I, for one, think that it’s completely rational to work for non-profit pay with a degree that prepared me for investment banking. While I love economics, and was initially dreaming of becoming a high-rolling banker, several mentors caused me to ask “why” I had initially been drawn to finance in the first place.
Frankly, I didn’t have a good answer. After quite some time, it occurred to me that my dream was to be a philanthropist and donate large sums to causes I cared about, rather than simply accumulating capital for myself. I didn’t much care about money, beyond using it to provide for my basic needs, but rather found meaning in all of the good it could be used to do.
But, as one mentor pointed out, that was a very long way to go about supporting causes. If I wasn’t drawn to money as a key source of fulfillment in my life, then perhaps I should figure out what did captivate my attention and could provide a more immediate source of meaning.
With some more reflection, I came to realize that what I cared about most were the causes I fancifully sought to contribute to as an investment banker. They all centered around my religion, Judaism, and my dedication to Jewish culture (and food!), peoplehood, and belief.
The shortcut to meaning in my life was finding a job that enabled me to support the causes I cared about day in and day out -- and not merely on special occasions or when I was able to donate to them.
So, instead of applying to the giant firms of Wall Street, I headed to rabbinical school.
Right now, I am in my fifth and final year of rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College, looking to lead a congregation in the coming years. Quite honestly, I could not have imagined how well my economics major would serve me as a (future) rabbi.
At the end of the day, congregations and other religious institutions are non-profit organizations -- sacred ones, but non-profits nonetheless. Being (somewhat more) effective at strategic planning, resource allocation, budgeting, investment of capital, and market analysis makes a world of difference.
As the Associate Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College and recent founder of several non-profit ventures to improve inter-religious relations, I cannot but suspect that my economics major undergirds all that I do.
While it may be the rational choice for some to go into investment banking, I am maximizing my own fulfillment -- which I think is distinct from utility -- by pursuing my vocation as a rabbi. Even on non-profit pay and the work hours of an investment banker, I feel blessed to be on this career path.
Joshua Stanton serves as Program Director and co-Editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue at the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education (CIRCLE). He is also a Schusterman Rabbinical Fellow and Weiner Education Fellow at Hebrew Union College.