What Mama Didn't Tell You

Ten things you don't know about your career

Actually, mom didn't talk to you about your "career". Once upon a time, mothers urged their boys and girls to think about "making a living". Develop a good profession. It's only recently that the word 'career' has stolen into the Hebrew lexicon, presumably from capitalist America.

Do you have a career, or do you just trudge off to work in the morning? Can you clearly see your path of advancement, with goals and milestones, or do you just drift from one job to another like a leaf in the wind?

Today dozens of Israeli websites are devoted to 'careers' . One might think that endless opportunities are opening up for Israeli devotees of the concept. Just choose a path, hire a 'career coach', and go out there and Realize Your Potential.

The good news is that there really is more opportunity out there in Israel. the bad news is that the 'career' you thought you had, or were developing, is an elusive, fragile thing.

Here are some examples of things mama didn't tell you about your 'career', because she didn't know, and some things your 'career coach' omitted because it makes for unpleasant hearing.

Be a mensch

1. Mama said you need a 'profession'. She meant doctor, lawyer, engineer, programmer, and judging by the number of students crowding the MBA programs, she'd settle for 'manager', too.

She forgot to note that competition in Israel's professional echelons is fiercer than ever. We have a tremendous surplus of lawyers. Learning it as a profession assures you of nothing.

She omitted mentioning  that few professions today assure you of a comfortable retirement. The world is changing fast and if you don't stay in the race, you fall by the side. She didn't tell you that India and China are producing hundreds of thousands of talented engineers each year, and about the power of Internet to raise and destroy companies.

2. Mama didn't tell you about the speed at which wage gaps are opening. The best and brightest earn 2, 3, ten times what their peers make. They do well. The mediocre eke out a living.

She didn't know for instance that in hi-tech, there are several types of engineers: "commodities", a product with fixed price that fluctuates with market conditions. The neighbors may boast that they're hi-tech but that doesn't mean they have negotiating power. There are a few people in the right niches who do have power over their careers.

3. Mama didn't prepare you for the experience of being overwhelmed by stories of astonishing economic successes by entrepreneurs around you, of people earning inconceivable sums of money at terrific speed. She didn't prepare you for the era of vast gaps between the ones who make it and the mediocre, the ones who dared and the careful.

The graveyard for executives

4. Mama told you to advance, but didn't know that the f astonishing economic successes by entrepreneurs around you, of people earning inconceivable sums of money at terrific speed. She didn't prepare you for the era of vast gaps between the ones who make it and the mediocre, the ones who dared and the careful. She didn't tell you that even the best managers are not immune to the rapid changes in the business sphere.

She didn't tell you about the graveyard for executives, where hundreds wind up each year as their companies shuddered and restructured; change of ownership, collapse of a major deal, you name it. She didn't mention that there are dozens of candidates for each job.

5. Mom said that the public sector may not offer much pay, but it offers job security. She may not have realized that tens of thousands get much, much pay and profligate pension perks too, in fact they do much better than they could have in the private sector. The same is true of defense, and at the Bank of Israel, and at government monopolies, but she had not realized it. It's too late for you, though, if you're already in business. You can hardly elbow into the public sector elite now.

6. She didn't get into pension savings. When she was young, social security was 100% nationalized and the gigantic deficits building up in the pension funds didn't worry anybody. There was no pension sector, thanks to job security and government safety nets.

But that time is over. You have to start saving young to assure a comfortable old age, but mama didn't tell you that, or tell you that the government wouldn't be there to help if you don't help yourself.

7. Mother didn't tell you about compound interest and management fees on long-term savings. In the world of non-contributory pensions, where taxpayers shoulder all and the beneficiary shoulders nothing, the pension is based on the last salary, which explains the rash of last-second promotions plaguing the civil service.  There is no question about the accrued return on one's pension portfolio.

Mom didn't know, and the investment advisers won't tell you willingly, that in long-term pension savings, a difference of 1% in annual returns works out to hundreds of thousands of shekels over periods of 30 to 40 years. Checking carefully what pension instruments you choose today could make a huge difference to your life-style down the line.

8. Mother told you to borrow a mortgage and buy an apartment, not to throw away money on rent. She told you how housing prices in Israel had doubled and more, on the flat that granny bought. She said in a small place like Israel, prices will just continue to rise.

She didn't consider a decade like 1995-2005, when housing prices stagnated in real terms and other investment options soared.

She never thought about the young couples who bought property in that decade, and now quake on mushrooming loans and property prices that refuse to move.

She didn't mention that you might be squandering money on rent - or squandering money on the massive interest on a huge mortgage loan. And that all calculations showing why it's so great to buy a flat are based on the assumption that its value will keep rising. That hasn't been happening here.

9. Mama didn't tell you that once your 'profession' has turned into a 'career', 'shopping' will turn into 'consuming', or that credit lavished upon you will turn your consuming will turn into wild overspending.

10. Mom didn't tell you that a 'career', unlike a 'job', entails a risk: namely, imperiling your relationship with your spouse and children. She didn't say that having a 'career' doesn't mean you can't get fired. It always comes when you least expect it, and when you crawl painfully back home hoping for some comfort and quiet, home won't be there any more. Maybe Mom will, though.