What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?
Michal Oshman

What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid? - Book Summary

Discover a Life Filled with Purpose and Joy Through the Secrets of Jewish Wisdom

Duration: 22:45
Release Date: February 23, 2024
Book Author: Michal Oshman
Categories: Religion & Spirituality, Personal Development, Motivation & Inspiration
Duration: 22:45
Release Date: February 23, 2024
Book Author: Michal Oshman
Categories: Religion & Spirituality, Personal Development, Motivation & Inspiration

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we delve into "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" by Michal Oshman. Oshman invites readers into her journey of overcoming anxiety and depression through an unexpected avenue—embracing her Jewish heritage and the profound wisdom it offers. This book is a blend of personal narrative and insightful lessons that promise to light a path for those struggling with similar issues. Michal Oshman, with her rich background in sociology, anthropology, and psychodynamic and systemic thinking, brings a unique perspective to the table. Her professional experiences, including her roles at Facebook and as the Head of Company Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion at TikTok Europe, underscore her credibility and deep understanding of human behavior and organizational dynamics. "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" is not only a beacon of hope for individuals grappling with depression and anxiety but also serves as a guide for parents seeking wisdom and individuals aspiring to grow into empathetic, effective leaders. Join us as we explore how Oshman’s reconnection with her roots offered her the solace and strength she needed to face her fears and how you, too, can apply Jewish wisdom to navigate life's challenges confidently.

Discover the Power of Ancient Wisdom in Everyday Life

When Michal Oshman walked into Facebook's London offices and her eyes captured the phrase on the wall — "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" — it struck a nerve deep within her. Oshman, like many of us, was no stranger to fear. It wormed its way into her daily thoughts, from the dread of her children being harmed on school trips to the anxiety over friends' safety on the road. However, it was this confrontation with fear at her workplace that set her on a transformative journey back to her Jewish roots.

This exploration wasn't merely a return to tradition for the sake of nostalgia but a deliberate quest for answers to contemporary life's ceaseless anxieties and challenges. Surprisingly, or perhaps naturally, Oshman discovered that the ancient wisdom contained within the Torah offered practical, actionable insights that directly addressed her modern concerns. These lessons, which we'll delve into, aren't confined by the boundaries of religion but are universal in their applicability, offering guidance to both the devout and the secular.

The insights to be gleaned extend into various facets of life, including leadership and parenting. One profound piece of wisdom underscores the importance of sometimes stepping back to lead more effectively — a counterintuitive approach that emphasizes the strength in restraint and patience. In the realm of parenting, the concept of raising a "mensch" — a person of integrity and honor — is highlighted as a quintessential goal. This aim not only encapsulates a broad spectrum of virtues but also serves as a reminder of the foundational values we hope to instill in the next generation.

As we sift through these ancient teachings, we'll uncover how, despite the passage of millennia, the guidance provided by Jewish wisdom remains deeply relevant. Whether you're navigating leadership roles, personal growth, or the challenges of raising children in today's world, the principles derived from the Torah can serve as a wellspring of enlightenment and peace. Join us as we explore how ancient wisdom can illuminate our paths and lead us to more fulfilling, fear-free lives.

Unlocking Peace: A Journey Through Jewish Wisdom

Michal Oshman's path through anxiety and depression is a striking testament to the search for healing beyond conventional therapy. Having spent considerable time engaging with therapists, Oshman found that the sessions predominantly revolved around dissecting her childhood and parental relationships. However, this constant return to her past did not resonate with her as the root cause of her mental health struggles. Oshman's upbringing, while unconventional due to her father's profession as a forensic pathologist and her family's harrowing history with the holocaust, was not what she identified as the crux of her anxiety and depression.

The turning point for Oshman came not from the therapy couch but from the rich, spiritual legacy of her Jewish heritage — a treasure of wisdom she had been distant from in her secular upbringing. It was in the profound messages of the Torah and Jewish spirituality that Oshman found the answers that had eluded her in her previous attempts to understand and overcome her mental health challenges.

Her journey into these ancient teachings began in earnest with Viktor E. Frankl's "Man's Search For Meaning." Frankl, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and holocaust survivor, introduced Oshman to the concept of logotherapy, or therapy through meaning. This idea, which emphasizes the search for a purposeful life as the central driving force for humans, offered Oshman a new perspective on her struggles, a perspective grounded in looking forward, rather than perpetually backward.

But it was not just Frankl's ideas that paved the way for transformation. A speech by Lady Nicola Mendelsohn, a Facebook executive, further opened Oshman's eyes to the possibility of harmonizing professional success with deep personal and religious commitment. Mendelsohn's prioritization of family, her children, and the observance of Shabbat — the Jewish day of rest — showcased a model of living that was both aspirational and deeply grounded in Jewish traditions.

The final nudge came from an encounter with Kate Miriam Loewenthal, a professor of psychology steeped in Jewish wisdom. Loewenthal's recommendation for Oshman to explore spiritual texts marked the beginning of a profound journey toward healing. This transition from seeking external validation and explanations to embracing a more inwardly focused and spiritually enriched life path highlights the transformative power of reconnecting with one's cultural and religious roots.

Thus, through her embrace of Jewish wisdom, Michal Oshman's story reveals a compelling narrative of overcoming. It captures a unique exploration into the depths of human suffering, the quest for meaning, and the restorative power of heritage and faith. This journey underscores not just a personal victory over anxiety and depression but also offers a beacon of hope for others traversing the dark tunnels of mental health challenges, illuminating a path toward inner peace and fulfillment.

Igniting Your Inner Flame: A Journey of Purpose and Letting Go

Michal Oshman's initial skepticism about how ancient Jewish teachings could alleviate her struggle with anxiety and depression melted away as she delved deeper into the Torah's wisdom. What she discovered was a treasure trove of practical advice for navigating life's challenges and a profound guide to achieving a meaningful existence. Central to this transformation was the realization that Jewish wisdom doesn't just resonate on a spiritual level but also offers actionable insights for finding one's purpose in life.

The core lesson here lies in discovering and nurturing our inner flame — the unique purpose that gives our lives meaning. This concept is beautifully encapsulated in the Hebrew word "neshama," referring to the divine spark or the soul breathed into each person. However, our journey to align with our neshama is often hindered by "kelipa" — barriers such as materialistic pursuits, fame, and career ambitions that cloud our vision and distract us from our true calling.

The Torah enlightens us that within every individual burns a flame of potential, a distinct reason for our existence determined by the higher power. Yet, the allure of the material world frequently diverts us from this path, leading us into a maze of confusion and away from fulfilling our destinies.

Enter "bittul," a concept that champions the practice of self-nullification and the release of ego. Bittul serves as a compass guiding us back to our true selves by emphasizing the insignificance of the individual ego in the grand tapestry of the universe. This mindset encourages us to dissolve the egoistic barriers that separate us from our purpose and, interestingly, from one another.

Bittul is not merely about diminishing one's self-importance but is also a lesson in community-mindedness. It teaches us that our greatest fulfillment often lies not in serving ourselves but in dedicating our efforts to the welfare of others. By adopting a posture of generous giving and empathy, we inch closer to our neshama — our true essence.

Embarking on the practice of bittul can be transformative. It invites a period of introspection where we reflect on what truly brings our lives meaning, our inherent strengths and passions, and the hurdles that hamper our progress. Questions such as, "What moments in life have felt most meaningful?" "In which activities do I excel and find joy?", and "What fears or behaviors are holding me back?" serve as beacons, guiding our introspection and fostering personal growth.

This journey of self-discovery and letting go is challenging yet ultimately rewarding. It demands honesty and vulnerability but promises to lead us toward a life of greater purpose and contentment. In embracing the lessons of the Torah, we learn not only to uncover our divine spark but also to live in harmonious service to the world around us — a testament to the enduring power of ancient wisdom in our modern lives.

Embracing the Narrow Bridge: Growth Through Challenges and Failures

The traditional Jewish song, "Gesher Tzar Me’od," serves as a profound metaphor for life's journey — highlighting it as a narrow bridge that, despite its precariousness, must be crossed without fear. For Michal Oshman, this imagery resonated deeply, illuminating a path out of the gripping fear and anxiety that had long been her companions. The wisdom embedded in Jewish teachings began to unfold before her, revealing the transformative power of taking even the smallest step forward despite the fear of mistakes and vulnerability.

This realization is a cornerstone of growth, emphasizing that errors and setbacks are not merely obstacles but essential elements of personal and professional development. Facebook, with its motto of "Fail harder," exemplifies this mindset at the corporate level. The company culture encourages innovation and risk-taking by embracing failure as a catalyst for creativity and breakthroughs. Oshman's firsthand experience with this principle came during her first major project at the company, where despite the project's success, she recognized her own shortcomings in leadership. Yet, the response from her higher-ups was not reprimand but encouragement — an invitation to reflect, learn, and continue on her journey without the fear of recurring mistakes.

This ethos of embracing failure parallels the Jewish concept of "shvira" or brokenness. As taught by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, "There is nothing more complete than a broken heart." This profound statement captures the essence of shvira, portraying brokenness not as an end but a beginning — a fertile ground from which maturity, wisdom, and strength can emerge. Through the prism of this wisdom, we come to understand that our most challenging moments, our deepest vulnerabilities, are not only inevitable but invaluable steps on the path to growth and self-discovery.

Oshman's journey teaches us that the fear of making mistakes or facing our brokenness can paralyze us, holding us back from taking the necessary steps forward in both our personal lives and professional endeavors. Yet, by acknowledging and embracing our imperfections, we can transform them into powerful tools for self-improvement and innovation. This perspective encourages us to view each stumble not as a failure but as an opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve.

As we traverse life's narrow bridge, let us remember that it is through our willingness to face challenges, to fail, and to break, that we uncover our true potential. By embracing the journey with courage and openness, we pave the way for a fuller, more resilient self — forever moving forward, unafraid of the falls that teach us how to rise.

The Art of Mensch Leadership: Space, Positivity, and Righteous Action

Leadership transcends titles and positions, echoing through the actions and moral compass of each individual—a concept deeply rooted in Jewish wisdom, as exemplified by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson's assertion that "everyone must be a leader." The essence of leadership emerges not from authority but from the pursuit of a cause with courage, integrity, and a genuine desire to make a difference. This authentic form of leadership aligns closely with the concept of being a mensch—acting with honor, positivity, and a steadfast commitment to righteousness.

Central to this approach is the mystical concept of "tzimtzum," which signifies contraction or making oneself smaller. Originating from the divine act of creation, tzimtzum teaches that true leadership involves stepping back to create space for others to grow and express themselves. This principle has profoundly influenced Michal Oshman's leadership philosophy, emphasizing the importance of self-restraint and humility in enabling the development of those around her.

By consciously reducing one's own presence and ego, a leader fosters an environment where team members feel safe and valued, encouraging them to share their thoughts and excel in their roles. However, creating space does not negate the necessity of constructive feedback. It is here that the concept of "tikkun" — the commitment to continuous self-improvement and the betterment of the world — comes into play. Following the principle of tikkun, Oshman advocates for the "one percent feedback" approach, focusing on the small adjustments needed rather than dwelling on the 99 percent that is already effective.

This methodology transcends professional settings, enriching personal relationships and fostering a positive perspective towards feedback. Oshman's application of this approach at home has transformed how feedback is perceived, making it a sought-after means of growth rather than a critique to be feared.

At the heart of mensch leadership lies the selfless dedication to uplifting others, guiding them towards their full potential without seeking personal accolades. It is a leadership style defined not by authority or prestige but by the positive impact one has on the lives of others. By embodying the qualities of a mensch, leaders can inspire a culture of mutual respect, growth, and integrity—ultimately leading by example in the truest sense.

In embracing the principles of tzimtzum and tikkun, we learn that leadership is a journey of giving, teaching, and refining—not just for the benefit of the individual, but for the collective good. Such leadership nurtures an environment where everyone can flourish, highlighting the transformative power of leading like a mensch in all aspects of life.

Nurturing Values Over Control in Parenting

Parenting parallels leadership more closely than one might initially realize, both requiring a blend of guidance, support, and the freedom to explore. In a world where parents often face enormous pressure to perfect every aspect of their caregiving, ancient wisdom offers a refreshing shift in perspective. The pursuit of perfection in parenting is not only unrealistic but also unnecessary. Instead, the emphasis should be on nurturing care, unwavering support, and unconditional love—principles deeply entrenched in Jewish teachings.

King Solomon, revered for his wisdom, encapsulated this philosophy in his advice: "Teach a child according to his way; even when he grows old, he will not turn away from it." This sage counsel advocates for a parenting approach that respects and nurtures the individual path of each child rather than attempting to mold them through force or control. The Torah encourages parents to act as facilitators of their children's journey of self-discovery, providing them with the resources they need to understand their unique identities and what holds true meaning for them.

This nurturing approach aligns with the Hebrew concept of "chinuch," which refers to education but emphasizes the cultivation of values. The ultimate aspiration for most parents is for their children to grow into individuals of integrity and decency—qualities embodied in the term "mensch." Raising a mensch involves instilling a sense of social responsibility and encouraging contributions to the community.

For Michal Oshman, this philosophy permeates her parenting strategy. She views volunteer work as essential to her children's development, referring to it as "Vitamin V," underscoring her belief in the importance of giving back.

However, to effectively employ these time-honored strategies, parents must embrace another crucial concept: "teshuva." Teshuva, which translates to repentance or return, is a central theme of Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest day, dedicated to introspection and the pursuit of self-improvement. Embraced regularly, teshuva guides individuals in a continual journey back to their essence, encouraging forgiveness and growth without judgment.

Each of these principles—chinuch, teshuva, and the aspiration to raise a mensch—aims to ground children in values that foster a sense of purpose and connection to their community. By prioritizing these values over strict control, parents set their children on a path where meaning, responsibility, and personal growth prevail. For Oshman and countless others, integrating these age-old teachings into modern parenting practices has been transformative, proving that the core of successful parenting lies in guiding young ones to discover their inner flame and navigate life with integrity and purpose.

Transformative Wisdom: Embracing Ancient Insights for Modern Healing

Michal Oshman's journey from skepticism to belief in the power of religious teachings to combat anxiety and depression reveals a transformative narrative. Initially unconvinced that ancient texts could offer any solace or solutions to her modern-day struggles, Oshman's exploration into Jewish wisdom marked a pivotal turn in her life. The heart of Jewish teachings—fostering self-awareness, encouraging the dissolution of ego, and emphasizing the importance of serving others—opened her eyes to the realization that her life's distresses were partly due to losing sight of her true purpose. Caught in the whirlwind of material pursuits and ego-driven ambitions, she found herself disconnected from what truly mattered.

Through her engagement with the profound concepts embedded in her Jewish heritage, Oshman embarked on a journey of self-discovery and healing. The principles she unearthed not only offered her a blueprint for overcoming her personal turmoil but also illuminated a path toward a more fulfilling existence. Central among these teachings was the significance of looking beyond oneself, recognizing the imperative to support and uplift others as a cornerstone of finding deeper meaning and purpose in life.

This narrative underscores the timeless relevance of ancient wisdom in addressing the existential challenges of the contemporary era. By integrating the lessons of her Jewish roots into her daily life, Oshman not only found solace for her anxiety and depression but also discovered a richer, more purpose-driven way of living. Her story invites us to consider how the treasures of the past can guide us toward wellness and fulfillment, reminding us of the power of spiritual and cultural heritage in healing the modern soul.

What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid? Quotes by Michal Oshman

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