Money Talk

At the roundtable discussion held at the OU headquarters in Manhattan this past May, some of the experts participated via Zoom. Seen here, Chaya Fishman and Rabbi Zisha Novoseller. Photos: Josh Weinberg

Leading career and business experts discuss how to grow your business or career and improve your financial situation.

 

This past May, Jewish Action invited a number of prominent frum experts on business and career building to reflect on the landscape of opportunities that are available for maximizing one’s earning potential. Participants included Chaya Fishman, Rabbi Zisha Novoseller, Robert Safren and Ned Schoenfeld. Providing a Torah perspective on the topic, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer participated in the discussion as well. Moderated by Zevy Wolman, the discussion took place at the OU headquarters in Manhattan and spanned a variety of topics including what it takes to become successful, the new world of remote business, work-life balance, the value of mentorship, and so much more.

The following are excerpts from the wide-ranging discussion.

Moderator: We’re going to talk today about practical ways in which people can try to better their financial situation. However, there is an important preamble to this conversation.

As Torah Jews, we need to balance hishtadlus, our efforts to make a living, with a healthy appreciation of the belief that our livelihood comes from God. We understand that we are required to expend reasonable effort within the constructs of the world in which we live. But how do we find the right balance?

Rabbi Moshe Hauer: This is a fundamental question that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer.

We know that ultimately the deliverables come from God, but human effort is part of the contract we have in Creation. Being a people of faith does not allow us to abdicate responsibility for doing our part.

It’s true with parnassah, and it is similarly true, to choose another common example, regarding the pursuit of good health or medicinal efforts. The Orthodox community is probably one of the most advanced in being resourceful and creative in terms of getting good medical care. We have our own emergency medical services, and we have referral services for the best doctors. We’re very serious about making efforts in that realm, and making a livelihood is not fundamentally different.

Of course, every effort we make should be one that we feel God would be pleased with. First and foremost, this means that it’s a halachically and ethically appropriate endeavor. So if there are gray areas about whether or not a certain effort is appropriate, that’s when we should hesitate.

We also need to ensure that the pursuit of making a living does not take over our lives; we want these efforts to take up only a certain corner of our lives.

At the end of Maseches Kiddushin where the Mishnah discusses how one should choose a trade, two qualifications for a profession are described: it should be both “kalah u’nekiyah (light or easy, and clean). Nekiyah refers to what I mentioned earlier—one’s efforts should be clean, that is, without ethical challenges. We must be convinced that this is something God would want us to do. Kalah refers to the fact that the profession doesn’t take over your life, that you’re still able to be an eved Hashem. In today’s day and age, can we realistically adhere to the Rambam’s schedule of eight hours of sleep, eight hours of taking care of all your material needs and eight hours of Torah study? That’s what we would call somebody who’s not working for a living! Nevertheless, there is a balance that we need to strike.

Moderator: Thank you very much for these insights. I want to provide background to this discussion. Unquestionably, the cost of Jewish life is one of the most significant challenges facing the American Jewish Orthodox community. Obviously, there are multiple contributing factors to the high cost of living as an Orthodox Jew, including tuition, real estate costs based on living in Orthodox communities, simchas, kosher food, societal pressures, post-high school tuitions, support for married children, et cetera.

While there are some mitigating factors that can be addressed on an individual level, I think most would agree that for a family of four-plus children, a joint income of well in excess of $150,000 (pre-tax dollars) and in many cases significantly higher, is typically required. To put that in context, that would mean that the average individual in our community needs to be earning, for families, in the top 4 to 8 percent of all income earners in America, and for individuals, as much as three times the median income in America. So what we’d like to try to address with our distinguished panel is how young people just starting out, as well as older people looking to transition into a different career or start a business, can better understand the landscape of opportunities that are available for them to maximize their earning potential within a Torah lifestyle.

There are two different ways people make a living—through careers and through entrepreneurship. Traditionally, Orthodox Jews have pursued careers such as accounting, law and medicine. However, in recent years, there are new fields that seem to work well with a frum lifestyle. What are solid career choices that are not necessarily new, as well as some up-and-coming fields, that people might not be aware of?

Ned Schoenfeld: Today, there are a lot of opportunities related to technology. Almost every discipline in business has a sub-segment that’s technology focused. In the field of advertising, for example, there’s social media advertising, which is very tech-oriented. There’s also figuring out how to serve up ads, how to get your company noticed and how to improve your search rankings. I see a lot of Orthodox-run businesses cropping up that provide these kinds of services. The insurance markets as well as financial services are also becoming more and more oriented towards tech. You can pick a field you’re interested in and take a look at the technology angles.

A business degree is very worthwhile. And with the aging population in America, anything related to health care and nursing homes is valuable. There is also a new sub-specialty in nursing home technology where staff use apps to search for and obtain various equipment or to hire a therapist quickly when a patient needs one. There’s lots of growth in that market. I also see many people getting into real estate, which is broad—there’s property management, real estate accounting and real estate sourcing (identifying properties).

Many people get degrees in business but then go on to enroll in an insurance program, a real estate license program or something along those lines. Those businesses have an advantage in that they are like a traditional job, but at the same time kind of entrepreneurial as you can make your own hours.

Moderator: In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in women taking on important lead roles as either primary or supplementary breadwinners for their families. We definitely see more dual-income families in the general population and in the frum world as well.

Chaya, you have helped hundreds of women in our community who have started businesses—some very successfully. For women who want to start a business, what are the distinguishing factors that differentiate those who are making it and finding ways to thrive versus those who are struggling? Obviously, these principles will apply to everyone.

Chaya: Clearly, there is a lot of siyata d’Shmaya (Divine assistance) involved. Nevertheless, there are core elements that you see over and over again when it comes to successful female entrepreneurs. Successful women tend to be extraordinarily gritty; they don’t give up very easily. They’re careful about the numbers, down to the pennies. And if they are not “numbers people,” they’ve hired the right people and are closely in touch with them; they don’t just assume somebody else is tracking.

In particular, in the Covid environment, the successful women were the ones who were able to quickly recalibrate, pivot and regain their footing. When Covid hit, I noticed two categories of entrepreneurs. There were the women who ran storefront businesses that were not online yet. They had to quickly jump into e-commerce and bring their businesses online.

Then you had all these women who were already online. They suddenly had to come up with innovative ideas in order to effectively compete in a now-flooded market.

So here are some of the core qualities: innovation, grit, frugality and self-awareness. What do I mean by self-awareness? A woman who is aware of her skills and her strengths as well as where she may be lacking. She is honest enough to hire the right people to fill in for her weaknesses.

I want to add another point: If you want to hit certain revenue numbers with your business, it’s very hard to do that when you’re solely focused on the frum community. The women who tend to be more successful have taken their businesses and their services outside of the frum community.

Finally, one of the biggest determining factors of whether a woman’s going to be successful or not depends on what’s going on at home. If she’s married, what’s the relationship between the spouses like? Who’s doing what? What does her support system look like? Even outside of the marriage structure, who’s the couple’s support network? Have they created a solid infrastructure for themselves that they can fall back on when help is needed?

Moderator: Excellent observations. Robert and Rabbi Novoseller, it would seem that a lot of what Chaya said is relevant not only to women but also to any entrepreneur. In your roles, what do you see as the determining factors of successful entrepreneurship?

Robert Safren

Robert: One aspect that applies to any entrepreneur is passion. You really have to be motivated and passionate about what you do—in other words, you have to believe in your product or service. This is very important because you can hate your job, but you can’t hate your business! You have to be motivated and driven.

A family unit working together in harmony is another really strong foundation for success. A woman we mentored started a children’s clothing business. The husband and wife worked together on building the business. The wife was the driver—she set up the manufacturing—but the couple did a tremendous amount of research together. Couples who work together as a team can be very successful. Not only does this couple have a successful business now, but the wife went from being a mentee to being one our of our best mentors. So it’s a real success story in which family harmony worked very positively.

There are other professional skills one needs to have to be successful: Does the individual follow up? Does she document? Is he respectful? Is she persistent in a professional sense? Is he assertive but not aggressive?

Rabbi Novoseller: What do entrepreneurs need to be successful? Here’s a list to consider: good social skills; soft skills; mentschlichkeit; patience; self-control; open-mindedness; flexibility; the ability to hear another person’s opinion; being happy, upbeat and resilient; having respect and confidence; keeping calm; and having the capacity to work very hard.

We know that people are hired for skills and fired for attitude. Approximately 50 percent of employees who are let go across the United States are let go because of attitude, even when they have the ability to do their job well. All of these interpersonal skills have to be learned when one is young, and that is the formula for success in life and business.

Moderator: I want to focus on a point touched upon earlier, which is that although it’s relatively easy in our community to develop a product or service and sell it to others in the frum world, the reality is that the more defined and narrow your market is, the less chance you have of being extremely successful.

Rabbi Novoseller: There are those who are in service or retail businesses that are directly geared to the Jewish community, such as a sefarim store or a bagel shop in a mall in a heavily Jewish area. Those entrepreneurs have already targeted a specific audience, and that’s how they’re proceeding. But we are constantly pushing entrepreneurs to look outside of the frum world. The big catalyst was Covid. Business owners went online, and once they were online, they realized they were suddenly before millions of customers. Many of those who adapted their websites to address a broader clientele are seeing much success.

One of the reasons some people didn’t do this previously is because there’s often a fear factor for someone who was born and raised in the observant world to venture out of it; they are unsure of what that will bring. The answer is simple—it will likely bring more money. So we’ve pushed people in that direction.

Robert: I agree. The services and products many businesses offer are universal. If you limit your demographic, you limit your business.

Moderator: We are living in a post-Covid world where business tends to be more remote. Ned, can you address this from a career perspective as well? How long-lasting do you think this trend will be?

Ned: Whether or not people will end up going back to work in offices is one aspect.

At least in America, a lot of business is done remotely. A very large percentage of the American economy is service based, and service businesses lend themselves to doing business remotely. Ten or fifteen years ago, someone said to me, “If you’re a New York consultant, you should fly to Iowa because Iowa doesn’t have any really good consultants.” Today that’s easy. I can just put up a web page and say, “Hi, you’re in Iowa and I’m in New York; let me help you.”

That’s true with many businesses today. Of course, there are some businesses where you need that face-to-face interaction. But so many stores are selling their products online, accountants are doing much of their work remotely, even some parts of medicine are now remote; in fact, doctors in India are reading x-rays for patients here in the US. So if you, as a frum business or career person, see these opportunities and you want to expand beyond the Jewish world, it’s easy nowadays—you can still live a two-minute walk from shul yet service the whole nation.

Robert: I think there needs to be a balance. Many years ago, pre-Zoom, pre-Skype—prehistoric!—I had to interface for my business with overseas manufacturing in Singapore and Malaysia. I would have meetings with them on a weekly basis, and it took a long time to get commitments on product delivery and quality. I decided I would go there. I flew to Singapore and met with them face-to-face, and in just two three-hour meetings, I accomplished six months’ worth of commitments, which I couldn’t do on the phone.

There are certain areas where doing work remotely or online is effective, but at the end of the day, when you want to get commitments, you need to meet in person.

Ned: But how many times do you really need that face-to-face? You’ll do that maybe once, and after that, you can have a productive long-distance relationship. Once you’ve built a personal relationship, clients are very happy not to have to pay airfare or carfare for you to travel across the country. Getting that answer from you by talking to you online suffices.

Moderator: As somebody who used to travel to work frequently, I’ve certainly appreciated the last year and a half. I’d like to come back to the work-life balance issue, which is obviously an issue for both men and women. But let’s focus on women for now. Are women who are running their businesses out of their homes possibly creating more problems than were solved by not having to travel to an office?

Chaya: Whether you’re an entrepreneur or a professional, the question is—when does the day start and when does it end if you’re in the same place the entire time?

There are definitely significant benefits for a mother to be able to be present for her kids when they get home from school or get household responsibilities taken care of between business calls. It can also obviously be super distracting. But everyone can work out the practicalities—if you’re disciplined, you’ll get your work done when you’re supposed to, and you’ll figure out how to balance it with your family.

“Nowadays, most women need to work. And it’s absolutely impossible to do it all. A lot of women have learned that the hard way.” —Chaya Fishman

It all boils down to two things. The first aspect, which I mentioned earlier, is partnership and support. How is the couple sharing the burden now that traditional family roles have shifted? In the past, the husband went off to work and the woman was at home and primarily the caregiver of the children. Nowadays, most women need to work. And it’s absolutely impossible to do it all. A lot of women have learned that the hard way.

The women whose businesses are thriving are those who have mutual respect at home and have worked out a healthy partnership. That doesn’t mean it’s an equal split down the middle where the husband does the carpools and the wife does the cooking or the laundry. It means they’ve figured out what needs to happen to keep the ball moving, to keep the family at peak performance, and they’ve split the responsibilities in such a way that both spouses feel supported.

Your question—working at home versus working at an office—brings me to my second point, which is boundaries. Having a separate office space definitely sets a hard line. But you could be working at an office and still have your clients calling you at 11 pm when you get home. Being shomer Shabbos is the best exercise in what a real boundary looks like because when Shabbos hits, nothing else matters. It’s really the only time when there’s a hard stop; nobody can contact me no matter what. And that kind of hard stop doesn’t generally happen, especially when you’re an entrepreneur.

And so the women who are setting realistic but firm boundaries are successful. What do I mean by realistic boundaries? On paper it’s great to say to clients, “I will not be responding to emails after 7:00 pm,” but that’s not realistic when you’re running a business. For many women entrepreneurs, a more realistic boundary is—I’m offline from 5:00 to 7:00 pm while I have dinnertime and bedtime with my children, and then I come back online. So it’s having boundaries—and having realistic boundaries—that really contributes to success.

Moderator: Rabbi Hauer, is there anything you want to add to that in terms of family dynamics and boundaries?

Rabbi Hauer: Chaya’s description is completely on target. Finding individual boundaries and making sure there’s a team effort within a family where everybody understands and supports one another is crucial. But these are challenging times. Work-life balance is critical. We are working to be able to pay for our children’s education and give them the things we want to give them, but we must always be cognizant of the things they want more than the things we want to give them. They want us. They just want time with their parents. We have to make sure that time with our children is Kodesh Hakedoshim, sacred. And we need to make sure we don’t run ourselves ragged to the point where Shabbos is the time to disappear because you have to recover for the next week of “killing myself for my children.” We have to be there. This is a mitzvah sheb’gufo (a mitzvah that must be performed by an individual himself). It can’t be delegated.

Chaya: I know this is a bit of a tangent, but it relates to the discussion of how women working has impacted the traditional frum home.

One of the things few people like to talk about is the power struggles between spouses and the way respect and success need to be reconfigured when there is a change in the dynamics. I’ve seen this with many of the women in our network, some of whom are making significantly more money than their husbands.

One of my most powerful learning experiences took place at the JWE’s first business conference. Saki Dodelson, founder and former CEO of Achieve3000, a digital platform that helps kids read, was the keynote speaker. Some years ago, she sold the company for many millions of dollars. At that point, her husband had been learning in kollel for more than twenty years and she had built this wildly successful business. She explained the division in their home: Her husband was bringing all the spiritual energy into the home. He was going to knock it out of the park with his Torah learning, and she was going to knock it out of the park in business. They both had incredible respect for each other. This is such an important message.

When both spouses are working, many young couples grapple with how to support each other in a way that doesn’t turn into a battle of “my job’s more important” or “you’re not helping enough with the kids.”

Success and respect in marriage shouldn’t depend on who the primary breadwinner is and who makes more money.

Moderator: Let’s shift the conversation a bit. What prevents people from maximizing their potential? Is it fear? Is it unwillingness to work hard? What do you think is responsible for holding people back from actualizing their earning potential?

Rabbi Novoseller: It’s hard to start a company with just $100,000 unless the potential business owner has a foot in the door, some entry into the field—maybe her mother has a dress store in the Five Towns and she wants to open a similar business in Teaneck. That’s what gives people the ability to get into a game that otherwise would need huge connections and much more money.

“We turn away 50 percent of the people who come to EPI for startup loans. It’s not because we don’t want to give them the money. It’s because we know it’s not going to work.” —Rabbi Zisha Novoseller 

Chaya: When it comes to entrepreneurs, money is a big factor that holds people back. Some entrepreneurs have parents or other family members who are willing to give them their first round of seed capital; then there are the people who don’t have that. When you look at someone who’s wildly successful—not to minimize their success—oftentimes it comes back to that initial seed money.

I’m not sure if fear is a big factor. Most of the women in our [JWE] network have a lot of chutzpah, so fear is not necessarily what’s holding them back. Life circumstances and family situations can be overwhelming, and there are high expectations to keep everything together. So I think that’s what holds a lot of women back, although money is probably the biggest factor.

There’s an entirely different aspect too. Sometimes women are not taken seriously. It’s very hard to get in front of a number of venture capitalists, even just getting your foot in the door. When you finally do, it can be very demoralizing to be asked a work-life balance question. No man walking in would be asked the same question. So that can be really tough.

Moderator: Supposedly there are 25 million entrepreneurs in America, about 5 percent of the population—of course it depends how you define an entrepreneur. In the Orthodox community and the Jewish community at large, however, I would assume that the percentage is a good deal higher. Entrepreneurship plays a very important role in our community.

But to be successful, a certain entrepreneurial makeup is needed, and not everybody has that makeup. At the end of the day, 20 percent of businesses fail in the first year, by the fifth year, 50 percent fail and by the tenth year, 80 percent fail (figures are from the Small Business Administration). As a community, we’re not immune to the laws of statistics.

Chaya: Sometimes the biggest act of kindness, as painful as it is, is telling somebody, “Maybe you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur.” Opening a business is a default option for many people because they may not have had access to higher education or it seems to be an easier path. But not everybody can be an entrepreneur.

Rabbi Novoseller: We turn away 50 percent of the people who come to EPI for startup loans. It’s not because we don’t want to give them the money; it’s because we know it’s not going to work and I’d be doing a terrible avlah (injustice) to them. They’re going to be $50,000 in debt and not have a viable business with which to pay it back. So we do a lot of screening—hours and hours on each person, on each business idea, and on how well the person is funded.

So there are a lot of components that we require. About one out of three people we turn away ends up coming back to us six or twelve months later, saying, “Okay, you were right. I put together what I was lacking,” or “I changed the product I was selling, and now I’m back in the game.”

Robert: We also do a lot of vetting of the folks that come in as well. We don’t set them up with a mentor unless we feel comfortable that there’s a real business idea and that they’re really motivated to do this.

“You really have to be motivated and passionate about what you do . . .” —Robert Safren 

With regard to mentoring, we view success in two ways. One way is seeing whether the business has grown; the mentoring has had an impact on the company’s growth. Fantastic. That’s our goal. But equal to that is the possibility that they learned through their mentor that they shouldn’t be in business. They should be looking for a position, get some experience, do an internship or do other things because they’re not ready to run a business right now or a particular business isn’t the right business for them. We consider that a success as well because we’ve saved these individuals time and money.

Ned: The internship and apprenticeship idea is a very important one, particularly for people who have never done anything entrepreneurial before and certainly for people who have never worked before. Everything looks easy from a distance. “I’m sure I can start my own Tesla company tomorrow and build my own cars. How hard could it be? You draw a car on paper and then people start building it, right?”

People have said things like that to me because they believe it’s that simple. But if you want to open your own restaurant, why don’t you first work in a restaurant? That’s the best way to get a taste of something. See what goes into it. See how the owner shops for food, trying to get good quality and good prices. See the way he needs to calculate that every dish served is economical. Otherwise, customers might like your food but you’ll be out of business in a week.

Moderator: I own a business, and I’ve gotten calls from people who say, “I need a job.” I say, “Great. What are you looking to earn?” “Well, I need $120,000 as a starting salary in middle management.” I say, “I don’t know what middle management is. Maybe you could explain it to me.”

I’m not being facetious. There are a lot of people who are hesitant to take a starting salary of $50,000 or $70,000 because they argue, “I can’t afford to spend two years earning $50,000. That’s not going to pay my bills.”

But it sounds like you’re suggesting that there is a significant value to taking a lower salary and getting your feet wet—assuming it’s on the right path.

Ned: One hundred percent. You need persistence to succeed at work; just like you need persistence to excel in Torah learning or in any other academic pursuit.

Learn whatever skills you need to learn. Ask yourself: How do the top performers excel in this area? How do they get promoted? How do they find the best jobs? Ask yourself these questions and seek out the answers.

Oftentimes people don’t succeed at work because they don’t make the requisite effort. People call me up and say, “I’m looking for a job that pays $150,000.” As if there are so many jobs like that hanging around just waiting for you. So I usually respond like this: “If you help me, I’ll help you. I’m looking for a job where I can be a rosh yeshivah of a large yeshivah. I don’t necessarily have all the knowledge now, but over time I’ll pick up the stuff I need to know.” And they say, “That’s ridiculous.” And I respond: “Yes, yes, correct. That’s ridiculous.”

The most important thing is not the starting salary; it’s to get yourself on a career path that will pay off over time. It’s going to be tough, and you have to work hard. The people who fail are often those who pick a single job or career route, and if they can’t do that one thing, they get stuck. But that’s not a realistic approach.

Recently, I tried helping a certain individual. He was solely focused on one career path—he was a mental health professional, and he only wanted to work in a school setting. He held a few jobs in different schools, but they never seemed to work out. He needed to shift focus, but he refused to work in any other setting. That’s comparable to a young person who says, “I only want to go to Harvard.” But if you don’t get into Harvard, does that mean you can’t get an education? If you didn’t get into Harvard, go to Brooklyn College and get an education!

Getting back to my previous point—it’s well worth the economics to say, “I’ll take a lower-paying job at first and learn the ropes.” Accept that lower salary for a couple of years. That’s usually what it takes until people figure out whether it’s the right career for them. At that point, they either start earning more where they are, or they make a move and start earning more in a different company.

I was just looking into the insurance market for an individual I was helping. In the US, to start off as an insurance broker, you study for about two months and take the exam. At your first job, your salary will be about $30,000, but with commissions you’ll probably earn $40,000. By year three, the average insurance broker is earning approximately $80,000 a year, and by year five, he’s earning over $100,000.

Rabbi Novoseller: If they can stay in the game.

Ned: Sure, if you stay in the game. Persistence is so important. Once you decide this is your career, you have to persist at it. If you’re not sure if it’s the right thing for you, seek advice. There are plenty of people to consult with. That’s where networking comes in.

People who make those decisions are ultimately successful. Let’s stick with the insurance example. I know a couple who has combined earnings of over $500,000 a year just by talking to customers on the phone and selling them insurance. They are each working at it now for about eight years, but it has really paid off for them to be persistent.

Rabbi Novoseller: There is great wisdom in getting into the game. The salary almost doesn’t matter. I know a lot of people who refuse to take a job unless it meets with their salary requirements. The position they’re now in is called unemployment. They’ve been looking for six months, a year or two years, and they still don’t have a job. So I believe that if you’re getting into an entry-level position, it has nothing to do with the salary or the job; it has to do with education. The experience and education you get from the job will catapult you to success.

You need to do a reality check about who you are and what you bring to the table. Then look at the options and see where the best experience or potential is. Network with people, get advice, listen to the advice and you will move on in life. But don’t expect to jump so quickly. If you are offered a salary of $50,000 and you need dramatically more, don’t worry about it. Take the job. Become outstanding in the position, and you will blast to the top.

Moderator: But how do you survive during those difficult years when you are making $50,000 and you need to make triple that to support your family of six?

Rabbi Novoseller: The idea is not to wait for the ideal job, because oftentimes you are waiting in vain. Take a job that pays less but gives you valuable experience. To support your family, either take on a second job, rely on your spouse’s salary or get help from your family until you’re on your feet. You are doing this to build yourself up.

Moderator: In the Orthodox community, we are so unbelievably blessed to have a multiplicity of individuals and organizations that are dedicated to helping community members become financially independent, from funding to mentorship and guidance. It’s an overwhelming privilege to be part of this community.

One of the things I found with The Jewish Entrepreneur, which I’m involved in as well, is that people who are successful are incredibly willing to make the time to give back. Can we talk about the benefit of mentorship and guidance when it comes to people advancing their careers or businesses?

Chaya: A mentor can be anybody—a seasoned business owner who’s ten steps ahead of you, or someone who’s in the trenches with you and facing similar issues. Regardless of whether the person is in your industry or outside of your industry, being able to bounce ideas off someone else and learn from other people’s mistakes is invaluable. There are a million reasons why mentorship is an incredible tool in helping entrepreneurs and professionals move forward.

The work Robert does with his mentors is amazing; I also try to encourage women to find mentors on their own. People are, for the most part, very happy to share their wisdom. If there is somebody in your field who is where you want to be, send her a message on LinkedIn and ask: “Can we meet for coffee?”

I mentioned the importance of self-awareness earlier. Self-awareness also means being able to recognize a basic fact: I have so much to learn from everybody around me—from the people next to me, from the people behind me, from the people ahead of me. I encourage entrepreneurs to find a network, to be creative and to not be shy about reaching out to people. I’ve seen across the board, in every industry, that people really want to help. They want to give back. Especially when they’ve gone through the process of setting up a business themselves and have paid the price of making plenty of mistakes on their own, they are happy to help prevent somebody else from falling into those same traps.

Moderator: Robert, can you talk about the practical, tangible benefits of mentorship?

Robert: The numbers show very clearly that people who receive mentoring perform almost 10 times better in terms of revenue performance over a period of time. We see that in our own data. We started tracking revenue in the last couple of years, and among the people we mentored, we saw a 30 percent increase in overall revenue in the first year alone. Some business owners were at the high end and some at the low end, and some dropped out completely, but it’s a statistical number that’s well beyond the numbers you’re going to see for people who don’t get mentoring.

And I agree—a mentor doesn’t need to be ten steps ahead. He or she could be a peer. What a mentor has is some expertise or experience that you don’t have. We tend to think in a certain pattern. You need somebody to tell you: “Hey, try this instead of that. Here’s something I’ve done that’s worked. Here’s something I’ve done that hasn’t worked, so maybe you want to look in a different direction.”

That’s what a mentor does. Frankly, the ones who benefit the most from mentoring are the people who listen, those who can follow through, those who are not trapped in their own thoughts and can look at new ideas.

“Self-awareness means being able to recognize a basic fact: I have so much to learn from everybody around me—from the people next to me, from the people behind me, from the people ahead of me.” —Chaya Fishman

Ned: It’s useful to have someone help you identify what you’re lacking so you can find somebody to mentor you in that specific area. Identifying what it is that you don’t know is the first step to success. You can easily reach out to any expert in that area on LinkedIn and politely ask if you can connect to ask a few questions.

Moderator: My final question is somewhat tangential, but I’d like to end off with this. How can we incorporate Torah values into our careers and into our business lives? Oftentimes we mistakenly view ourselves as having a double life: a work life and a religious life, and the two are not easily integrated. So people might say: “Well, I learn in the morning, then I go to work, then I come home, and I try to have a learning seder at night.” How do we achieve an integration of our professional and religious lives?

Rabbi Hauer: One of the painful challenges people sometimes have in Jewish life is this great bifurcation between church and state, between taking care of their business life on the one hand and their religious life on the other.

There is an oft-quoted letter from Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, the former rosh yeshivah of Chaim Berlin, in which he consoles a student who was troubled about joining the work world and leaving the walls of the yeshivah. He writes: “Someone who rents a room in one house to live a residential life and another room in a hotel to live a transient life is certainly someone who lives a double life. But someone who has a home with more than one room has a broad life, not a double life.”

An individual who goes into his professional life and is mindful about using his training, skills and connections not only as a tool for bringing home much-needed money, but also as a way to help others, is achieving this integration. A perfect example of this is the mentorships we just discussed—people using their professional lives, their experience and their expertise, to give and to help others. Certainly, let’s bring a greater sense of giving and altruism into every part of life, and then the distance between our faith, our Yahadut, and the rest of life will become smaller and smaller.

 

 

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This article was featured in the Fall 2021 issue of Jewish Action.
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