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Post #26 (Tzav) - Keeping the embers burning-- Maintaining motivation at work

"And there's nothin' cold as ashes after the fire is gone" --

L. E. White (recorded as a duet by Loretta Lyn and Conway Twitty)

"This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it" Leviticus 6:2.

“The altar fire shall be kept alight; it shall not go out. Every morning the priest shall add wood to it and lay out the burnt offering upon it…. A daily fire shall be kept alight on the altar; it shall not go out” Leviticus 6:5–6.

The Tabernacle’s altar was the focus of burnt offerings on weekdays, Sabbaths, and festivals, operated by the priests. Individuals presented their sacrifices to the priests to atone for various sins, such as unintentional or border-line sins and to mark other life events, such as an act of thanksgiving. One of the sacrifice categories, the olah/burnt offering, was mostly voluntary but also could encompass an aspect of atonement. This animal offering needed to be fully burnt with nothing remaining for human consumption. To accomplish this, the altar's fire had to burn all night.

Thus, among the priests' various daily tasks in operating the altar was to ensure that a flame would burn continually from evening till morning. When morning came, the priests’ task was to remove the ashes and replenish the wood that would fuel the fire for the following evening’s burnt offerings. As noted in the repetition in the cited verses, it was critical that the fire not extinguish during its required time. Thus, there would be no need to reignite the flame during the night. Rekindling a spent fire generally requires more fuel than maintaining a continual flame.


Fired up or burned out?

Many images are called up by fire, such as having a "burning desire," "burning motivation," or "sparking enthusiasm" to engage in some activity. Fire is energy. And if the fire goes out of an important endeavor, we must do our best to rekindle it. Upon seeing an individual working unusually hard, you might hear, "Someone must have lit a fire under him." This phrase is said to come from the chimney sweeping profession. Lighting a fire under a hesitant chimney sweeper seems to have quickened his pace to complete his climb to the top of the chimney.

All jobs have moments when the time drags,, when maintaining high motivation and enthusiasm becomes a challenge. Even dream jobs have their moments. This downtime may stem from an afternoon slump, an overdue vacation, a Sisyphean assignment, or even returning to work anticlimactically after completing a major project. Feeling unmotivated at work has ramifications for you, your colleagues, and your organization, especially if that feeling persists. Whether you are fighting low motivation to exercise or to embark on an overwhelming work assignment, popular tips call for a behavioral approach, such as rewarding yourself for mini-achievements after breaking down the task into digestible segments. When I need to organize my desk at home, my wife benevolently suggests I devote just 20 minutes––no more––to the task. Then, I allow myself to revel in whatever headway I managed to make—usually more than anticipated.

However, if you find yourself mired in a persistent work motivation deficit, you may want to reevaluate your career direction. One popular approach stresses the importance of being aware of our career anchors, referring to those work elements that provide the foundation for work satisfaction. These anchors can manifest in many job situations; each signifies a core activity or subject area that the person would be loath to give up. For instance, you may have found that you enjoyed the variety offered by general management positions early in your career, but you may now prefer a job with structured hours that allow for spending more time at home. If you find the day consistently dragging on, you may be missing out on what could be your personal greenhouse, where you can flourish. That's why it's critical to be aware of what kind of job or task you need for your optimal growth conditions. You may never find ideal conditions, but knowing more about your needs will help you actualize your anchor in your current or future job.

Schein's [1] eight career anchors include technical/ functional competence, general managerial competence, autonomy/independence, security/stability, entrepreneurial capability, service/dedication to a cause, pure challenge, and lifestyle. His Career Anchors Questionnaire [2] is a self-scoring tool that can help you identify what you need to maintain your motivation. So, as noted, if you have strayed from your anchor, look for ways to reactivate it, thus rekindling the fire under you.

A close relative was a successful orthopedic surgeon with expertise in repairing ski injuries. He said he had always experienced two sensations in his surgeries: First, the challenge and thrill of analyzing the injury to determine the best corrective strategy, and second, the terror of potentially making the slightest erroneous move. After several decades of a successful career, however, he knew all the angles and all the solutions, leaving him no further challenge or potential thrill. All that remained was the terror of a potential slip of the knife. That was when he decided to transition from performing surgery to mentoring young surgeons.

Career Tips:

  • It's usually easier to keep the fire going by adding some fuel than having to rekindle an extinguished flame. Find a way to add vigor and variety to your routine at work, such as enriching your day by learning a new mini-skill (formally or from a colleague) and implementing it at work. Even learning to operate a new app or function on your computer can be empowering. Also, periodically offering to help a colleague with an assignment can add some spice to your work, expand your horizons, and contribute to workplace solidarity.

  • If you notice some work burnout-like symptoms (e.g., fatigue, short temper at work and/or home, physiological stress responses), taking a break from work may be right for you. Schedule some daily downtime for relaxation, such as outdoor lunch breaks. To avoid ending the week completely uninspired, make sure to engage in an activity that you know you enjoy––like attending a musical performance, spending quality time with family, or biking through the woods close to home.

  • Try this: We often hear clients in career counseling who have long lost the spark in their job. When discussing this with them, we find that much of what attracted them to their work is still there but has been neglected and no longer comprises a meaningful part of their day, whether it involves brainstorming sessions or even communal coffee breaks. These moments can be restored, but they don't happen on their own Activities that may have once happened spontaneously may now require initiative and planning. Restoring previously enjoyable activities will likely be appreciated by your co-workers, who also may have succumbed to the inertia of routine. Albert Schweitzer seemed attuned to this phenomenon of kindling a fire in another: "At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

[1] Schein, E. H. (1993). Career anchors: Discovering your real values, Pfeiffer & Co. [2] Career Anchors Questionnaire: Interpretation:


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