Want to understand the essence of Yiddish angst? The secret is revealed in seeing how business leaders inspire.

One of my favorite ex-bosses was fond of saying; “Failure is not an option” when asked about the secret of his success.  His Turkish/ British sensibilities expressed this concept as a statement of fact – unequivocal – no heroics – no bluster … It simply was the reality. It was meant to encourage people to realize that you keep trying until you achieve your goals.

Now while many of us we have heard that expression before, subtly within the phrase lays a wonderful aspirational dynamic. Since failure is not an option – the only other possible outcome is success.   Uplifting, motivational and inspiring. Well done.

Now – here’s the Yiddish version of that sentiment (fyi – I was raised in a Hasidic family speaking mainly Yiddish until I went to school). Mind you, same the net effect is intended, e.g. to encourage people to carry on no matter what, but the difference is how a “Yiddish” CEO would say it which is in a more plaintative “Never surrender” type of sentiment.  In the psyche of the Yiddish (largely traumatic) experience, this sentiment had the same duality that the “Failure is not an option” phrase has but with a key element of angst thrown in. In this mindset, you also had two outcomes. 1) “You surrender” which was understood to mean  you died – either a physical or spiritual death; or 2) “Never surrender” – you managed to lived to see another day. No great vision of glory but simply the ability to go on was success enough.

Same concept – keep going no matter what – but worlds apart in their outlook on life. One uplifts and inspires – the other is satisfied with much less grand results. And in seeing the contrast one can see the entire essence of Yiddish angst.

Me – I like to use both ideas. The “never surrender” gives me a sense of extra urgency and imperative (OK – so I do worry too much) while the “failure is not an option” phrase reminds me of the prize.

I confess though, living is both worlds can confuse at times (just ask my husband or this ex-boss 🙂 .

Judy Shapiro


3 Responses

  1. Judy, I didn’t see the Yiddish saying you are referring to.

  2. Di kenst rheden yiddish?

    Quite observant — there was no Yiddish words in there. – only the angst.

    Well done 🙂

  3. HI. Was machst du? Oy! Was Winston Churchill a lundsman? I give up. Robert, who otherwise is enjoying your work

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