TikTok exec Michal Oshman: ‘We all have the chance to do something meaningful’
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

TikTok exec Michal Oshman: ‘We all have the chance to do something meaningful’

Alex Galbinski speaks to Michal Oshman about her new book, What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?, which charts how Judaism helped her find a true purpose in life

Alex Galbinski is a Jewish News journalist

Michal Oshman's new book What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? looks for meaning through Jewish wisdom
Michal Oshman's new book What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? looks for meaning through Jewish wisdom

Michal Oshman’s CV is formidable. She’s head of company culture, diversity and inclusion at TikTok Europe, having been in charge of international leadership and team development at Facebook. She has held other impressive positions, trained hundreds of tech leaders and holds three degrees from prestigious universities.

So why, then, does Oshman, 45, describe herself as having been riddled with fear and anxiety?

The answer is revealed in her new book, What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? Discover a life filled with Jewish purpose and joy through the secrets of Jewish wisdom, which is published today.

Elucidating Jewish spirituality for others is something she is extremely passionate about; in fact, she sees it as her duty to play a role in helping people find themselves.

“The book is about a discovery of an ancient wisdom that is not considered, at the moment, as a way to heal and help grow,” she explains. “And it’s my story that represents, I think, millions of other people … a story of dealing with something in your internal world and faking a different life in the external world. But it’s also a story of hope and solution.”

Oshman’s book is based on 10 key principles, the titles of which include “finding your flame (neshama)”, “cross your narrow bridge (gesher tzar me’od)”, “repair your company’s culture (tikkun)” and “guide your children by the soul (chinuch)”.

The Israeli-born author, who now lives in London, wants the reader to step outside their comfort zone and discover who they have the potential to be. She invites them to answer searching questions, reminding them that “If you change nothing, nothing will change”.

Within each chapter, and in a down-to-eath and honest way, Oshman shares her own experiences – such as a relationship break-up with the man she thought was ‘the one’, learning later in life that her subordinates had feared her in the army, considering her a “tough and unfeeling leader” and how her selfesteem suffered after not winning what she thought were deserved promotions at work. She then reveals how she has come to understand the learning opportunities from each episode.

She has absorbed the Chabad-Lubavitch teaching that, far from being perfect, life is actually full of struggle and that is okay; imperfection is a positive tool for growth.

“I know what it feels like to feel be lost, to feel depressed. And I know what it feels like to feel shameful of all of that because on the surface everything looks fine,” Oshman admits.

The mother-of-four grew up in a loving family in Tel Aviv but underwent years of psychotherapy to unpick the reasons for her extreme anxiety and fear.

Growing up with parents who were highly accomplished, she was under the impression – wrongly – that their love for her was conditional on her success.

Her grandparents on both sides – to whom she was very close – were Holocaust survivors and the grandmother who lived next door would wake up screaming that the Nazis had returned.

Oshman’s parents were raised with a “survival mindset”. Additionally, through her father’s job as Israel’s top forensic pathologist, she was unwittingly exposed to bad things too early – she saw her first dead body in the morgue aged seven.

Her fear was all-pervasive; she always thought of the worse-case scenario. But she hid it, becoming a people-pleaser and never revealing to her parents her inner thoughts.

As an adult, she would fill in her children’s school trip permission slips thinking she was signing their death warrant. What if something bad were to happen, she would wonder.

Therapy helped her up to a point, but she was asked to rake over the past in what she felt was a negative way. It was only when she discovered Jewish wisdom seven years ago that things – slowly – started to fall into place.

Oshman had become aware of the writings of Sigmund Freud’s student, Dr Viktor E Frankl.

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? by Michal Oshman is published by DK, priced £12.99 (hardback). Available now

Having lived through the horrors of Auschwitz and other camps, Frankl discovered that the prisoners who showed more of a will to survive were those who had found meaning in their lives.

His work, coupled with Oshman’s fledgling interest in Chasidic teachings, made a profound impression on her.

Standing in reception on her first day at Facebook, she noticed a question on the wall: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” The words resonated loudly, as did the corporate’s motto of “fail harder”.

For a self-development book that discusses complex Jewish wisdom, it is extremely accessible and practical. She hopes it will strike a chord with non-Jews as well as Jews who see Judaism reduced to a set of rules.

“I care deeply about building bridges between communities,” she explains. “I think it’s a universal book. You don’t have to practice anything to experience these principles.”

Like the message of 18th century Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that people need to cross their personal or narrow bridges, this book is Oshman’s own bridge.

Having to put herself out there to promote the book is, she says, daunting, as is being so open about her personal life, including wearing her Jewishness on her sleeve. She now sees no contradiction between her professional and private lives, however, and cites as one of her inspirations Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s European vice president.

But Oshman describes herself as someone who will always call out the elephant in the room.

“I do enjoy being in that uncomfortable, slightly raw place, and trying to navigate to something positive and productive,” she says.

She believes we must question the reasons behind our choices. “When I wake up, what gives me energy and what doesn’t?” she asks. “I also do things that I don’t feel like doing, but if I do them most of the week, I need to be curious about that.

“We have an opportunity to do something meaningful.”

What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid? by Michal Oshman is published by DK, priced £12.99 (hardback). Available now

 

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments