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August 30, 2015 / 15 Elul, 5775
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The Five Commandments

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Whenever I got praised for an achievement, I feel like I should say that half the praise goes to my parents. Although they can get on my nerves, I am really blessed with a mother and father who have molded and shaped me (by any means necessary) to become a successful human being. I am a stubborn person and I know it would have been easier if they had let me make silly mistakes and learn from them. But they were determined to impart to me their shared accumulation of wisdom so that I would make my own mistakes, but be saved from committing their mistakes.

Though for the most part I am living on my own, I still find myself relying on them for advice and using them as a model for my own behavior. Although I still gripe at their nagging, I know the lessons they have imparted have given me a leg up.

So in tribute to them, I thought I would share some of their greatest hits.

1. Networking is something that can be done in creative ways. Many people seem to think that work place mixers are the only places where they can meet new contacts. This is not only wrong, but it is destructive to your career goals. You don’t want to follow the herd; you want to find your niche.

It’s not hard to network. You need to know how to be polite and show interest in others. It’s not about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. People love to talk about themselves and nothing can prime the information pump more than the simple, “How did you become…(whatever their position is).”

One of the best ways to network is to look around at the people you know and see who they know. You would be shocked at how many people you know with tremendous value in career advice, as well as a network of their own. Ask your parents for assistance, they may have more information about who they know as well.

Another way is to get involved in activities and charity work that you believe in. Some of my most valuable contacts have come from the Hasbara movement, and I am still very indebted to many of them for helping me. In fact, in the last two weeks, I have met with many of them for advice in furthering my career.

In fact, advice can often come from some of the most unlikely people. I met an Urban studies professor at a Chanukah party and now I am doing my masters in Urban affairs. I never thought that going around and introducing myself could yield so much fruit.

2. Never take no as a final answer, only as an indication that a new direction must be sought. Many times, I would tell my parents that a certain idea was impossible and I was always told that was giving up. That particular way may have been impossible, but for every locked door, one could find an open window. Many times, it means going the road less traveled but that is a major asset. The path less sojourned is uncharted territory where many resources have gone untapped. Why not be the one to discover and utilize them?

3. Always distinguish yourself. Although there is some wisdom in “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” it’s also true that the squeaky wheel will get the grease. If everyone is doing one set of topics in a class, look for a way to take a different path. For one, your teacher will be so relieved to have a break from the same topic, he or she will likely grade your paper with a bit more kindness.

4. Get to recognize and know gatekeepers. Most of us think of the most powerful person in an organization as the one who can get things done. While that is somewhat true, make sure you notice those who may be lower down on the ladder, but have power of their own. My parents always made sure I said hello to guards, secretaries and pretty much anyone who we could speak to in an organization. Not only are those people often shamefully ignored, they often have immense amounts of information and power.

For instance, saying hello to a guard at school every morning might not be a major mitzvah, but if you forget your ID and you have ten seconds to get to class, a guard who knows you might be inclined to let you in this once (don’t abuse this) rather than send you home. A secretary might know of positions in the company that are available but haven’t been widely disclosed. An adjunct in the department may tell you that a certain class is a nightmare of work, and would suggest an alternative one to fill the requirement. Be polite, respectful and attentive and you will get information that can mean the difference between failure and success.

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Growing up, I remember my father’s Rosh Hashana ritual. He read the story of Rabi Amnon of Mainz, who had his tongue, hands and legs cut off for refusing to convert to Christianity – for choosing to remain a Jews. I would run away from the table sobbing in terror. Even at the tender age of six, I knew that being Jewish made oneself a member of an endangered species.

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