra 6:6, in The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, ed. Arthur Green (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2012), 155.
Jane Compson, “The CARE Heuristic for Addressing Burnout in Nurses,” in Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, Volume 5, Number 7 (2015), 63-74.
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (New York: Free Press, 2003), 5.
My favorite quote regarding this phenomenon comes from Chip and Dan Heath in Switch, where they argue that “what looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”