Spark Note: It’s Not Your Responsibility to Finish All the Work

Rabbi Tarfon teaches us in Pirkei Avot:

The day is short, the task is long, and workers are indolent, and the masters are insistent.

He goes on to say:

It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but your are not free to desist from it either (2:16).

Our Rabbis of the Talmud experienced burnout.

Faun Zarge, a burnout and resilience specialist from Boston MA was the guest presenter at our recent JumpSpark/Jewish Education Collaborative professional development evening. In her 60 minute presentation, she shared with us tools and techniques on how to avoid burnout in this unique year, as well as in general.

As Jewish professionals, we spend most of our time giving to others, often forgetting to fill our own vessels so we can continue the work we do.

She began by sharing her definition of burnout: Too many demands, too few resources, and not enough time for recovery. This is clearly the experiences of professionals who work for Jewish organizations.

Ms. Zarge asked the participants to reflect and write down three things that are most important to us. When answers where shared, what was revealed was that too few of us put ourselves first. Avoiding burnout must begin with taking time for recovery.  It is imperative that we schedule into our day. This time is just as important as working on your budget or planning the next virtual class or training for teachers. According to Zarge, we are obligated to do self-care. According to Rabbi Tarfon, we are not even obligated to complete our work, but we are obligated to take care of ourselves. 

Zarge went on to offer concrete things we can do to keep our fire burning.

Commit for 10 days to do something that will bring us joy and less stress:

  • Set a reminder in your phone to get up and walk
  • Take Facebook off your phone if all the “doom scrolling” is a distraction
  • Calling a loved one or friend you have not spoken to for awhile
  • Eating healthy

Ms. Zarge asked participants to share time management techniques.  Things like chunking activities, grouping together similar tasks, like phone calls, answering emails, writing, figuring out your best time of day to be productive.  Zarge shared research that the ideal commute time is 16 minutes – this is hard to believe coming from Atlanta- nevertheless, she recommended using our newly acquired 16 minutes (due to the pandemic) in our days to do something else.  We could use it to work out, prep dinner for the evening, call a parent. 

These professional development evenings with JumpSpark and the Jewish Education Collaborative are helpful and enriching. We learn together, we see that we are not alone nor isolated with our challenges. There are colleagues experiencing similar challenges. Learning and sharing together alleviates burnout as well.

2000 years ago, there was a Jewish professional who warned against burnout, and offered one simple technique: do a little at time.  No need to feel overwhelmed by the task.  Break it down.  In the year 2020, Faun Zarge shared many more techniques and shared ways we can take care of ourselves and keep on doing great work for our community. 

Nancy Gorod is the Director of Congregational Learning at Congregation Shearith Israel.

  • Jewish Education
  • Youth Professionals
  • Spark Notes

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