The Perfectly Random Experience Of The Job Search
She was crying. I had just hired her, and she had been waiting so long for it to happen. Little did she know how similar our journeys were.
She was crying. I didn’t know how to react, because the truth was I had been so caught up in the lead up to this that I wasn’t ready for it when it came.
Which was weird because I promised myself when I started hiring people that I would be compassionate, that I would be caring. That I would remember that everyone applying was likely waiting eagerly for a response, was in pain when they didn’t hear anything, was in even more pain when they were rejected.
I knew, because I remembered what it was like to apply for work when things are bad.
And right now, things are really bad for a lot of people. And that was something I identified with.
A bit more than a year ago, I was broke. I had a family to feed. And, for a period, the way I fed them was with food stamps, charity from neighbors, loans, and unemployment benefits that were about to run out.
I had done a 180 with my career, convinced that God had a plan for me. I was no longer meant to work in marketing, despite my success there. I had built up a community in Brooklyn of out of the box Jewish creatives, one where I felt we were fulfilling a need that others weren’t. One where many people who didn’t fit in could find a home. Like the Hasidic rabbis that first attracted us to observance, my wife and I had actually turned our home into the center of these activities.
A Jewish nonprofit had taken me under their wing, promising to keep me hired for as long as they could until I could find a way to make it sustainable. And for a short period, it was working. We had the grants, we had been building a donor base.
But it’s not a simple thing, to try and do things differently, and I suppose that’s why most people don’t. Or why we don’t hear about the many who do try.
Soon, I was looking for work. I still felt that God-given plan in my bones, so I looked in the Jewish world for a job, convinced that after some success in the Jewish world I had a good chance of landing something.
What a humbling time. Instead of finding something, I found literally nothing. The reasons were varying, but it was pretty clear that at least some of it had to do with my political views and critiques of the Orthodox world. Or to be more accurate, my willingness to be vocal about these things.
The most humbling moment was the day I drove two hours to upstate New York for a part time gig. I wasn’t sure how I’d make it in the big scheme of things, but at the moment the pay, which was a third of what I had been making beforehand, was all I cared about. It was a great job, but the real issue was that I needed to feed my family.
They turned me down.
That was the day I decided to start applying for other work and to get on unemployment.
It’s hard to explain how earth shattering this was for me: I had given up on my dreams. This was what I thought God had planned for me. So to give up meant to literally give up on my worldview and to realize that I had gotten it all deeply wrong.
Depression kicked in. I was in an existential abyss, unable to find any truth.
It was around that time that I realized that I would soon have trouble feeding and housing my family.
And so, in a matter of half a year or so, I had lost my identity: I was no longer a Jewish leader; no longer a person with a job; no longer a provider. Who was I? It was hard to know or even bring myself to care when you combined the crushing depression and the deep, dark, and immediate fear that we might soon not have a home or food or any road out of the misery. Everything beautiful became darker. The more beautiful my daughters became in my eyes, the harder it was to look at them. I couldn’t get the image of them suddenly taken out of their school, suddenly moved maybe into our parents’ home or something, suddenly wondering what had happened to their lives, out of my mind. Looking at my wife, and the pain my pain was putting her in was even worse.
Who was I? I was nothing. I had nothing, literally. I was a failure. Every fear I had ever had as a father, a provider, and a man with a mission had come to pass.
This is what it’s like to not have a job. It’s so easy to lose a sense of purpose. So easy to forget who you are. So crushing to understand that until anything changes, each day will be worse than the one before because there’s no rising up until you have a means to rise. It’s a combination of physical and emotional trauma, in which soon all you are left with is just the singular hope that money will somehow make its way into your bank account.
Dreams? What are those? I need money. Goals? My goal is money. The big picture? I can’t see anything when the only thing I’m looking for is money.
Money money money. Everything becomes about money. What happens if I have to go the hospital? How do we pay for the ambulance or our care? Just one emergency and our lives would dissolve.
Transportation? I don’t have money, I’m not going anywhere. Except for job interviews, when I’ll jump the subway turnstile.
That Jewish community I had worked so hard to build? I dropped it. It didn’t give me money, and suddenly the mantra that “I’m not doing this for money” suddenly became a sort of poisonous venom I had to spit out of my mouth.
When you’re forced to think this way, when money becomes the only escape from your misery, it fundamentally reshapes the way you look at the world. It did for me, at least.
I remember telling my wife as things got darker that if and when I did finally get a job, I’d be grateful. At that point, I had given up on the Jewish angle, and the idea of running my own community was so far in my rearview mirror that I could hardly see it anymore. All I wanted was a job, something that paid me.
I looked at all my past jobs and realized how much more grateful I should have been for them. How much I took them for granted, expected too much from them.
Whatever job would take me, I told myself, would be different. I would be grateful. I would realize how lucky I was, and remind myself how much worse it was to not have a job at all.
And attached to that commitment, another thought got burned in my mind, completely transforming how I looked at the world: so much of life is simple chance. Everything from when you happen to be alive (up economy? Down?) to where you live (As bad as I had it, none of it, I realized, was comparable to the suffering of billions of others) to whatever job happens to pick you… so much of it was just chance. And any success a person has, as attached to their hard work as it may be, ultimately starts and ends with chance.
And so, when I finally got my job, even though it initially paid me half of what I was making, I was grateful. It was the kind of job I never would have taken in the past. Marketing an air purifier startup. What was the mission there? The excitement?
But I didn’t care. I didn’t even wait to find out if there would be other jobs interested. I just saw a paycheck, saw rent, saw food, saw a road out of the misery. I took it.
I remember one day a week or so into my starting the job, walking through Manhattan on my way to lunch, and having a feeling of intense euphoria. It was as if I had entered a whole new reality. Every single thing, from being in a co-working space where others were hard at work to taking the subway to the work itself, they all gave me such intense pleasure. Even though we were still broke, it was as if I had come alive again.
I was grateful, so grateful. Because I understood: this had nothing to do with me. I got this job I never would have taken because I applied to every single job on the startup job listing site I applied for and they were the first ones to respond. That was it. I might as well have thrown a dart out the window and taken whatever job I hit and had the same results. It was random. It was chance. It was God.
When the next hit of good fortune hit, the message hit me even harder. Because this was a thing no one could have predicted. Not when looking for a job, at least.
It was the pandemic. The worst calamity to hit America in ages. A disease that combined with a mismanaged government and a tyrant who preferred not to do anything about it out of fear that it would hurt his poll numbers.
In every way it was horrible. People were dying, we were all stuck at home, and it was clear that pretty soon the economy would tank.
That alone would have been enough of a reminder that for all the plans a person makes, God has Their own ideas.
But then God flipped things around on me. Suddenly, my work was doing really well. I was (and am) working for a startup that sold air purifiers, and they happened to be strong enough to remove viruses from the air. We had been doing well making it succeed pre-COVID, but suddenly we were dealing with an explosion in interest.
Things were going so well that we started hiring some people in California who worked for a competing company. And suddenly, my boss needed me to move. And in a flash, I was living in California, my income was almost what it had once been, and we were able to escape the hell that was living in New York during a pandemic.
It feels weird to feel good about things that happen because of a pandemic, but the bigger point here was that it made it clearer than ever that really none of this stuff was up to me. I could put in all the work, but ultimately chance was guiding my life a lot more than anything else. And this isn’t just true for me, it’s just a reality that I think most of us are unaware of when we go about our daily lives. We like to think our success is ours, and we like to blame others for their failures. It’s rare that we do the opposite.
But what if we did?
She was crying.
She was crying because I had just told her that we would be hiring her for the position.
“It’s been a year and a half,” she told me, “It’s just hard when you reach my age, and when things are so bad out there.”
Maybe it was that I was trying very hard to be professional. Maybe that it was such a long journey just to get to the point of finally hiring someone and I myself was relieved to have her on board. Or maybe it was just that I was caught off guard.
But either way, it didn’t quite hit me then what was occurring. I smiled at her and told her that I was happy and honored that we were the place that she ended up, and that it was us who were excited to work with her. All the stuff you were supposed to say, I guess. But the meaning of it hadn’t fully hit me.
It didn’t take long, though,
Almost exactly a year ago, I was crying also. Not in front of anyone, but after I got the job I had been dying for, I put down the phone, smiled, and then broke down crying. It had been so long. I had wanted anything, anything for so long.
Now it was a year later, and she was crying. I was in the same job, things were going great, and I had been promoted to the point where I was now hiring for new positions.
And all of it was chance. I had randomly applied for this job. I had randomly taken it because it was the first one to offer something to me. The company itself was randomly lucky that the world happened to need exactly what the company offered.
All of it was chance. All of it was luck. All of it was God.
And I suppose that’s why none of it was chance. Why the woman crying in front of me was not just experiencing her own powerful moment, but she was put in front of me on this journey so that I could remember how little control I had over all of it, and how blessed I was.
All that pain, all that confusion, all that loss… it all led to this moment: a reminder that life itself is both random and not random at all, and that sometimes rather than feeling loss and pain over the randomness, it may simply be worth letting go and going along for the ride.