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Your career may be killing you -- literally

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

A new study suggests that choosing the wrong job can destroy your will to live

Do you want to live a long and happy life?

If so, don’t choose a career as an electrician, a carpenter, or a miner. Avoid food service as a vocation. And whatever you do, stay away from the arts, entertainment, and professional sports.

According to a recent report issued by the CDC, these jobs are all associated with the highest suicide rates in the country. In contrast, those who work as librarians, educators, and archivists are least likely to take their own lives.

I know what you’re thinking: why? The researchers themselves are scratching their heads and asking the same question. We know which factors at work contribute to depression and suicide – most notably job insecurity, lack of control on the job, and relationship conflict. But there’s no evidence that these elements predominate in occupations at the top of the list over those at the bottom.


If psychology doesn’t shed any light on the problem, perhaps we can find some illumination in these words from the sages of the Talmud: The study of wisdom together with a worldly occupation is beautiful, for toil in both extinguishes folly.

There is no higher calling than the quest for knowledge and understanding. Down through the ages, study halls and ivory towers have dispelled the darkness of ignorance and prejudice while guiding mankind on the path to civil society.

But wisdom is valuable only to the degree it influences actions.

The sages compare a person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds to a tree with shallow roots and overgrown branches. If we spend too much time in the realm of ideas without grounding ourselves in the bedrock of positive action, the winds of whimsy and imagination will overturn any good that might come from our philosophy.

Perhaps this is why artists, athletes, and entertainers are more likely to lose themselves to the darkness of depression. The fleeting nature of their artistry may leave them with no sense of lasting impact on the world. For all their creativity and talent, for all their high-minded intentions, they find themselves more vulnerable to the feeling that their contributions are whisked into nothingness by the winds of change.

On the other hand, without the universal context that wisdom provides, the daily grind can crush the human spirit, until the labor required to live from day to day becomes a burden rather than a joy.

This may be why artisans and day-laborers are more likely to take their own lives. All that expended energy, all that building and producing, yet what difference will it make in the end? What’s it all for? What does it all mean? When darkness descends upon the world, what will my accomplishments matter?


The human psyche longs for meaning to validate its existence. It needs a worldview based in authentic wisdom to imbue its life with purpose and the confidence that its contribution to the universe matters and will endure. At the same time, it needs to see short-term results, quantifiable gains, measurable results from its efforts.

One without the other is not enough.

Studies have consistently ranked classroom teaching among the most stressful of all careers. The profession is overworked, undercompensated, and often denied the respect it deserves. The day to day of teaching is unpredictable, and the students and parents being served are frequently unappreciative, if not downright belligerent.

But there’s nothing as rewarding as preparing the next generation to meet the challenges of life, to make available to them the tools and training that will enable them to succeed.

Librarians and archivists as well hold the keys to knowledge, guiding seekers toward the gateways of wisdom. By doing so, these noble custodians of enlightenment straddle the divide between the world of ideas and the world of action.

When we manage to strike the perfect balance between abstract wisdom and creative enterprise, between philosophical perspective and visible outcome, that is truly a thing of beauty, the aesthetic harmony of the body and the soul. Resolving the incongruity between the transience of this world and the eternal nature of our spiritual essence creates the exquisite vision that guides us on our course through this life toward what lies beyond.

We live in a universe of contradictions. But that should never stop us from aspiring to transcend the paradox of our existence.

Published on Jewish World Review

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