שמעיה אומר... ואל תתודע לרשות (אבות א: י)
Shamaya says...Do not become overly familiar with the government.
In the second perek of Pirkei Avos (Mishna 3) Rabban Gamliel cautions us, "Beware of the government since they befriend people solely for their own sake: They act friendly when it benefits them but they do not stand by them in their time of need." With this in mind, what was Shamaya adding when he warned us not to become overly familiar with the government?
It appears that Rabban Gamliel was cautioning regarding the physical dangers involved in rubbing shoulders with the authorities. The government exploits people, and therefore, if you befriend them you might very well end up being taken advantage of. Shamaya, on the other hand, was warning us regarding the spiritual pitfalls of familiarity with the government. As Rabbeinu Yonah explains, once a person accepts upon himself the yoke of man, he won't be able to properly fulfill his duties to his Creator. Thus, becoming overly familiar with the government is likely to cause one to neglect his spiritual obligations.
Although Shamaya was specifically discussing a position that involves dealings with the government, his advice rings true with regard to any vocation. Choosing a career is somewhat similar to choosing a spouse. A man must first define for himself who he is and what he wants to do with his life. Only then can he proceed to look for a wife who will complement him and enable him to reach those goals. He should not first choose a wife and then attempt to make himself match her mold. Obviously, the same applies to a woman who is looking for husband.
In a similar vein, with regard to choosing a career, the Chovos HaLevovos writes (Sha'ar HaBitachon) that a person should only pursue a job that enables him to properly fulfill his spiritual obligations. A person should define for himself what is important in life and choose a profession that allows him ample time to dedicate to his spiritual endeavors. He shouldn't choose a career and then attempt to make the Torah's obligations match the mold of his profession.
As a matter of a fact, the Chovos HaLevovos writes that one of the reasons that Hashem required man to work in order to sustain himself was for the purpose of determining how he acts in this pursuit. Will the drive for money cause him to cut halachic corners or will he staunchly adhere to the Torah's precepts in all situations? Hence, demonstrating disloyalty to the Torah because of one's loyalty to his job would seem to be a contradiction in terms.
The Chovos HaLevovos mentions that every person has an affinity for a specific vocation or business, and he should follow his heart. A person's physical makeup is another guidepost for which type of profession he should pursue. Someone with a clever mind and a weak body should not and would not, pursue a job that demands much physical labor. He won't feel bad about not pursuing ads looking for construction workers, since it simply doesn't make sense. The same should hold true regarding the spiritual side of life. One shouldn't feel bad passing up an opportunity if it doesn't fit into the Torah's parameters. It's all part of the test of making a parnassah: How is the individual going to go about accomplishing this mission? The bottom line question one must ask himself is: Am I tailoring my life to fit with the Torah or am I forcing the Torah to conform to my life?
We all know what is really important in life. If someone would offer us $100,000 not to show up to work one day, we would accept it in a snap. In contrast, if someone would offer us that amount of money not to daven for one day, we would decline his generous offer. Yet, as the Mesillas Yesharim writes that the purpose of his sefer is simply to remind people of what they already know, so too, we must constantly remind ourselves of those priorities that we have long since acknowledged.
A practical application to help implement this idea: Take 15 minutes to review the first perek of the Mesillas Yesharim. It's an eye-opener even for those who have learned it many times over!