Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

My Corporate Idolatry: A Surprise On The Day Of Repentance

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 2

No one is more surprised than me that I am writing a book inspired by religious teachings. I was raised in a mostly secular Jewish household, where we attended services only twice a year for the major holidays.  I was a scientist for ten years, getting a Ph.D. from MIT in Molecular Biology, and doing my post-doctoral work at Stanford.[1]  For the next ten years I was in marketing.  My scientist friends teased me for going over to the dark side.  It was more true than they realized, but I loved it.  To this day, I cannot believe how much I enjoyed writing ad copy.  Life is full of surprises, and on Yom Kippur I got a surprise that changed my life.

I take Yom Kippur seriously every year.  It is the Day of Atonement, when Jews around the world take a day off of work, don’t eat or drink, go to services, and well, atone.  I look forward to the chance to reflect on my life, to think about what I’ve done wrong, and to make amends.  One of the most important principles is that while prayer is sufficient for “sins against God,” prayer is not sufficient for sins against other people.  We must apologize, make it right if we can, and resolve to behave differently in the future if a similar situation arises.

One year, I called a coworker somewhat sheepishly at three in the afternoon, to apologize for a practical joke that had gotten out of hand six months earlier.  I felt better afterwards.  Another year I realized that the Jews invented the day off.  Prior to Shabbat (aka the Sabbath), we were expected to work all the time.  (I later learned that the Greeks and Romans used to lampoon the Jews over Shabbat, calling it a waste of time.  The purpose of rest was to prepare for more work, while leisure was something reserved to the wealthy.)  To be honest, I was not then or now particularly good at taking a day off from work.

But this idea about the day off inspired me to pay greater attention to the words of the prayers the following year, and I made a discovery that truly changed my life.   I was sitting alone with my thoughts in the Flint Center, an old-school performing arts auditorium in Cupertino, California, big enough to fit my entire Reform Jewish congregation of 2,500 members.  It was late in the day, and I was feeling tired and a bit woozy.  It is my favorite time of the day, as my mind sometimes goes to new places.

That afternoon, I noticed how often the prayers made reference to one God, and I wondered about the sin of idolatry.  I started to dismiss idolatry as an archaic idea, no longer relevant in the modern world when I remembered a phrase I had heard many times from my bosses and colleagues:  “you need to do what is best for the company.”  I was suddenly uncomfortable.

[1] I get almost as annoyed at people who say that science disproves religion as I get with people who say that religion invalidates evolution.  Science explains the way the world works, but it is silent on the most important question, what we should do with that knowledge.

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  1. Greg Marcus says

    If you like this post, please share with one other person by emailing them the link to the page.

  2. I totally agree that science and religion are not incompatible but rather explain different things. I think this is the best quote “Science explains the way the world works, but it is silent on the most important question, what we should do with that knowledge.”

    We really need to have an intelligent dialog on science and religion. They are not mutually exclusive and actually complement our understanding of our world and ourselves.

  3. Good stuff, Greg. I agree with your idea of corporate idolatry–we end up essentially worshipping our corporate jobs, maybe not in a traditional sense, but in our actions and how it is prioritized in our lives. I like that you are writing on this topic. I think it can help a lot of people who are out of balance. 🙂

    • Greg Marcus says

      Thanks Bethany – you are spot on about where things are going. The third part of the book is called “From Worship To Work.”

  4. Hey Greg,

    I love this! I think a lot about organizational effectiveness, leadership and personal growth, and the ideas you’re talking about here are critical for a sustainable life.

    I’m also a Christian pastor who was raised with deep roots in the Old Testament, and you’re right on the money. Idolatry and its consequences is the big theme — and it’s not just a religious thing. It’s about focus and priority. When God said, “You shall have no other gods before me,” that was the first historic incidence of someone saying, “You can’t have more than one priority.”

    I’m going through my own process of dealing with near-burnout, sorting through my emotional recovery, and cleaning house on my purpose and priorities. So, I am looking forward to reading the next chapters. Definitely subscribing. Thanks for the post!

    • Greg Marcus says

      Thanks Marc. I’m glad this speaks to you, and thank you for sharing your story and perspective. The Old Testament is quite amazing in the lessons it teaches about people.

  5. Lots of important wisdom you share here Greg:) Your life journey has nicely lead you to your present calling to which you seem to be responding quite well.

    Perhaps God is basically LOVE, and we are each connected to that ONE Spirit and therefore to EACH other. Perhaps what we do with each other, how we respond, even how we quietly think about others in our private thoughts, is somehow affecting everyone and everything. We evolve from different faith traditions, and some believe they have none at all. Yet perhaps we are STILL all connected and rooted to our ONE Source that is intracitally woven into the fabric of our humanness.

    You probably know about John Polkinghorne and if not, Google him and his works–a real treat for sure. Meanwhile Keep your career-life balanced and focused on happiness and love, AND keep your excellent reflections going as you also touch the lives of us.
    Shalom EdC

    • Greg Marcus says

      Thank you Ed. I agree completely that at their core, all faiths converge on the same truth. There are differences in doctrine and details, but in my opinion the core message is this: Put People First. A very big part of that is love.

      I am not familiar with John Polkinghorne – I”ll look him up right away!


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